Obviously, the first thing you need to get started on farming is: land. You can buy or lease it, or work on someone else’s land. I know people who’ve done all these things. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have adopted the European system of farm allotments. Judging by the number of people we’ve met who are desperate to get their hands dirty, this is an idea whose time has come.
You can even farm land that doesn’t belong to anyone – there’s a lot of so-called wasteland or commons, known in south India as poramboke, which it is perfectly legal for anyone to use, provided they don’t fence it. Of course, you’ll first need to establish your bona fides among the people living there, get the panchayat’s permission and pay a tax for the use of the land. Here’s an interesting article about land titles. A word of caution here: don’t apply the word poramboke to a person. Apparently it’s an insult!
How you get your land depends on how much money you can lay out, how adventurous you are, how much owning matters to you, whether you want to be a weekend/ hobby farmer or live on your farm full time, and so on. But whatever you do: I cannot overstate how important it is to have the goodwill of the residents. It’s probably the single most important factor in your being able to pull it off. This means: always be polite to everyone, don’t get involved in local politics, be conscious of their superior knowledge, at least of local conditions, be willing to trust people even if they are suspicious of you to start with, be generous so that your coming into the community is more a positive than a negative, even sometimes act dumb when necessary. Whatever you do, they’ll think you’re crazy, but better be good-crazy than bad-crazy.
We started off not knowing a thing about farming; we had no family or friends who farmed. We’ve been urban people for three generations. Basically: zero background. Except that I’ve wanted to live on a farm almost ever since I can remember. Almost all my favourite books, fiction and non-, are about farms, animals, or the outdoors. So: we started off looking for land for sale or lease close to home, on the outskirts of Bangalore. Two problems that hit us again and again: affordability and legality. In the state of Karnataka, as in many other Indian states, you cannot buy farmland unless you’ve been an agriculturalist since 1980. Plus, your annual income from sources other than agriculture must be less than Rs. 50,000. Or some such pittance.
There are ways around it, of course. For instance, buy a small piece of agricultural land in another state and, on the strength of that, claim you are an agriculturalist. Lie about your income and bribe your way through. Yes, a lot of people do it, but if you don’t want to spend your time crawling through loopholes and greasing palms, then I suggest going further afield and buying land in Tamil Nadu, where it is completely legal for any Indian citizen to buy agricultural land. Also, it’s much cheaper than land this side of the state border, which is why the Bagalur-Hosur-Denkanikottai-Kelamangalam-Thally region – temptingly dubbed Little England by real estate agents – is full of wannabe farmers from Bangalore. Apart from its proximity to Electronic City which, as everyone knows, is full of people with burnout and money to burn.
So scour the ads, wander the roads and villages, trawl the internet and talk to brokers. And don’t get angry and frustrated when nothing seems to click. Believe me, the hunt is half the fun. Every day you spend wandering around the countryside is a picnic! You’ll miss it when you’re a staid and settled farmer with chores to do!
If all this fails to appeal, you could be another Saalumarada Thimakka. If you don’t know who she is, you should!