Lakshmi Lokur: The farmer scientist –1

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There is science involved in farming and you don’t need a PhD to learn that. In this series of ‘ farmer scientist ’ we will take you through some amazing and inspirational stories of people who have mastered the art of farming and have set examples of how agriculture can be a rewarding profession.

Lakshmi Lokur, is a 38 year old single woman in Belavadi village in Belgaum district, Karnataka. Ten years back she experimented with farming on a one-acre patch. Today, she is a well-known organic farmer, who has shown that agriculture can be sustainable. She was recently felicitated alongside 28 other “farmer scientists” from 18 States by the Centre for International Trade in Agriculture and Agro-based Industries (CITA) and the Department of Agriculture, Rajasthan.

One day she noticed that crows had positioned their nests towards the edge of branches. This is indicative of a poor monsoon. Her sharp observation skills helped her plan agricultural activities and she successfully overcame the scanty rainfall that season.

Lokur gave up a bag manufacturing business in Mumbai to return to farming in her native village of Udikeri, ten years ago when her father was ill. But even after her father recovered, she decided to stay on. She has been on farm with her father since she was three, so she was naturally drawn to agriculture. Her family owns 7 acres of land.

She gained an understanding of agriculture by attending a diploma course in KLE Society’s School of Agricultural Training and Research, Belgaum. Her interaction with experts in the institution came in handy, in due course.

Initially she experimented with farming on a one-acre plot and closely observed the agricultural practices that were followed in the rest of their farm and the village. Once she was confident, her father allowed her to take on the mantle of farming, while he took on the role of the mentor. Lakshmi had followed several agricultural movements revolving around the non-use of chemical fertilisers. She decided to take up sustainable ways of farming. Now after ten years, she is a well known organic farmer with customers in cities like Mangalore and Bangalore.

When Lakshmi took charge of the seven-acre farm, her first activity was to trace the rainwater flow in the land. During her first monsoon in the farm, she walked along the streams with her father. Soon, there were structures that allowed rainwater percolation. Along the border, saplings of neem, tamarind, bamboo, glyrecidia, casuarina and other local species were planted which have now become a live fence. When she took up farming, she had certain goals. The most important among them were to prove that agriculture can be sustainable and profitable, and to work towards convincing farmers about the pluses of village life.

Mixed cropping, farming in line with nature’s laws, labour management, producing organic manure, bio-pesticides within the farm, and a survey of market needs are the basics which Lakshmi Lokur has followed to make farming sustainable. She has increased her landholding from seven to 22 acres. “I don’t believe in adding to my bank balance. Any profits I make in agriculture, I invest it back into the farm.” Said Lokur in an interview to a leading newspaper.

Back then, the labour problem which is now shaking the foundation of agriculture, had just begun. Lakshmi, who always believed that agriculture was not a boss-and-subordinate set-up, treated farm hands as team members. Today, the team works as a family. The workers eat, work and rest together. She also works alongside them, as an equal. The farm hands are paid on par with the trend in the region.

As if all this is not enough, she also conducts spoken English classes for local students on the weekends. Once a month, she even trains farmers in innovative farming, in making vermicompost the most natural way and on how to use organic hybrids to increase harvests. She also has a dairy.

Lokur is now planning to register a non-government organisation. She has already decided on the name: Prerna (inspiration). Apt indeed, seeing how she has inspired at least 20 young people over the last nine years to give up business activities and take up agriculture.

Sources:

http://southasia.oneworld.net/fromthegrassroots/three-women-farmers-and-the-plough http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/life/article2573885.ece?ref=wl_features

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