When IT and Computer Science were burgeoning in the eighties, people across the country had fresh goals to pursue. In a remote village called Keelapatti in Tamil Nadu, a farmer P Govindarajan and his wife Rajammal wanted their son G Karikalan to take this route, with the hope that he would have a much more comfortable life later on. They sent him to study in an engineering college in 1987. But Karikalan somehow couldn’t seems to forget his roots. His thoughts were always hovering around the agriculture sector.
After studying at St John’s Vestry Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School, Tiruchy, he got a BE (Computer Science) from Mookambigai College of Engineering, Pudukkottai, before starting work as a marketing executive in a Chennai–based IT company in 1992. Initially, he was obliged to keep working to keep his parents satisfied. Karikalan made jumps from one IT company to another and kept making more money.
But at the back of his mind, he always knew he wouldn’t do that forever. When he was at the peak of his career with about 15 long years of experience behind him, Karikalan suddenly decided to bid adieu to IT in 2007 and returned to his village — Keelapatti — in Karur, along with his wife Vanitha and daughter Rinithaa.
Renewed with vigour and purpose, Karikalan had just one goal and that was to spread advanced technology among the farmers.
But to do that, he had to first become one of them and so, he started farming on the 25 acres of land that he owned. “I always had this thought in the back of my head to return to my village and do some farming adopting the best technology and using practices that are benchmarked with the best. Since I was educated, I knew that i could make a difference to the whole farming sector by being an example to my fellow farmers in our locality,” he said.
In 2008, Karikalan began to popularise the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to improve the yield of paddy cultivation and Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) which promises 100 tonnes of yield per acre.
A strong believer in practicing before preaching, he first tried these schemes at his farm to demonstrate it to other farmers. These methods attracted several farmers from the many districts. “At least 1000 farmers had come to visit our field to find out about the technology used and many adopted this method in our surrounding villages,” he said with a hint of pride.
Meanwhile, sensing that the lack of storage area had led to the wastage of food grains produced, the IT professional-turned-farmer built a warehouse at Keelapatti to avoid distress sales and later started a shade net nursery to provide high quality seedlings to the farmers. “The warehouse infrastructure and the shade net nursery benefited the farmers to a large extent,” he said. He also set up the Nachalur Farmers Producers’ Company (NFPC) in 2012 to support paddy cultivation and to supply fertilisers at reasonable prices.
There’s also a huge shift towards organic cultivation, he explained, “We are stepping forward to phase out the inorganic cultivation from agriculture in a bid to eliminate application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, thereby reducing the input cost of the farmers,” he added. “To reduce the use of pesticides, we promote simple ideas like trapping insects using visual cues, pheromone traps and food.” In 2013, with the initiative taken by ICAR-Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), he was shortlisted for the Young Farmer Exchange Programme held in Malaysia representing Tamil Nadu and he was awarded the Velanmai Chemmal Award by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) in the same year.