Growing crops, even on fertile soil, is a daunting task. The yield is often not in line with expectations and even with the best inputs, a farmer cannot be certain she will get the yield she expects.
This is the scenario throughout the country, despite the several-so called communication hubs and the technology/knowledge sharing through social media, which the agriculture department claims is being carried out to help farmers get a good harvest.
If this is the case for fertile land tracts, ones with good irrigation facilities, what about those in which the soil salinity is high, like the land in coastal Tamil Nadu where the soil nature has turned highly saline due to the 2004 tsunami?
After the tsunami in 2004, several NGOs were involved in relief and rehabilitation works. But several of these were working on sanitation, creating new toilet facilities, providing food, reconstruction of homes for those displaced and so on. In the area of agriculture, however, practically nothing remarkable was being done since the entire nature of soil – even in the most fertile areas – was damaged due to seawater and slush deposits.
It was during this time that an NGO called Kudumbam in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, actively began organising several training programmes and demonstrations on organic agriculture for farmers through its field schools.
Singonodai, a small village in Nagapattinam district, which is home to about 80 farming families, is one of the villages where these programmes were successfully implemented.
As a first step, a loan was provided to farmers to help them buy livestock for producing bio inputs using cow urine and cow dung and to ensure supplementary income through milk.
Baskaran, a young farmer, owns a very small patch of land of two acres. He grows groundnut in 1.5 acres and cultivates different kinds of vegetables like snake gourds, bitter gourds and seasonal vegetables on the rest of the land.
For the last ten years, he has been cultivating the entire area using organic methods and has inspired around 15 farmers in his village to do the same.
He has three native cows primarily for making farmyard manure using their dung and urine. About 50% of his farm manure needs are met by this and the remaining he purchases from the local market.
He has dug small farm ponds for storing rainwater. As it is the tail end area of the Cauvery river and close to the coastal area, the surface gets percolated with water easily. The size of the cultivable land area is also designed in such a way based on the availability of water. The crops are irrigated through micro-irrigation, thus minimising evaporation.
“Mr Baskaran spends Rs 30,000 for groundnut crop cultivation and gets a net income of Rs 40,000 per acre. For snake gourd, he spends Rs 20,000 and gets the net income of Rs 30,000. Similarly, for bitter gourd, he spends Rs 10,000 and gets a net income of Rs 10,000 per acre. For cucumber, his expenditure is Rs 20,000 and net income is Rs 30,000,” says Suresh Khanna, programme coordinator for the NGO.
The farmer sells his vegetables at the local market
“In the case of vegetables, my initial investments was much similar to other farmers as we had to erect stone poles for the cultivation of different gourds and every season, it needed to be repaired. However, I saved Rs 5,000 per acre as I use 50% of the farmyard manure from my own cattle for basal fertiliser. I have been able to reduce Rs 3,000 per acre by using bio pest repellent mixtures instead of buying chemical fertilisers from the shops,” says Baskaran.
In organic agriculture, integrating livestock with the crop is a basic requirement for any farmer. The dung and urine are the basic ingredients for any bio input, thereby reducing the expense of buying the same from the market.
“If you carefully observe the pattern of farmer’s suicides you can see it is largely because they are dependent on chemical fertilizers and grow crops which are not suitable to their soil. In doing so, they take more loans and get caught in the debt trap and ultimately face a blank wall when their crops fail,” Baskaran says.
Organic farming definitely reduces expense to about 60%. At the same time, if the family is also involved in the farming operations then there is no question of added expense as all the labour, inputs are available on the farm itself.
In many instances of farmers using methods of organic agriculture, we see that they also employ one or several farm hands, adding to the salary needs. In such cases, the possibility of success of this methodology is only about 75%.
He also emphasises that for organic agriculture, native cows are best suited since the maintenance cost is minimal. “The dung and urine of native cows are valuable assets for making bio inputs. They are sturdy and resistant to a number of diseases. Never rear native cows only for milk. Because the yield will be less, say two to 2.5 litres a day, but they compensate more in helping us making the required inputs.”
For more details, contact Baskaran at 9943472191.