Pudukkottai District is a drought prone area of Tamil Nadu State which failed to receive even the minimum quantity of rainfall for several consecutive years prior to 2004. This caused some farmers and landless labourers to migrate to towns in search of employment.
More than 60 percent of the population belong to scheduled castes (Dalits) and are either marginal farmers or landless agricultural labourers. Illiteracy is high and poverty has meant that highly malnourished women and children, and cases of children with mental or physical handicaps, are not uncommon.
Kudumbam wanted to change the above poverty scenario and to improve the life of the people at least in one of the villages in Pudukkottai District. Anna Nagar Village was chosen as the case study village, and it was planned to introduce organic crop production there. A participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercise was carried out and 20 farmers were selected to do organic rice cultivation. Farmers’ knowledge of IPM and organic agriculture was assessed through an assessment study. Five leading farmers were taken to a farm at Bangalore to study the System of Rice Intensification (SRI ) method of rice cultivation. One woman farmer volunteered to do organic farming under the SRI method of cultivation while the others followed only organic cultivation. A Farmers Field School (FFS ) on organic technologies was conducted every week throughout the season. Possible alternatives were evolved for identified problems through bimonthly review and planning meetings.
As most of the farmers were uneducated, documentation was found to be difficult. However, the field staff collected information and documented data in consultation with the farmers. A documentation module was designed, and followed for the purpose. All twenty farmers attended the FFS , learned the organic farming technologies and SRI method, and put them into practice.
The use of enriched farm yard manure, cow’s urine mixed with sand, sowing green manure seeds and ploughing in situ, formed the organic practices which the farmers adopted willingly, and paved the way for better nutrient management in their fields. Many plant protection measures exhibited good potential in the farmers’ fields and helped to gain the confidence of the farmers. The SRI method of rice cultivation attracted the attention of many farmers since they witnessed a considerable saving of input cost by way of reduced seed use (3 kg/acre compared with the conventional 24 kg/acre), nursery management, seedling pulling cost, transplanting, weed management and low water utilization. The production of 50 to 60 tillers in each hill paved the way for higher yield and net profit. Farmers who were reluctant at first to join the field experimentation became much more enthusiastic on witnessing the results and agreed to continue organic farming, including the SRI method, in subsequent years.
In the case studies, it was found that a woman farmer who grew rice organically had a resulting cost-benefit ratio of 1:3.6. Similar cost-benefit ratios were obtained by other farmers in the programme. The technologies that enhanced farmer confidence and gave a higher cost-benefit ratio were organic practices such as growing green manure, and plant protection measures, such as applying a herbal decoction.