A regular church-goer, she has fond memories of J H S Ponnaya, a former researcher at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University who spearheaded a project to train farmers in organic farming. Funded by Christian charities in the west, the programme trained some 5,000 farmers in the techniques and practices. Ponnaya was also instrumental in educating children in the village, she says, adding that in the past education was the privilege of only a few.
Some 30 km away, at Kayamozhi, Sakthi Kumar too ploughs a lonely furrow. He has been an organic farmer since 2006 and believes it is the key to his success. When he started out, though, he had an Rs 8 lakh loss from a drumstick crop. The reason? He didn’t quite know the nuances. The early failure did not deter him and he credits the determination to his background in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “I don’t know what you think of the shakhas but they are actually character-training grounds. They moulded me,” he says. The RSS inspired him to take up organic farming because it is traditional and is based on native resources and wisdom.
Organic farming may be a no-brainer for its advocates but is never an easy choice for the regular farmer. “It’s always easy for the farmer to sprinkle some urea and spray chemical pesticides,” says Jayaseeli. Those who keep to it are often driven by passion – a character trait that can sometimes be associated with religious zeal too, as in the case of the Suveseshapuram project and Sakthi Kumar.
Follow-up an issue
Some of what Jayaseeli makes she uses in her own two-acre farm. Organic farming enthusiasts purchase the rest. “I sell the panchagavya for Rs 50 a litre although the market rate is Rs 60,” she says.“Making panchagavya is not easy. It needs some effort. It smells too,” she says.
Jayaseeli is a cattle trader. She has two or three cows at any point of time. This means access to cowdung, besides milk, ghee and so on. Fruits – rotten ones – are an important ingredient for panchagavya. Jayaseeli has a sappota tree and has access to palm fruits in the village.
A key reason for waning enthusiasm was the threat to the farming ecosystem itself that is needed for organic farming to survive. Ponniah passed away nearly a year and half ago, she adds. “It would be hard for those not having cows to go hunting for cowdung from others,” her husband adds.
Besides these, farming itself is facing a since there is not enough water, her husband chimes in. Jayaseeli’s son Jerome is studying in polytechnic and says he doesn’t want to take up farming. But Jayaseeli is not giving up. She insists her panchagavya business does pay off. “There is more weight to the paddy that is grown in my farm. My coconuts are bigger,” she adds.
“The roses grown in the garden to which I supply are so much better looking,” she says
“The roses grown in the garden to which I supply are so much better looking,” she says. She talks about a regular customer – a doctor in nearby Nagercoil who tells their patients to eat organic. But Jayaseeli is not sure if there are more people using organic products now compared to before. “Society doesn’t accept good things easily,” her husband adds.
The reasons that people give for not doing organic farming are just excuses, says Sakthi Kumar. Just one cow is enough to serve the needs of a large chunk of farmland, he adds.
Sakthi Kumar has faced setbacks in the 4.5 acre papaya farmland he has leased. There was a massive attack of mealy bug and the panchagavya he used was not effective. He later learned that the pest is best handled by a combination of neem paste and fish-amino acid. He talks about parasitoids developed by TNAU – insects that feed on the pest but cause no harm to the crop.
Sakthi Kumar opens a bottle of fish-amino pesticide and points out that despite the fish the mixture emanates a sweet, fruity smell. He shows around his 4.5 acre farm that he has leased and points to massive-sized papayas. “These will be ready for harvesting in a few days,” he adds.
His teacher is zero-budget farming pioneer Subhash Palekar. His papaya farm uses nothing from outside the farm. “I am educating three kids. I recently bought two acres of farmland using my savings. My papayas have a brand value in the markets of Chennai and abroad,” he adds.