TIRUNELVELI: Can organic farming not yield results as good as chemical farming? A group of 30-odd farmers are busting this myth in Tirunelveli. Using organic fertilizers and age-old methods, they have reaped a bumper harvest and received an award from the Chief Minister for getting the highest yield in the year 2018-19. The story began six years ago, when a few farmers near Panakudi decided that for the sake of better health, they must shift back to organic methods. It was not easy at first. Challenges were aplenty. But with sheer grit and persistence, they steadily increased the yield every year.
Seventy-year-old S Krishnammal, who received the CM’s award earlier this month, says she grows paddy using just ‘panchakavyam’ as the fertilizer — made of curd, seeds, milk, peanut flour, sugarcane juice, coconut water and cow dung. “There was a time when we also used chemical fertilizers like other farmers,” recalls Krishnammal.
“It was our neighbour S Maheshwaran (49) who convinced us to go organic,” she says. The yields were nominal. Over the years, however, the harvest just kept getting better. “Now we get nearly 1,800 kg of rice from an acre every season, which is twice of what we got initially,” says Krishnammal. Inspired, Krishnammal and Maheshwaran started an organic farmers’ association, helping fellow farmers procure native varieties of seeds and organic farming products.
Meet the unsung hero who sowed ideas in the head of Krishnammal
Though it was Krishnammal who won the award, the real brain or inspiration behind this organic drive is Maheshwaran. Putting all his trust on a four-acre patch of land in his native Panakudi, Maheshwaran quit his job abroad and came back to do farming. “I started thinking about organic farming when my health started to take a beating,” he says, adding that he always believed in the old Tamil adage ‘food is medicine’. “I initiated Krishnammal and her son Murugan to organic farming.”
Maheshwaran explains why organic farming takes time to yield results. “Soil accustomed to chemicals will need a few years to recover and respond to organic inputs. Bringing back mineral-rich soil for paddy cultivation was our goal,” he says, adding that unlike others they do not polish their rice. “The outer bran is nutrient-rich, and we leave it intact.”
Keeping the spirit of innovation alive, the farmers have been testing two or three varieties on each of their lands. “Rather than using the same variant through the entire fields, we try different ones to see which best suits the soil.” At present, 12 native varieties are being used, on a rotational basis. An acre of land produces about 1,800 kg of rice. While the cost of cultivation is around Rs 47,000 the income earned stands at a substantial Rs 1,31,000. The success has been so resounding that the membership of the organic farmers’ association has now gone up to 100. Apart from Panakudi, farmers in Radhapuram, Valliyoor, Cheranmahadevi, Kalakkad, Nanguneri blocks are also being roped in.