A good monsoon forecast is a relief to everyone - whether directly involved in agriculture or not. But Karnataka farmer, Ayyappa Masagi, says that with good rainwater usage farmers can have more control of the success of their crops - even in areas that receive low rainfall. This Karnataka agriculturalist has been working out ways to best use rainfall - and is keen to share what he has learnt over the decades.
His journey has been a long one that began when he learnt the value of water was just a child. Ayyappa remembers how his mother's struggles for drinking water made him interested in water. “Reason is my mother,” he said.
“In my childhood, my mother would take me and fetch the water from the stream early morning 3 o'clock. I was born and brought up in north Karnataka. Drought prone area. When the summer comes it is very difficult to get drinking water. If you go early, you get water. If you go late, no water. I was 3- to 4-year-old boy. Then I would put it on my head and one and a half kilometre I would have to walk. She is the motivator.”
After receiving a diploma, Ayyappa worked in Larsen and Toubro for 23 years - before buying 6 acres of land to follow his dream of farming. But he ran into difficulties after a few years.
“For 3 years, very good water. Good crop. Then in 2002, 3 years consecutive drought. All the 3000 Areca nut plants fell down. It became totally barren,” he said. “And I left my job also in 2002. My wife called me useless fellow.”
Ayyappa quit his job with its monthly salary of ₹50000 to gain experience with an NGO for just ₹5000 a month - to see if he could gain more knowledge of crops and water. After returning to Bengaluru, an Oxfam fellowship helped him in the learning process. And he bought 3 acres of land in Tumakuru district. He experimented with rainwater - and through trial and error found what worked and what didn't. He tried different sizes of pits to plant coconuts before reaching the conclusion that 4 feet by 4 feet worked the best. He blocks rainwater with earth in compartments and trenches, uses soak pits and borewell recharging methods so that -as he puts it - the running rainwater slows to a walk, then stops and goes to sleep where he wants it to.
Ayyappa said, “This is a drought prone area. When I purchased this land, people were asking - why are you coming here? No rain, water. Now the same village people are saying - this is Vaikunta!”
All the manure for the farm is generated from the farm itself.
“All livestock eat my agricultural waste. They will Give droppings and urine. Droppings will go to compost. All urine to live liquid manure. We use cow dung and urine, eggs, groundnut cakes for 10,15 days. Then filter it this is the only manure I am using,” he said.
Ayyappa works as a consultant for water planning for industries and homes - but his main goal is improving farmers use of water. He conducts training programmes and spreads the word in whichever way he can.
“Through social media, through books, through print media. Then I have a training centre. I want to train more and more water warriors and educated farmers. Every month I am conducting 3 to 4 programmes,” he said.
The young boy who learnt the importance of water while growing up in arid north Karnataka is now in his 60s. He continues to explain to others, the importance of using the rainwater given to us by Nature in the best possible way. And he certainly practises what he preaches.