Agriculture

Farmer’s Notebook: How Changing Cropping Pattern Can Help Mitigate Loss

Apart from economic gains and increased production, mixed cropping has helped a Tamil Nadu farmer save on water for irrigation – a precious resource in the drought-ridden region.

S. Kalaiselvan, a farmer in the Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu. Credit: M.J. Prabhu

Like many other places across the country, Kovil Veerakkudi, a small village in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu, has been impacted by a severe drought for the last five years.

Though it comes under the delta region, it is known for prone to droughts and dry, and does not benefit from the Cauvery water, the lifeline of the delta areas.

The impact of persistent droughts has led to a depletion in the groundwater level. In many places, agriculture has failed completely and compelled many farming families to migrate to nearby towns and cities. The availability of fodder is limited during a drought, forcing farmers to sell livestock and milch cattle.

Despite the recurring droughts and the agrarian crisis, some farmers have been able to foresee the impacts and change their cropping system to overcome the obstacles.

S. Kalaiselvan, a young and enthusiastic farmer, owns seven acres. His approach towards farming has always been different from that of others and he is constantly searching for alternatives, attempting innovative experiments in his field.

Despite using organic farming methods and techniques for five years, Kalaiselvan had little success. His expenses, despite labour, and pest and disease management, did not scale down as expected. The open well, which is his only water source, also depleted day-by-day with the monocropping system of paddy cultivation.

“At this point I started to seriously analyse the reasons for my loss and realised that monocropping with paddy is the reason. In the face of drought and monsoon failure, it is a risky crop. This realisation made me decide to change the cropping pattern. Instead of one crop, I decided to grow different crops. Accordingly, I allotted 75 cents for the experiment in which I cultivated groundnut as a major crop, intercropped with pulses and cotton along with greens and onion.”

Farmer's Notebook.

In order to effectively use the irrigation water, he planted onion on the irrigation bunds and sesame in the main field bunds. He also planted cotton immediately after groundnut harvest and sowed short-term greens.

Not only did water and weed management become easy through this combination of mixed cropping, but it also saved him enormous time and farm labour required for irrigation and weed management.

“As the mixed cropping system completely covered the entire field from direct sunlight, it helped retain soil moisture of the field for longer time. Moreover, the weed growth also suppressed remarkably, resulting in the reduction of farm labour engaged for weeding. This is the first sign of big relief for him,” said K. Suresh Kannan, the deputy director of an NGO called Kudumbam in Tiruchi.

The young farmer was trained and made aware of the benefits of mixed cropping by the NGO, which has been working among several hundred farmers in different districts of the state.

According to the farmer, mixed cropping benefited him more than monocropping, from which he could get only paddy and rest of the food items he had to purchase from retail shops. Mixed cropping, on the other hand, contributed with the production of variety of food products for his own family and his day-to-day needs.

“From the 75 cents I was able to harvest eight bags of groundnut, out of which four bags was milled for oil for personal needs. In addition, 25 kgs of sesame was also crushed into oil and pulses. Onion and greens take care of my family requirement plus my income,” explains Kalaiselvan.

According to him, the net income from mixed cropping is around Rs 59,700 from 75 cents, whereas the net profit from monocropping with paddy is only around Rs 7,315 from 40 cents.

Apart from economic gain, the problem with pest was also minimal when compared with the monocropping system of paddy cultivation. As the land area is completely covered, the weed growth is also minimised.

“The biggest gain for him in mixed cropping system is the reduced number of days and time for irrigating the crops. For the monocropping system with paddy he used to irrigate water once in four days if he had little rain, otherwise he has to irrigate once in two days and each time two-and-half-hours of irrigation for the paddy crops,” said Kannan.

In mixed cropping system, irrigation is required once in 15 days. If there is little rain, irrigation is required once in a month and each time for five hours. Thus, he is able to save more of the water available in the well, which is the only water source.

For more details, interested farmers can contact M. Prabu at 9842988889 or prabureliance@yahoo.com and S. Kalaiselvan at 97513 25207.