Parindey: Sama Yella Reddy
Alivelihood: Dairy and Organic Farming
Region: Marri Mustyala, Telangana
“I have seen farmers leaving farming and migrating to the cities to do menial jobs for survival. Coming from an agricultural family, I know the difficulties of farming. For the same reason, my father did not want me to do farming and sent me abroad for higher studies. I lived in different places, earning money and learning skills. But it felt irrelevant because I wasn’t helping my people. I was also tired of living away from home. I have come back to India forever.” –Yella Reddy
Sama Yella Reddy is from Lingampally in the Rajanna Siricilla district of Telangana. Yella Reddy took up farming while most farmers in his village were giving up on it because it was not profitable for them. He has shown that farming can provide a sufficient income and has served as a role model for young people who want to stay in farming. Yella Reddy has been reaping good harvests while conserving the health of the soils by using sustainable and natural agricultural methods and avoiding chemical use. He firmly believes that a person who is reliant on and respectful of the soil will never fail. His story bears witness to this.
The story begins in 2012, when Yella Reddy, an SAP Consultant in Spain, quit his cushy job and returned to India. He had been moving places and changing his way of living for a decade as a part of his professional journey. Yella Reddy had no emotional attachment to any of the countries or cultures where he lived and did not experience a sense of belonging anywhere. Physical, mental, and environmental concerns were prevalent everywhere he lived. He also dealt with regular health issues, and he discovered that his way of living was the source of the problem. He then decided to go back to India and live in harmony with the rest of nature.
From Artificial to Natural Polyhouse
Yellanna, as he is popularly known, moved to his village in Lingampally and started living there. He then bought a piece of land in Marri Mustyala village and started farming. In 2013, intending to introduce advanced technology to the farmers in the village, he set up a polyhouse and started growing gerbera flowers. He took to marketing them right at the beginning stages and sold value-added products like garlands and bouquets to the market, earning more than his colleagues in the trade. However, after one year, the soil was dead and there was no life for other microorganisms in the soil. Subsequently, the plants were diagnosed with soil-borne diseases. He realised that the polyhouse was only for corporate business purposes. It is neither affordable for all the farmers nor sustainable. Even though the artificially developed biodiversity maintains all the favourable conditions for growing crops, it leaves the soil infertile.
Yellanna returned to working on the land, not to make money, but to seek a healthy life and to grow healthy food. A meeting with Subhash Palekar, fondly known as ‘Krishi ka Rishi’ in the natural farming communities across India, was a turning point. Yellanna immediately stopped using chemicals and pesticides and shifted to Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF). Palekar devised the self-sustaining approach after seeing how chemical fertilisers and pesticides degraded soil fertility, eventually resulting in health problems for those who consume the food produced. Yellanna adopted a five-layered farming model, similar to a polyhouse, which creates favourable conditions for the plants to grow naturally. It requires minimal financial investment and boosts the farmer’s earnings. Cows are an important part of the growing process since they assist by grazing, and their waste (urine and dung) is used to coat the seeds: a process called beejamrutham. Meanwhile, the jeevamrutham method, which involves mixing cow dung and urine with jaggery and flour, boosts soil microorganisms and keeps pests at bay. In this model, five types of crops of varying heights and rooting patterns are cultivated together at the same time. Multilayer cultivation enables the optimal use of space both horizontally and vertically. From long and medium-height trees to bushes, creepers, and grass, Yellanna grew them all. This is his multi-cropping model:
- Coconut trees were planted as the tallest layer.
- Either orange or mosambi (sweet lime) are grown on a rotational basis in the second layer.
- Banana trees form the third layer.
- The fourth layer is planted on a rotational basis like the second layer.
- Ginger and turmeric constitute the final layer.
Yellanna also grows other plants such as drumstick, spinach, bottle gourd, brinjal, lemon, and pulses. He began his own farm and brought in his envisioned style and system of farming by first bringing a native cow for its dung and urine, which are good natural supplements to the soil. Owing to the widespread demand for healthy milk, they bought more cows and started a dairy along with farming. Now, they have 40 cows and sell 100 litres of A2 milk (which is mineral rich and provides sufficient nourishment to human beings) every day. They also sell value-added products like ghee and curd. “Dairy products and farming take care of each other mutually,” says Yellanna.
He says ZBNF has enhanced crop yield and soil fertility significantly. Having adopted diversified cropping, he no longer depends on a single crop for income. Further, the water use is only one-tenth of that in chemical farming due to cropping practices. His health has also improved as a result of the shift to ZBNF.
“Forests thrive on their own without chemicals or constant watering. On my farm, I’ve created a similar ecosystem. So, my team and I just do one thing: harvest the plants. I have drastically reduced my expenses, and I now just spend money on getting fresh seeds and paying workers,” he says.
Yellanna is convinced that implementing the ZBNF model will reduce agriculture-related concerns such as excessive credit, pesticides, and monetary loss, as well as farmer suicides.
Ahaara Yoga: an Organic Store
In 2016, the techie-turned-farmer also opened an organic store along with his wife in Siddipet, where they sell the produce of other natural farmers as well. He explains, “Organic farming sustains the environment. Small farmers have to start small to sustain the farming and their livelihoods too.” They believe every Indian deserves the opportunity to continually improve their life—a process that often begins at home. As part of their mission to help consumers make healthier and better choices, they offer a wide range of high-quality grocery and household products that are accessible and affordable right at their doorsteps. Many friends and relatives who chided his decision to quit his job and move back to the village are now appreciating his success. “It feels good to reap the benefits of hard work and innovation,” says his wife, Sunita.
In eight years of his journey, with a well-designed structure and marketing strategy, he started a Farmer Producer Company in collaboration with Grama Bharathi, an NGO that works to create self-sustaining villages. This company facilitates a platform for the farmers of the village to sell their produce at a fair rate.
“At my previous job, I only earned money. There was no sense of community. But now, earning through working in the village and living harmoniously with the rest of nature helps me to find sound health, and I experience a sense of belonging. The work I’m doing has to continue. This generates employment in the local community. I have built my home here to live eco-consciously.” He is passionate about educating other farmers about the dangers of using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Yellanna claims that money is not the only thing that matters to him. He seeks fulfilment and is able to find it in farming.
Yella Reddy can be reached at: [email protected]
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Originally published on Travellers’ University, part of the 52 Parindey Fellowship: