Variety

Money grows on organic manure

M.J. Prabu | Updated on November 17, 2011

Healthy banana trees.- M.J. Prabhu   -  Businessline

Natural choice: NGO SANDS shows villagers in Tirunelveli how to prepare organic manure. - M.J. Prabu   -  Business Line

Villages in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, have turned away from chemical fertilisers to reap healthy profits.



Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu is famous for its soaring temple towers, a hugely popular halwa shop opposite Nellaiappar temple that opens only for limited hours in the evening, the bustling train junction, and the swift waters of the Tambaraparani river.

About 45 km south of this bustling town is a clutch of villages in which a quiet transformation is on.

The area is largely isolated — there are no government bus services, no schools or health centres function here. For any emergency, villagers have to travel nearly 20 km to the neighbouring town of Thisayanvilai. The men work in farms, while the women roll beedis for income.

Until a few years ago, many farmers in this drought-prone region were forced to sell their land or leave them barren. Today, however, more than 40 villages here are successfully growing crops ranging from sunflower to chillies, using their own inputs.

Recalling the tough times, farmer T. Anthony says, “Till a few years ago, due to drought, much of the land in our village lay fallow. We walked several kilometres every day in search of potable water. The situation turned worse during summer. Though a few big farmers carried on with some farming, a severe shortage of fertilisers forced them to give up too.”

Nearly everyone in the village owed thousands of rupees in debt to the retail fertiliser shops in town.

“Monsoon failure and yield loss made repayment difficult, and increased the interest rate further. If we do not repay in one year, the amount doubles the following year. For even small crops such as chillies or tomatoes, we were dependent on credit from the shop owner,” farmer M.D. Annadurai recollects.

But all that has changed now. “Today, despite acute water scarcity and power cuts, we are successfully growing sunflower, plantains, paddy, chilli and groundnut. Some farmers have earned nearly Rs 1 lakh from growing small onions as intercrop in chilli fields,” says another farmer, S. Jayalaxmi.

So how did this dramatic improvement come about?

“We felt that the solution lay in finding an alternative to costly fertilisers. Initially, we trained about 1,000 farmers to make their own farm inputs,” says J.H.S. Ponnaya, the 80-year-old head of the NGO Sands (Suviseshapuram and Neighbouring Development Organisation) in Tirunelveli.

The farmers now use panchagavya (a combination of milk, ghee, curd, fruits) and other manure made from locally available organic farmyard inputs. Not only is this helping them save money but also boosting their yield.

Farmers in Kazhuvoor, Eranthai, Vijayanarayanam and Vijayaachambadu villages in Nanguneri taluk and Perunkannankulam and Vadivammanpatti villages in Radhapuram taluk are among those who have switched from chemical fertilisers to organic manure for over a year now.

Says Ranjitha Packiyam, a farmer in Kazhuvoor: “I used my own inputs for my paddy crop in an acre plot and found it helps good growth. Previously I spent more than Rs 1,500 for buying these inputs. But now I am saving on the money by making manure on my own.”

T. Suyambu Rajan from Vijayanarayanam village concurs: “I applied this manure to my three-acre plantain crop and found them growing well.”

“We are happy to hear farmers say they are able to save some money with this method. Our country's agriculture is going through a critical phase today. A cure for this can be surely found if both media and society become more sensitive to the farmers' problems and take a proactive stand on the issue,” says Ponnaya.

The past decade saw two remarkable developments in the country — the emergence and growth of the IT sector and, an increase in the number of farmer suicides.

“In spite of the claim that rural India shines in prosperity, several villages today continue to suffer from power cuts, drought, lack of proper sanitation facilities, absence of medical centres and schools. But these have not deterred the will of many villagers. They have been able to succeed financially by growing a vast variety of crops using their own inputs and they serve as inspiration of many,” says Ponnaya.

Published on November 17, 2011

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