We all stayed in a farmhouse that served as a base of operations for Jayaram’s farms in Coorg and as a storehouse for rice grown on the farm’s rice paddies. Consequently, we experienced the life of an Indian farmer. We slept on firm beds in a common room, became familiar with the vast array of ants and other insects that live in and around a farmhouse, and listened to the nightly frog song emanating from the soggy rice fields. Jayaram’s farm manager was a gracious host with a great smile, but Jayaram told us he had a difficult time convincing the man to change farming styles. Jayaram is experimenting with the SRI style of growing rice, a system that uses significantly less water to grow rice paddy, which has been proven to increase crop yield. Despite its success in other countries like Cambodia, convincing his farmers that the system would work is proving difficult.
Because people in India can be resistant to change in general, I asked Jayaram if it had been difficult to convince farmers to use chemicals during the green revolution. He said that it had been difficult initially, and that government officials snuck onto farms and applied chemicals to crops just to show farmers that they actually worked better than traditional methods. Now farmers were showing the same reluctance to convert to organic methods of farming, even though these methods produce equivalent yields or better. The fact that organic farming requires more cows (for fertilizer), more labor, and more skill from farmers also makes it difficult to convince people to switch to organic farming. Jayaram was having a hard time staffing his various farms with reliable workers because other jobs, like construction, pay more than farming,and even though room and board are included in wages, few people are motivated to stay on long term. Though the farms have yet to turn a profit, Jayaram owns these farms because he has a deep passion for helping people utilize the environment in positive ways. He is a successful lawyer in Bangalore and is using his wealth to make a difference in his community and provide places for people to network about environmental issues with the rest of the world.
In the future, Jayaram plans to build guest cottages at his organic coffee plantation in Coorg. This is the beginning of a larger vision of responsible eco-tourism, where people can come to learn about organic farming as well as the plight of the Indian farmer today. This responsible eco-tourism farm is the beginning of a larger vision. Eventually, Jayaram will start a working commune where farmers and tourists alike can come to learn about organic farming and social justice. The commune will also facilitate a seed bank which will supply farmers with a diverse array of native seeds, uncontaminated by genetically modified seeds that government agencies advise farmers to use. All people regardless of race, class, caste, gender, or income will be welcomed as equals at this farm. This will be a place where people can connect with the land, learn about organic methods of food production, and network with each other. By creating places where people can exchange innovative ideas and experiences, Jayaram hopes that his projects will inspire others to create their own positive change elsewhere.
On the way back to Bangalore, we stopped at an organic research station at the Tibetan Colony at Bylacuppe to investigate another aspect of the organic farming movement in India – biodynamic farming. Biodynamic farming is a farming system that utilizes organic farming methods and the earth’s energy fields to increase crop yields and improve the nutritional quality of food. Seeds are planted according to the cycles of the moon and fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are made out of natural ingredients, in particular cow manure and urine, using methods that increase the potency of the ingredients. A good introduction to biodynamic farming in India is the documentary: How to Save the World: One Man, One Cow, One Planet. Cattle and their byproducts are essential for biodynamic farming and are utilized in many ways. The research farm had a heard of forty cows. The center is run by Tenzin Damdul, who gave us a tour of the farm which supplies food for the colony and sells to outside buyers. The expressed seeds were made into cakes and sold for cattle feed. Tenzin told me the cattle feed made more money than the oil and therefore made the venture profitable.
Jayaram was excited to see that they were making organic peanut and sunflower oils. Organic farmers have a hard time making a profit selling fresh produce and value added products made from ingredients from the farm, like these oils and cattle feed, are one way to bring in extra income. Jayaram has plans to manufacture banana chips and other items on his farms. If organic agriculture has a future it must be economically sustainable as well as environmentally sound.
Overall, organic farming is an uphill battle in India. People are suspicious that organic food is really organic, and because there is so much corruption in India, people usually have good reason to be suspicious. It is also difficult to convince people to spend more on food when the cost of living is already on the rise. Some times farmers already farm organically, but cannot afford to be certified in the first place when they are barely scraping by and for those farmers who can afford certification it can be difficult to find reliable farm help. The farmers like Jayaram and Sunder, who I was fortunate to get to know, have a passion for making the world a better place despite the challenges presented to them. And that is how positive change happens, one person, one action, one choice at a time.
Read more about orgnic farms in India here.