Agricultural Hero: Kakani Sivannarayana
Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.
For years, Indian farmer Kakani Sivannarayana made his living by growing bananas using typical agricultural practices that relied heavily on chemicals and pesticides. This type of mono-cropping can damage the land, robbing the soil of symbiotic life such as fungi and bacteria and depleting important microbiological diversity. When using chemical fertilizers over time, the land becomes less productive and transforms the consistency of the soil to something more akin to cement. This land ends up yielding less produce and limits farmers, like Sivannarayana, in what they are able to grow. These chemicals can also cause tremendous stress on local water resources — affecting health, livelihood, and profit.
When a neighboring farmer began seeing benefits both ecologically and economically by shifting to agroecological farming, Sivannarayana’s life changed. He decided to take a chance and transition his own farm to a more natural system. Not only did this reduce his overall costs, but it also increased his revenue. In addition, the soil’s health improved through intercropping, which is a method where compatible crops are planted together on the same land. These plants work in harmony with each other to increase yields by both providing nutrients and repelling pests as needed when it affects an adjacent crop.
Sivannarayana went from needing eight bags of fertilizer to needing none, using natural biostimulants like cow dung and urine, sugar cane, and pulse flour. This makes the soil softer and keeps the produce fresh longer and taste better. Chemical fertilizers impede the ability of soil to absorb water which causes expenses to rise as well as affecting the taste of the crops. His farm went from one crop to cultivating up to five intercrops that include tomato, chili, and pulse.
Wanting to share his success, Sivannarayana encouraged other farmers to do the same and it inspired him to set up a Farmer Field School to support other farmers in using the methods and learning it for themselves. As a training coordinator, he organized it so that farmers would have an opportunity to have an open discussion with each other about what is working and what is not. He even invited them to dig in his soil to compare how many earthworms there were compared to fields where chemical fertilizers are used. Earthworms are vital to healthy soils and increase nutrient availability and encourage better drainage, creating a more stable soil structure to aid in farm productivity.
In India, agroecological farming is a grassroots movement that is becoming more popular. Starting in the southern state of Karnataka, natural farming methods have taken off by hundreds of thousands of farmers across India. Sivannarayana has since gained recognition and helping him is the support from the Andhra Pradesh Community Natural Farming (APCNF) program, a farming initiative that was launched along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations technical expertise. The APCNF program encourages agroecology that uses locally-made, botanical pesticides and innovative cultivation methods that naturally prevent pest and disease outbreaks.
Thanks to Sivannarayana and other farming pioneers, these simple and natural practices are trending as a way for a more sustainable agricultural sector which helps the environment and changes our planet for the better.