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Natural Farming Techniques Gaining Popularity in Visakhapatnam

Shankar Lingala of Rythu Mitra has been at the forefront of a quiet movement to run sustainable farms using soil science.

Chintu Das
Shankar Lingala
Shankar Lingala

Shankar and Padma Lingala's farm is home to Ongole bulls, native cows, country fowl battles, bright Yellow butterflies, and the peaty smell of fresh manure. 

Shankar, although being a city dweller, is an important member of the Rythu Mitra group, which is working to restore traditional farming methods. Shankar, an IT engineer, left his corporate position in Hyderabad four years ago to return to Visakhapatnam to be closer to his parents. Padma, a post-graduate in pharmacy from Hyderabad, joined him on the farm at Kothavalasa, about 30 kilometres from Visakhapatnam, and the couple rapidly adopted natural agricultural practices. 

How It Started 

Natural farming is a method in which agricultural techniques are guided by the laws of nature. He spent roughly Rs. 8 lakh in the first year and lost a lot of money. "The biggest roadblock was market intermediaries, who bought product from farmers at a lower price and sold it at a much higher one in city markets." There was a significant disconnect between consumer demand and farmers' ability to provide it. Shankar explains, "I realised the only way out was to sever this chain." 

In 2017, he formed the Rythu Mitra organisation with like-minded persons with the goal of promoting natural farming techniques and assisting farmers with marketing their produce. Rythu Mitra now includes roughly 125 farmers from the districts of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, and Srikakulam, who have been trained in natural farming techniques by Shankar. 

Shankar claims that farming is more difficult than a corporate job since it takes a wide range of talents, and that to be successful, one must be patient. "This is the point at which most farmers lose up." The pollution of the soil must be reversed when switching from chemical-based agriculture to natural farming. We must plan according to the season and rain forecasts. "It takes a year or two to acquire good yield with natural farming," he adds, adding, "Every day is a learning experience for me." 

Shankar now owns and operates two farms in Visakhapatnam (Kothavalasa and  Basavapalem) as well as one in Karnataka. Prior to the pandemic, he sold agricultural products once a week by transporting it to the city in a van. However, he claims that this is no longer feasible. He now sells goods from his three farms, as well as stock from other farmers in his organisation, through the Rythu Mitra app, which was established earlier this year and is delivered to clients' homes. 

Rythu Mitra distributes a variety of items, including wood-pressed coconut, sesame, and groundnut oil, hand-pounded rice types, millet powders and grains, manure, and natural pesticides made with neem, among others. 

Model of Long-Term Sustainability 

Basavapalem is a model farm for long-term farming. It has 250 chickens, 38 country cows, a nursery, two wood-pressed oil machines, and continuous agricultural areas with fourteen vegetable varieties, two millets varieties, and three fruit varieties. "Due to the excessive rains, this year has been difficult. He explains, "We lost a large amount of our crops right before harvest." The farm's fuel requirements are met by five biogas units. Crops benefit from the rich manure produced as a by-product. 

Crop plantations are done scientifically to handle insect issues as well as the crop's nutrient requirements. Green gram is interlaced with heavy patches of guava plants, for example. "Green gram fixes biological nitrogen, so it can grow as a green manure crop, and this works well for guava," Padma, Shankar's farming assistant, adds. 

Rows of ladies finger plantations with alternating rows of flat beans, wide beans, and leafy vegetables can be found in another portion of the farm. "Each type of pest is attracted to a different plant. "We can effectively manage pests with this plantation strategy," Padma adds. 

Among the greens, there are yellow marigold flashes. "The marigolds serve as a trap crop, growing alongside the main crop to attract insects and prevent damage to the main crop," Shankar explains. 

The value of earthworms in the farm is recognised by natural farming. "Nothing else has the ability to nurture the ground in the same manner they do." "This is an ancient soil science that we are reviewing to improve the soil and the quality of farming," says  Shankar

Green Practices 

"As farmers, we must not poison the land that nourishes us and so many others," he continues. When we use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, however, we are doing just that. Now, I notice a significant change in the quality of my farm's crops." 

The microclimate of the area has been altered as a result of these behaviours. There are additional birds and insects that can help you deal with pest problems in a natural way. In addition, the farms are a few degrees cooler than their surroundings. 

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