NAGAPATTINAM/KARAIKAL: With just two weeks left for pongal, the farming community along the Nagapattinam and Karaikal coasts was abuzz with preparation for reaping the harvest of six months’ hard work. However, the tsunami on December 24, 2004 swallowed their paddy fields whole, bringing with it tonnes of mud and saline water.
Ten years on, farmers are now posting twice the yield of their pre-tsunami days, with the timely intervention of organic farming to reclaim soil nutrients. Training on these techniques from numerous organic farmers, NGOs and particularly the late Nammalvar, a pioneer, helped restore the fertile Nagapattinam coastal soil to its original state.
A few kilometers towards the west of Coromandel Coast, the impact on 25,000 acres of cultivable land in as many as 82 panchayats was brought into focus only after a week as it was overshadowed by the scale of human casualties. Organic farming pioneers point out that about 2,500 tones of mud mixed with salt enveloped the cultivable lands after the disaster.
Owing to heavy losses of `15,000 per acre spread over 25,000 acres, tsunami-hit paddy farmers were pushed to the limit, selling their lands to shrimp hatcheries at throwaway prices. However, organic farming pioneers, including organic scientist Nammalvar, came to the rescue and mobilised the farmers and interaction sessions were held by various NGOs, giving hope to farmers.
For removing salinity from the soil, scientists told farmers to plant saline-friendly saplings called ‘Dhaincha’ (Sesbania aculeata) in the tsunami-hit farmlands. These plants grew 8-9 feet height in 45 days, absorbing the salinity in the soil and converting the impermeably hard saline soil to permeable softer soil, thereby allowing nutrients to reach the roots of crops.
Farmers have also managed to revive as many as 385 traditional paddy varieties, including ‘Uvar Undaan’ and ‘Kaar Nel’ and other flood and drought resistant varieties.