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R Baskaran is an organic farming pioneer who lives in Thennampadugai near Kumbakonam. A follower of Nammazhvar, he has been practicing organic farming for 15 years. He is an enthusiastic participant in the paddy festival that is being conducted since 2006. He cultivates traditional rice varieties and is a keen observer of changing trends in farming and village life.

He says that until some 20 years ago, ponds and lakes in villages would typically be full for 10 months in a year. This helped in cultivating two crops in a year. Also, it would rain three months in a year. Today we get water only for a month, he says.

Since all the water sources have gone dry, farmers are dependent on borewells and electricity. Many of the cultivable lands are lying fallow. Baskaran has concluded that this is all due to climate change.

Starting in the 2000s, rain from monsoon has come down and led to one crop. From 2000 to 2004, there was water shortage but in 2005 there were storms. Since then the monsoon patterns have changed and become more erratic. Sometimes there is too much rain, sometimes less. 2010 was a normal year but 2012 and 2013 were again drought years. He is seeing a cycle of five years of drought followed by one year of excessive rain.

Farmers are not recognizing these cycles and don’t now how to change their cropping pattern leading to crop losses due to drought and excessive rain.

 

Baskaran says farmers have to understand in-depth the characteristics of the paddy crop. The paddy crop in delta withered since there was less water from 2011 to 2014. It rained for seven days during Diwali in 2012. After that there was no rain. That year’s samba was affected as a result.

Farmers used high yielding seeds faced with Cauvery water deficiency and use of groundwater. Baskaran decided to directly sow white ponni variety of 140 days duration. His sowing period lasted until September 30, leveraging the rains at that time which were enough for the crop to germinate. Then in October, there was rain after Diwali that helped to grow the crop to  a certain extent.

In October, November and December, there was water in the Cauvery for 10 days. His cropping was synchronized with the weather in such a way that there was water for 10 days and none for 20 days, which supported paddy growth. Though he did direct sowing, the paddy had grown well and the yield was high, he says. Baskaran busted the myth that without water, paddy would wither away.

2016, too, wasn’t a favourable year for paddy. In June, Baskaran went for direct sowing of two traditional rice varieties – karunguruvai and sorna masuri – in the hope that the monsoon would come true. But the monsoon didn’t. Sornamasuri germinated well but withered since there was no water. Karunguruvai is suited for kuruvai and was able to withstand to some extent.

There was no water that year from Mettur in September and even October. Baskaran was undecided if he should go for direct sowing expecting rain or nursery. By November it was clear that there wouldn’t be rain in December. Those who had borewell went for sowing. In January, Baskaran went searching for a crop that didn’t need much water. He wanted a variety that would just use the wetness that is there in December and January and grow without needing irrigation. He chose black gram ADD-3 and traditional green gram LDMV-3. It rained on December 27 and 28 as well as January 20 and 21. These crops did grow well. Baskaran harvested in 2017 March. In one acre, for 4 kg of sesame that he had sowed in one acre, he got 250 kg of sesame 1100 kg black gram in four acres. For 10 kg of green gram in one acre he got 350 kg harvest. His neighbours had gone for  high yielding paddy but their crops failed and they lost money.

Lessons learned

In Baskaran’s view, farmers should have the knowledge to go for a particular crop for a specific season. Traditional varieties are robust, climate-resistant and suited for regional variations in soil and weather patterns. For instance, there are seed varieties suited for Ramanathapuram, sandy soil as well as coastal conditions.

Each paddy variety has its own characteristics. If a farmer can identify the appropriate drought-resistant variety for his farm, then he can earn profits, he says.

A farmer should do crop rotation, not stick to paddy for all seasons. Samba is suited for the rainy season. After samba, pulses can grow utilizing just the moisture in the soil.

In March and April, they can go for millets, he says.

(Please contact R Baskaran, Thennampadugai, Patteeswaram, Kumbakonam, 9442871049)

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