Mission Organic: Belavala Foundation Scripting Success in Organic Farming
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Mission Organic: Belavala Foundation Scripting Success in Organic Farming

February 16, 2019

By Kavitha Mhatre

The organic farming scene in India has two scenarios. One that has farmers and consumers hesitant to join the organic bandwagon because of  higher production costs, limited market, expensive organic produce, lack of government subsidies for organic inputs and lengthy certification processes one has to go through in order to acquire an ‘organic’ label.  

And then there is the other scenario where ‘natural farming’ aficionados like Dr. Ramakrishnappa tell you a completely different story with respect to organic farming. His narrative is simple — organic farming is easy and anyone can do it. All it takes is good old common sense, patience and loads of passion for this alternative form of agriculture.

No fertilizers, no pesticides, no chemicals

And so passionate is Dr. Ramakrishnappa about organic farming that after he retired as a senior officer from the Horticulture Department of Karnataka, he dedicated his time and effort to build an organic farm in Belagola village, Mysuru. This nurturing space, spread over six acres of land, bursts with trees, plants and saplings of over 200 varieties. Mangoes, papayas, plums, peaches, avocados, spinach, exotic spices, medicinal herbs and peculiar flora which are cultivated and produced without the use of any chemical or pesticide are just some of the few species that make up this green haven.

A good yield of Chakothas.

What’s more to this ‘zero chemical’ farm?

Now, what is unique about this organic farm that uses only organic manure is the fact that it is just not a farm bursting with fresh, natural fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. It is also a space that has been established with the objective of imparting knowledge of agro-ecological farming practices to anyone keen on learning the science and methodology behind organic farming. The farm, which is called ‘Belavala Foundation’ is headed by Dr. Ramakrishnappa, who has 35 years of working experience in the agricultural sector, his wife Manjula, and a small team of six people.

Ramakrishnappa-Manjula couple at work.

Trainings, workshops and programmes

Belavala Foundation offers training programmes at three levels:

1) Farm Tour: Through this half-day farm tour and interaction, ‘organic farming’ aspirants and others who are keen on understanding the concept of natural farming are taught the basic tenets and principles of organic farming.

2) Hands-on-training: Through a series of intensive practical workshops, novice and experienced farmers are taught about ‘The Principles of Ecological Farming.’ Concepts central to sustainable farming like soil rejuvenation, benefits of crop diversity and the use of organic manures like ‘panchagavya’ and ‘jeevamrita’ are covered in detail through this module.

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3) Concept-driven workshops: Belavala Foundation organises lectures and discussions on popular farming subjects which are delivered by industry experts. Some of the topics covered in this module are ‘Art of Bee-Keeping’; ‘Seed Conservation and Production.’

When asked about his plans for training expansion, Dr. Ramakrishnappa, in an informal chat tells Star of Mysore, “One of our goals this year is to start conducting training programmes on organic farming for school children. We believe that these training programmes will teach young minds to have a greater appreciation for food, animals, nature and the ecosystem around them.”

“When children understand these concepts well, they are inclined to make organic food choices and in doing so, they influence their families to make that switch from chemical-based food products to organic-based food products. And when families make the choice to go organic, there is a demand for organic food. And when there is a demand, there is a supply, which encourages the farmer to produce organic products, which in turn breaks the limited organic market cycle.”

Techie-turned-horticulturist Veda Prabhu, who owns an organic farm near Belagola village, also assists Dr. Ramakrishnappa at Belavala.

Knowledge sharing and learning not just restricted to India

Belavala Foundation’s experiment with organic farming stands out as a model not only with small and marginal farmers, but also to players from the national and global farming scene. Some of the most prominent organic farmers who have visited Belavala Foundation are:

1. Jon Jandai, a well-known farmer in Thailand, who is also known as a leader in bringing the natural building movement to Thailand. During his visit to Mysuru, he shared his experiences as a farmer at an interaction session with organic farmers organised by Belavala Foundation

2. Dr. Ken Love, Hawaii’s fruit king and fruit specialist, during his visit to Mysuru, delivered a special lecture at Belavala Foundation. Preservation, building a value addition and generating a better market for tropical fruits were some of the topics his lecture covered.

3. Ramesh Balatugi, one of Karnataka’s most prominent sandalwood farmers, was at Belavala Foundation to help farmers understand the techniques of sandalwood farming.

4. Shivanapura Ramesh is a farmer well-known for his innovative chemical-free agricultural practices. His nursery with 200 species of fruits, flowers, medicinal plants in Bengaluru is known to have supplied decorative plants to embellish and beautify the gardens of Kempegowda International Airport (KIA).

Nutritious Khel leaves in demand by yoga practitioners.

Despite farms like the Belavala Foundation that serve as a model for natural farming, the organic movement is still considered an expensive process in India — one that requires steady expenditure, without the guarantee of faster results and bigger yields. As a result, convincing farmers to make that switch to organic, which could lead to an immediate financial impact on their earnings is a huge challenge in the country right now.

A farm worker displays the near extinct desi carrot.

“More education, more training, more awareness on the benefits of natural farming is what is required today. It is the lack of knowledge and ignorance that leads farmers and consumers to believe that organic farming is expensive. As an ex-official of Horticulture Department and someone who has been on both sides of the fence (chemical and organic farming) for 35 years, I know for a fact that ‘organic’ is the future, ‘organic’ is inexpensive in the long run and ‘organic’ is the only way to go.  So, I have made it my mission now to educate as many people as I can on the benefits of natural farming. Other organic farmers should also encourage people to visit their farms and learn their best practices. What is the point of having all of this knowledge and not sharing it with others to help create a better future,” he asks?

Banana-Papaya inter-crop a success at Belavala.

Knowledge is of no value until you put it into practice. Now, here’s a man who is not only putting his knowledge into practice, but insists on sharing it with others so that they can better their lives, bodies and minds. Yes, Belavala is an organic farm with a difference. But after speakingto its passionate founders, we conclude that what makes this farm truly unique is just not its vision and objective, but also the compassion and fellow feeling of its founders. The patience with which the connection between soil, humans, animals, and plants are explained leaves one questioning, “Why haven’t I learnt this before?”  So, to anyone in and around Mysuru, if you have a day to spare and you are looking to connect with nature, understand how your food is produced and what you can do to improve your health and surrounding ecosystem, we recommend a trip to Belavala.

Soursop (mullina ramphala) grown at the farm.

The serene lushness of the farm, the astounding knowledge of the team about various flora and fauna surrounding it, fascinating stories of farmers who toil hard to give you a plate of healthy and wholesome food won’t fail to disappoint you. It’s a day well spent, we promise.

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