The Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems has been working with small and marginal farmers in the Nagapattinam District of Tamil Nadu for the last 9 years. Their support and motivation has encouraged groups of farmers to take up sustainable agriculture activities.
There are now about 270 farmers in the region following organic cultivation and management practices in their fields. While most of them continue with accepted, tried and tested techniques of organic agriculture practices - as taught during a training program or observed during an exposure visit to other organic farms - there are some others who like to experiment and innovate. Their curiosity and innate nature to learn from experience, from questioning and from doing, rather than observing and replicating, sets them along unchartered, unknown territories each of which they see as a learning opportunity. Learning how to do organic farming and also how not to do it!
A brief history
We have one such innovative farmer – Mr. Chellappa in a village called Ilayamadhukoodam. As a young man, trained in foundry work, he sought work overseas and remained there till he got married in 2002. There were two pressing reasons why he wanted to return to his native village – he wanted to stay with his family, and the work environment overseas was becoming increasingly unfavourable for him to continue living there. He returned to his native village and began to explore possible livelihood options.
In the initial period after his return, agriculture was only seen as a substitute means of income generation, he intermittently supported his mother in the agriculture activities. How ever, within a short period, he decided to pursue agriculture as his main occupation and took over the responsibility of farming from his mother. Having little experience in farming, he continued with the practices of growing crops with heavy doses of fertilizers and pesticides as was being done by his mother and all his other neighbouring farmers.
The shift to organic agriculture was a conscious decision. He noticed a dead tortoise and a dead snake in his farm after the application of a pesticide, and this incident got him thinking and wondering about the effects of these chemicals on the environment and on human health. He reasoned to himself and came to an understanding that a method of agriculture that uses poisons cannot and should not be followed. Being new to agriculture he did not know of any other way, but he knew for sure that the way he was doing it now, was not how he wanted to continue doing it.
As he was looking for alternatives and guidance, he met Mr.Ravichandran, an organic farmer in the region who was associated with CIKS. Mr.Ravichandran introduced Mr.Chellappa to the team at CIKS and from then on he has been actively involved with experimenting and documenting all his efforts at improving agricultural productivity from his farm.
The shift to organic agriculture being a conscious decision was also tempered with practicality. He decided to experiment with organic management practices in a small part of his land to start with. Though he did not approve of chemical methods of farming, it was imperative that he continued with chemical methods of cultivation on a large part of his farm initially as farming was their only source of livelihood. Slowly as he gained confidence in organic methods he converted more and more of his farm under organic management and now a complete patch of 1.82 ha is under organic management and is also registered for formal organic certification.
The farm is located about 7 kms from Sirkazhi town in a village called Ilayamadhukoodam in the Sirkazhi taluk of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu. Visiting Mr.Chellappa's farm is an amazing experience and having him walk you through his farming experiences is a lesson in ecology and the inter-relatedness of all living forms.
The farm itself is divided into many small manageable plots where a diversity of crops including pulses, cereals, vegetables and flowers are grown in rotation along with green manure and fodder species. The farm also has perennial trees that bear fruit, provide for timber, fodder and fuel wood. Also included are bees, fish, chicken and cows that play a very significant role in the overall plan of the farm. Each component that has been introduced/incorporated in the farm fulfils a specific need or requirement.
Mr.Chellappa has clearly understood the basic concept of ecology “All is one and inter-related” and has used this guiding principle to create cycles within the agro-ecosystem thus ensuring productivity, stability and resilience in the system. During the process of conversion, as is generally believed, he has suffered a reduction in yields. Though now he strongly believes that the reduction in yields was more due to his lack of understanding of ecological cycles and nutrient requirements of the plants. He is now confident of getting comparable yields to conventional agriculture. His awareness and confidence comes from the fact that he has been recording and documenting much of his agricultural activities and is favourably.
Apart from being an ardent practitioner and enthusiast of organic farming Mr.Chellappa hopes to become a motivator for organic farming in the region. He strongly believes that agriculture is a noble activity and how we do our agriculture must not be dependent or dictated by external entities – seed and agro-chemical manufacturers.
He finds the current dominant trend in the agriculture sector, of relying on external sources for all inputs - starting from seeds to soil fertility management, pest and disease control - unnecessary and unhealthy too. He believes that our traditional varieties of seeds have the potential to respond well if provided optimum conditions for growth, and being adapted to local conditions are capable of withstanding all kinds of stress - environmental, biotic and abiotic.
Most of the crops grown in the farm are from seeds raised in his farm or other organic farms. He collects native seeds of vegetables, pulses, cereals and multiplies them on his farm and is ever willing to share small quantities of these seeds with other farmers and visitors to his field.
One of the principal activities of CIKS is identification, collection, characterization and conservation of indigenous rice varieties of the region. They have been largely successful in their activities because of the active support and cooperation of farmers like Mr.Chellappa. In this season he has cultivated 4 different varieties of traditional paddy -
1 . Poongar - is a short-term variety coming into harvest within 75-80 days
2 . Karungkuruvai - is believed to have medicinal properties and is also a short-term variety, coming into harvest in about 75-80 days
3 . Sivappu Kurvikkar - is tolerant to pests
4. Seeraga samba - is a fine rice variety
He collected one kilogram each of seeds of Poongar and Karungkuruvai variety from an organic farm in Thiruthiraipoondi and sowed them in one fifth of an acre (20 cents) each in his farm. Seeds of Sivappu Kurvikkar and Seeraga samba were supplied by CIKS which he has planted in one tenth of an acre each (10 cents). Farmers like him take a keen interest in growing as well as conserving traditional varieties of paddy and vegetables, so for every kilogram of seed taken, double the quantity is given back to the organization that supplied the seeds. This process ensures that sufficient quantity of seed is available for distribution to more interested farmers.
Mr.Chellappa has been documenting the management practices he followed for these two crops, including detailed and regular monitoring and documentation of growth parameters like plant height, number of tillers, time of panicle formation, number of grains per panicle, yield per panicle etc. He uses this recorded data to fine tune his practices to get maximum return from his crops.
The indomitable spirit of this farmer is truly amazing. In the initial years he suffered reduction in yields from his crops. He took it in his stride, and accepted what most practitioners of organic agriculture state, that a reduction in yield was a natural consequence of shifting from chemical intensive agriculture to organic management practices.
But today, he firmly believes that if one works with nature, understanding her natural rhythms, cycles and requirements, yields need not fall during the transition period. The primary reason for a dip in yields, in his opinion, is a consequence of our limited understanding of nature and the inter-relatedness of the various components within the ecosystem. One can not help wondering and believing in his conviction, since it is coming from practical experience, knowledge, insight and wisdom.
Chellappa is constantly experimenting with new combinations of plants to increase diversity and income from his land. He incorporates new elements to create self regulating cycles, he has introduced bee boxes in his farm and this he says, apart from giving him honey will also help in better pollination of his crops. He maintains cattle in the farm and uses the dung to prepare vermicompost, other soil amendments and plant growth enhancers like panchagavya, and amrithakalasam. He uses these inputs to grow his crops and fodder which is fed to the cattle. He is also in the process of deepening the farm pond to incorporate fish into the system.
In spite of limited financial resources available with him, he is experimenting and ‘learning by doing'. Chellappa hopes to convert his farm into a self sustaining system where all the requirements for farming are met from within the farm itself. He sees himself as a trainer and would be glad to see his farm develop into a training centre for organic practices. Farmers like him will play an important role as agents of change – they have the willingness to share, the ability to motivate and unwavering trust in this system of food production. They certainly need to be nurtured, encouraged and supported.
BACK TO TOP^