Suresh Desai was born in Bedkihal Village, Belgaum district, in a traditional South Indian family comprising of 67 members. Since completing his matriculation, Suresh has been caring for the family property of 4.5 hectares, in an area where sugar cane is a primarily crop. For nearly a decade, Suresh followed conventional practices relying on external inputs in the form of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Just like most of the other farmers near Belgaum, he grew sugar cane, a high water-demanding cash crop, and tobacco. Suresh Desai is a founding member of an Organic Farmers Club in Belgaum District of Karnataka, India. It has 400 members, some of whom are already growing crops organically, while others are in the process of shifting to organic farming.
Suresh's yields for sugar cane was 75 to 90 tonnes a hectare, much like others. Eventually crops got affected by pests and disease, the soil gradually lost its fertility, and water supplies began dwindling, since most of the nutrients contained in the ashes (from the trash of cut canes that were burnt) were leached away with the first irrigation.
Initial experiments with organic practices:
He tried composting the residues and using this to fertilize his sugar cane crop to reduce the inputs of chemical fertilizers. This would require a lot of time and labour. He reasoned that if the work of shifting organic matter to and from was avoided, considerable saving in time and labour resulted leading to reduction in water usage by 75 to 80 percent in comparison with the conventional usage.
Next, organic residues were incorporated in situ in the fields that produced them. With this he was able to reduce use of chemical fertilizers by 50 percent, while maintaining the same production . but, irrigation problems in black cotton soils, Groundwater level declination etc increased concluding that irrigation itself was responsible for this slow but steady spoilage of the soils.
To prevent evaporation losses, he kept all the trash on the fields as mulch, but found irrigation became very difficult as the trash obstructed the flow of the irrigation water. And the idea that the trash could be kept in one row and that the water could be provided in the next row became the solution to this problem and was able to reduce his irrigation requirement by 50 percent leading to an amazing increase in soil life. Zero tillage and reduced irrigation enabled a reduction in water usage by 75 to 80 percent in comparison with the conventional usage.
Soil fertility in Suresh Desai's farm is maintained by factors like : reduced irrigation; trash composting; green manuring; soil conditioning.
The new farming design practices include : increased spacing between settes and rows; stimulation of tillering by the "snapping method"; intercropping with dryland food crops between sugar cane.
At present 250 neighbouring farmers are following Suresh Desai's method, or variations thereof. A total of 300 hectares are under this system of farming.