Against the Grain

How natural farming is growing international alliances in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

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05 August 2021
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GT Sujatha and her husband M Jagadish run a four-acre farm that is ten years old, just shy of the Tamil Nadu border in Karnataka’s Gottigehalli village. A decade ago, pushed by fear of the health hazards associated with chemical pesticides and fertilisers, Sujatha adopted natural farming, an approach that works with the natural biodiversity of a region, without using any external inputs.

The photographer Soumya Sankar Bose visited Sujatha’s farm in early 2020 to document the role of agroecology, or natural farming, in organising and empowering independent women farmers to gain control over land rights in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Bose primarily looked at three organisations—the Amrita Bhoomi Agroecology School and Nisarga Nisargaka Savayava Krushikara Sangha, both in Karnataka, and the Rural Environment and Development Society in Andhra Pradesh.

“Ours is a mini world,” Jagadish told Soumya. “There are maybe more than two hundred varieties [of crops] growing on our plot.” The abundance of bananas, coconuts, guavas, jackfruit, sweet potatoes, pulses, lemons and experimentally planted coffee is immediately visible. Chickens and goats roam freely amid the thickets. Like other women farmers, Sujatha manages a majority of the work on the farm alongside household work. Ever since she attended a skill-based workshop organised by the state government she now also makes and sells finger millet malt, which is marketed on WhatsApp, alongside other farm produce and livestock such as sheep and goat.

An insect climbing on the stems of bela paaku, a plant commonly used in medicinal remedies, in a farm at REDS, in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapuramu district. Agroecology arose as a challenge to the methods of farming that were reliant on pesticides and fertilisers as a result of the Green Revolution.. An insect climbing on the stems of bela paaku, a plant commonly used in medicinal remedies, in a farm at REDS, in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapuramu district. Agroecology arose as a challenge to the methods of farming that were reliant on pesticides and fertilisers as a result of the Green Revolution..
An insect climbing on the stems of bela paaku, a plant commonly used in medicinal remedies, in a farm at REDS, in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapuramu district. Agroecology arose as a challenge to the methods of farming that were reliant on pesticides and fertilisers as a result of the Green Revolution.

The move to market over WhatsApp has helped, particularly during the pandemic and during a strike of transportation workers in Karnataka in April 2021. Physical markets were closed and WhatsApp allowed Jagadish and Sujatha to reach out to potential customers. These customers were mostly friends, relatives or admirers of their agricultural practices, who visited their farm to buy fresh produce.

Soumya Sankar Bose is a photographer represented by Experimenter Gallery. He has previously received grants from Magnum Foundation, India Foundation for the Arts, and Goethe Institut, among others. He lives and works in Kolkata.

Keywords: agriculture Andhra Pradesh Karnataka organic farming
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