How one man’s vision is changing farming practices in TN’s delta region

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on September 15, 2021

Nimal Raghavan

Nimal Raghavan’s movement to rejuvenate water bodies is helping farmers diversify from coconut to native rice varieties, other crops

Three years ago, when Nimal Raghavan (33) visited his native village in Tamil Nadu from Dubai, where he was working, little did he imagine that a storm brewing over the Bay of Bengal would change the course of his life forever. Or that he would be instrumental in villagers in the area switching from coconut cultivation to paddy and sugarcane farming.

On November 16, 2018, as Raghavan was relaxing in his village Nadiyam in Peravurani town in Thanjavur district, the powerful Cyclone Gaja hit the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Thousands of houses were destroyed, lakhs of electricity poles were damaged and nearly one crore coconut trees were uprooted in the Delta region with Thanjavur district’s Orathanadu, Pattukkottai and Peravurani bearing the brunt of the high velocity winds. The three areas were known for coconut cultivation, which was a source of livelihood for 80 per cent of the families here.

The trigger point

Having witnessed the devastating impact of the cyclone, Raghavan quit his job and plunged into relief work. It was during these relief efforts that Raghavan realised that farmers in the area were overly dependent on coconut farming and ignoring fast-yield crops like paddy and sugarcane.

“I decided to bring farmers back to rice and sugarcane cultivation. But water scarcity was a challenge,” Raghavan says.

So, he decided to address water management and lake rejuvenation.

Along with his senior in school Naveen Anandhan and few other youngsters, he formed the Kadaimadai Area Integrated Farmer’s Association (KAIFA) to bring sustainable farming to the region.

The team first desilted the 565-acre Periyakulam (Big Lake) in Peravurani and restored the waterbody. It is now capable of irrigating more than 6,000 acres of land.

“The ground water level in the region improved from 300-400 feet to 40 feet. I thought if three months of effort can solve years of water problem, why not replicate it to other water bodies in the region,” Raghavan said.

Lake rejuvenation

Today, the KAIFA team, which has spread its activities across Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai and Sivangagai districts, is working on its 95th lake rejuvenation project. Each project involves preparing the source channel, desilting of the water bodies, increasing the depth of the lake, strengthening of boundaries and creating a small island of native trees at the centre of the lake.

The Kaifa team, along with the local community support, has planted 650,000 tree saplings till date.

Raghavan credits his school seniors Karthikeyan Velsamy and Naveen Anandhan as the pillar of support behind this movement besides other friends like Prabhakar, Thanga Kannan and Suresh Arumugam. He also lauded the generosity of corporate donors, community participation and support from the local government.

“I came to know about his work from a You Tube video. I also had a discussion with Nimal and other members of the Kaifa team.

“Their vision appears to be promising. We have plans to work with them in some places,” Thanjavur district collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver said.

Published on September 15, 2021

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