Guntur-resident Konda Usharani began farming using chemical fertilisers, but soon realised the ill effects it had on soil and human health. So she learned natural farming and now guides fellow farmers to follow the path.
Konda Usharani, a member of a farming family from Nutakki village of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, stopped her studies after Class 10 due to poverty. Like all other girls in the locality, she was married at the age of 17.
After three years of marriage and birthing two sons, she lost her husband to an accident. The financial burden of the family fell on Usharani’s shoulders overnight.
“In the initial years, I worked as a house help and even as a security person for an office. But, this earned me nothing. This was when I thought of farming on the one-acre property owned by my family in the village. In 2013, I began turmeric cultivation in the land,” says 38-year-old Usharani.
Due to a lack of knowledge in the field, she used pesticides in order to get a good harvest. It was only after three years that she realised the effects of using these chemicals on the soil as well as human health.
“I along with others who worked in the field faced some health issues. We recognised that it was due to our regular contact with chemical substances. In 2016, I attended a few classes about natural farming and then commenced farming activities by renting a few more acres of land. Now, I do paddy cultivation on five acres of land and turmeric on one acre. I’ve planted guava trees along the borders,” she explains.
Subhash Palekar — a government agricultural employee from Guntur — is Usharani’s mentor, who conducts classes on natural farming. After attending two sessions, she gained the confidence to apply it.
Along with organic farming, she also prepares her own fertilisers and pesticides, which she sells to other farmers via a shop set up in the village. “The major ingredients in my fertilisers are animal excreta, cow urine, neem, bio compost and other natural items,” she says.
In addition, Usharani also assists fellow farmers to set up organic farms. She says, “I learned farming by hearing advice from experienced farmers and farming professionals. Expanding farmlands is a need for any country; but, it is important to do it organically. Otherwise, the results will be adverse; chemicals ruin lands and people’s health forever. So, I decided to share whatever knowledge I’ve gained in natural farming with those who are interested to learn.”
So far, she has associated with more than 500 farmers in Andhra Pradesh by sharing advice, selling organic products and more. In case they are not able to pay me in cash, I accept a portion of their crops in return.
Expanding to the online market
In 2020, with the help of two students from the district, Usharani set up the ‘Sri Vasavi Durga Organic Products’ website to sell organic fertilisers, seeds and pesticides online.
“The students, Kalyani and Nithin Krishna were educated abroad and highly health conscious. But, Kalyani suffered from cancer and passed away last year. Because of her health condition, they had become fully aware of the ill effects of consuming chemically grown crops. That’s how they became interested in my venture and eventually, even helped me build the website for free,” says Usharani.
The produce of all the farmers associated with Usharani is sold within 16 villages in Guntur through their website. She shares that this helps everyone earn a better income as no middlemen are involved.
Suresh, a farmer who collaborates with Usharani, says, “I have been seeking her [Usharani’s] advice for the past two years to do organic farming. Most of my harvest is sold via her online marketplace which helps me earn better than the regular market. I have contacts with many farmers in the area and receive help from them when I start new cultivation or try a new product.”
Customers can also directly buy the produce from the farmers. None of their harvests is sold in usual markets because of lower prices and middlemen.
“My aim is to promote natural farming all over the country. As the first step towards this goal, I want to reach all corners of my state. It is only through healthy soil that we can keep ourselves healthy,” notes Usharani.
She continues, “Financial independence is a must for women. Even if you are not educated, there are plenty of ways to earn money like farming. I hope at least the present and upcoming generation will understand the importance of earning stable income in order to live a respectful life.”
A few months ago, Usharani got an opportunity to submit a presentation — ‘Preventing pollution by practising natural farming and providing chemical-free food to the society’ — at a national level conference held in New Delhi on the theme ‘Role of Women in Science and Technology for Sustainable Development of Atmanirbhar Bharat’. She explained the science and technology behind using cow-based fertilisers which were appreciated at the event.
“It was a great opportunity, and I feel so happy that I was able to communicate the significance of organic farming to more people. A time when everyone turns to natural farming by ditching chemicals is not too far; it is the need of the hour,” she concludes.
Edited by Pranita Bhat; Photo credits: Konda Usharani