Published: 11th June 2019
Why Wayanad's 22-year-old Sooraj has been leading the charge against chemical fertilisers
Sooraj C S has been practicing organic farming for the past nine years while campaigning against the use of pesticides. This is his inpiring story — and how he decided to become a farmer at 13
The mother planted each tomato seed carefully in the soil, while the son stood next to her. He watched her curiously. From that day, he accompanied her every day to the backyard to watch the seed grow into a plant and finally, give them tomatoes. While the mother watered the plants and nurtured them with manure from time to time, he observed everything carefully. He also made it a point to help her out in every possible way.
And then one day, at the age of 13, he planted a few tomatoes and string beans, next to his mother’s plants. The yield was impressive that year and he was adamant on continuing farming. This is how 22-year-old Sooraj CS began his journey in agriculture, nine years back. Today, this BSc Agriculture student cultivates different varieties of vegetables, rice and fruits like avocado, lychee and passion fruit in his four and a half acres of land. What is so unusual about it, you may wonder. This young farmer, who resorts to methods of organic farming has never used pesticides in his entire farming career. Not just that, he constantly campaigns against the use of pesticides and conducts awareness classes on organic farming, promoting the use of eco-friendly alternatives to pesticides.
Plant more trees: Sooraj asks you to collect seeds from the fruits you eat and throw it wherever you see soil
Growing up strong
“Plants mainly need micronutrients to grow. They also need potassium and phosphorus, but these can be absorbed only in a soluble form. To facilitate this, we can introduce microorganisms to the soil, instead of using chemical fertilisers,” says Sooraj, adding, “Many people think that using fertilisers is an easy solution to get a good yield. In fact, they’re conditioned to believe so. But that isn’t true. We have a lot of eco-friendly alternatives.”
So, what are those alternatives, we asked. “Adding a lot of organic matter may be time-consuming and difficult. But there are simpler ways too. For instance, there is green manuring (leaving parts of uprooted crops on a field), which is quite a simple task. Plants like sesbania can be used for it,” he says. Sooraj’s interest in chemical-free farming began after he attended a lecture by agriculturist Subhash Palekar, back in class X. “I developed a lot of contacts there. All of us continued discussing our innovations. By then, I was so passionate about farming that I spent all my time researching novel ways to grow plants and crop,” he says.
Improper utilisation of resources, especially water is a huge threat today
Sooraj CS, Organic farmer
Interacting with farmers over the years, Sooraj also understood more about the toxic (pun intended) relationship between farmers and pesticides. He tells us more. “Nitrogen is necessary for a plant’s growth. Therefore, providing urea in large quantities will result in instant and unnaturally high yield. But, there is a downside. This makes the plant more prone to pest attack. This is mainly because of the chemical imbalance in the soil caused by urea,” he explains, as we listened curiously.
This is when usually a farmer uses pesticides. Pesticides are of two main types — contact and systemic. While the former kills the pests by coming in contact with its body, the latter is absorbed by the plant. “For instance, if there is a pest attack in the root, you just have to spray the pesticide on the leaf and the plant absorbs it. There is no use of washing the vegetables grown by this plant if they’re harvested before the recommended time period, as they’re already poisonous. But unfortunately, most farmers harvest really early,” he says.
Water management: Sooraj uses drip irrigation to water his plants and uses charcoal to hold water
But this isn’t the end. “It spoils the soil quality. It affects the ecological balance too. Not just that, some pests have now become resistant to pesticides,” he says, adding, “Recently, we heard of how people died just by smelling pesticides. It’s high time that we need to start using alternatives. There are a lot of biological methods to control pests. If the government gives a greater push to them, we can save the plants and the planet to a large extent.”