P D BAPNA is the owner of a 20-ha sapota (cheeku or sapodilla plum) orchard in the Dahanu area of Maharashtra. Back in the '60s, like other growers, Bapna used chemical fertilisers. But in 1975, after his plants became weak and prone to disease, "perhaps because of the over-exploitation of the soil", Bapna began experimenting with chemical-free techniques that were practised in the area before fertilisers and pesticides were available.
To regulate water use, he built a drainage system -- average annual rainfall in the area is more than 2,000 mm and water stagnates easily during the monsoon -- and a drip irrigation system to cover the entire farm. Trenches were dug and filled with leaves and waste, which drew out the earthworms whose excreta revitalises the soil.
Within two years, the soil turned noticeably richer; gradually, the yield increased. Says Bapna, "In organic farming, one has to see the health of the soil -- not wealth."
Although Bapna cultivates only sapota, his orchards bear fruit throughout the year because plots are made to yield fruit in stages, thanks to the constant availability of water.
Bapna is now experimenting with intercropping drumstick, jackfruit, teak, coconut, mango, subabul and curry leaves. He says the cultivation of drumstick, Australian berry and cow pea attracts birds, which eat harmful insects and pests. Besides, the coconut trees grown on the bunds not only serve as a wind barrier but also provide a steady income, says Bapna.
Bapna's produce is marketed by fruit agents in Bombay, Delhi and Ahmedabad. However, he says, "Unlike the grape growers' association, we have no command over prices and agents often cheat us. Although there is a sapota growers' association, the members are not united." Some agents now purchase the fruits at auctions, but even they manage to manipulate the prices to their advantage, Bapna claims.
For his natural farming methods, Bapna, 72, was presented with the Krishi Bhushan award in 1988 and the Vasanth Rao Naik award in 1990.