Bengaluru: In 2008, 38-year-old Aiyanna Gowda took over his father’s farmland in Yeddaldoddi (Sindhnur taluk), Raichur—about 470km from Bengaluru.
Though his family had cultivated paddy for decades, Gowda had new ideas after he met award winning agriculturist Subhash Palekar, who has popularized a “zero budget spiritual farming" technique, where production cost is nil and no outside elements are added to the plant.
After struggling initially to sell his organic produce, Gowda now owns and cultivates crops like Bengal gram, paddy, cotton and bajra on his 30-acre farm.
“People come looking for organic in Sindhnur town," Gowda says of the 20 organic farmers in his village of 1,800 people.
He is among thousands of farmers who are finding new markets through various platforms including an ongoing organic and millets international trade fair in Bengaluru.
Drought prone Karnataka has been pushing the idea of millets and organic crops to mitigate the impact of failing rains and lack of productivity, in order to stabilize farmer incomes and promote effective water management and consumer health.
According to state agricultural department data, the total cultivated area for major millets has gone up by around 10% or 1.8 lakh hectares this year (total around 18 lakh hectares).
The total area of minor millets has doubled from around 20,000 hectares to 42,000 hectares at the same time. The problem, however, is marketing.
“In organic we have the capacity to go on increasing area, but we are only limited by farmers’ access to markets. That is the choke point. Through these activities and these trade fairs, we are increasing farmers’ reach to the market," Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka agriculture minister said.
Lack of access to markets had driven farmers back to traditional practices—a trend the state has been trying to change in the last two years by trying to create an organic and millets ecosystem of cultivators and companies.
The ministry is also mooting the idea of smart food clusters, where a group of villages or one gram panchayat will grow only organic crops—an idea that could used to promote agriculture tourism as well.
The state is now looking to start organic markets through farmer groups and federations in various districts along with other measures including higher buy back prices as it does for ragi (finger millet).
The government procures Ragi from farmers at Rs2,300, as against a market price of Rs1,600, and put it in the public distribution system (PDS).
It also encourages more people to take up the crop which is drought resistant and produces good quality fodder.
The government partnered with private companies to come out with more millet and organic based products that could be sold across the country as well as abroad.
Online supermarket, BigBasket (SuperMarket Grocery Supplies Pvt. Ltd) on Saturday launched its new ‘GoodDiet’ portfolio of smart food products at the organic and millets trade fair in Bengaluru.
The company met farmers and other vendors at last year’s Millet Mela in Bengaluru and has since launched the products, according to Vishal Das, national group category head of BigBasket.
Several other companies have come up in the last one-and-a-half years, according to Krishna Byre Gowda, who have teamed up with farmers to develop the growing “smart food" segment in the country.
The state government has spent around Rs200 crore in the last three-and-a-half years to promote Organic cultivation and marketing, the efforts of which are being realized now, Krishna Byre Gowda says. He adds that when a farmer is sure that there is a market for his produce, it would be easier from them to switch from chemical based to organic and millet farming. The centre is likely to declare 2018 as the ‘year of millets’—a boost for Karnataka and its farmer.