BENGALURU: Just 75 km from Bengaluru lies a 20-acre community farm run by 10 engineers and an agriculture expert, committed to growing only what they need.
They use methods from days of yore, and practise rain-fed farming. The farm thrives on natural manure from plants, especially a species called Gliricidia sepum (gobbrada gida).
The group believes in not harming Mother Earth with chemical techniques, so widely in practice now.
Nestling at the foothills of a picturesque range of hills in Malavalli taluk in Mandya district and surrounded by tranquil forests, the Bettada Budadha Thota (BBT) beckons with its sylvan and verdant surroundings.
The farm is frequented by wild boars, peacocks and elephants, and is now popular with visitors from the city.
About a dozen groups have visited the farm, while volunteers from India and abroad have participated in tree-planting and farming. Every year, 250 saplings were being planted, but in the last two weekends, volunteers have planted a record 1,400.
Although the farm is not easily accessible — you have to take a kutcha of 4 km road — it is drawing city-dwellers who want to spend some time in the lap of nature. On August 10-11, 250 students are visiting the farm.
Laxminarayan S, a member of BBT, says, “People are so impressed they want to join our group. But we advise them to form their own groups and offer knowledge and help.”
For this community, the last three years have been enriching. They have learnt, hands-on, a lot about natural farming techniques. “We plan our activities in such a way we work with the monsoons, sowing and harvesting,” a he said.
In 2012, the group bought 10 acres of dry land at Kempayyadoddi. With the exception of mulberry and sapota trees, nothing was growing on this land.
The group first planted trees for the fence and bunds. Then came horticulture plants. Local crops like millets, green manure crops, sun hemp, pulses were planted later. After a year, the group started farming in 10 more acres.
BBT uses what it calls the ‘natural resource utilisation’ system of farming. “Here manure, water and lighting are derived naturally,” says Dr Rajendra Hegde, the agricultural expert in the group.
“We wanted to create a model for people to see and learn from. We were not interested in irrigated crops. In fact, we use drip irrigation and water-saving techniques,” he told Express.
Since this is a dry region with only 250 mm of annual rainfall, BBT has developed huge farm ponds of 5,000 square feet (set up in collaboration with the government, with 60 per cent funding).
In an adjacent expanse owned by the government, BBT has installed open wells so that the water needs of grazing animals and wildlife can be sustained. The group has also installed solar lighting both for the farmhouse and the fields.
“Although farmers have stopped groundnut cropping, fearing raids by wild boars, we have planted groundnuts by installing solar lamps around to scare the animals,” Hegde adds.
The 11 members share everything they grow — ragi, lentils, groundnut, chillies. They spend `7.5 lakh on the farm annually, with a monthly investment of `5,000 each.
The group hopes to help local farmers. “We talk about community farming as nuclear families alone can’t pull this off. Sharing our knowledge, we want to stop rural migration to cities. Only elders live in this village, as youngsters have gone away to the cities,” Hegde says.
The group believes it would have done its bit to address the agrarian crisis if it inspires some youths to stay back and take up community farming.