Today, Cauvery water has flooded almost all villages in the delta and fields are nothing but standing water patches. Not too long ago, the state was in the grip of a drought.
In recent times, Tamil Nadu has been characterised by erratic and inconsistent monsoons, especially during the last six years. This has directly affected the groundwater table and increased water scarcity.
Through its many projects in Kunnandarkoil Union of Pudukottai district, Kudumbam, an NGO, has been involved in sensitizing farming communities towards redesigning their farms and bringing changes in their cropping pattern based on the availability of water. Through its orientation programs, mass awareness programs like bio-village conferences, seed festivals and farmers field schools, It has emphasised shifting from high water-utilizing crops to low water-utilizing crops.
The following case of Ramalingam, an ecological farmer from Udayalipatti, is worthwhile to share on how farmers are responding to climate change in a sustainable way in the region.
“I own 13 acres of land which are both irrigated and rain fed. In the rain fed land there is no watering system and it is totally dependent on rains. Earlier I cultivated 10 acres of land of irrigated crops like paddy. But because of dipping rainfall and drought I could not irrigate so much land and stopped growing paddy. Now I only irrigate two acres. I have one open well but at the moment it is dry, so because of the drought I decided to sink a bore well to 340 feet deep.”
This year is the first time he changed his crop from paddy to millet that needs less water than paddy. “Last year I got foxtail millet seeds from Kudumbam for seed multiplication. Two kg of seeds were given to me from their ecological farm, Kolunji, and I harvested 50 kg in one season. Birds were a big nuisance, otherwise the harvest would have been better.”
Kudumbam has given six types of millets to different farmers. Ramalingam got foxtail millet and also mappillai samba, which is an indigenous and drought-tolerant paddy variety.
Once again he got five kg of same millet seeds from Kolunji which he cultivated in one acre of land and harvested 400 kg in one season. “Previously I cultivated short-term, improved varieties which required more sunlight and water and were easily attacked by pest. I needed to use fertilizer and pesticides. When cultivating mappillai samba I did not need any pesticide. The indigenous variety is tasty and after harvesting the seeds I can feed the fodder to my animals.”
Ramalingam owns four cows, nine goats and five chickens. The dung from the animals is used as manure for his fields. Five other farmers have already booked mappillai samba seeds from him, thus generating extra income.
The benefit from the indigenous variety is that he can sell the seeds or use it for domestic purposes. It’s very nutritious and can be used as fodder for his animals. There is no need to use pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and therefore the soil is much more fertile. After harvesting mappillai samba he cultivated chilli with the use of drip irrigation. He was able to harvest one tonne from an acre.
To control pest attack, he uses a yellow sticky card which attracts the pest and make them stuck there. This is quite common among chilli and brinjal growers. At night, he uses light traps.
“Because of the water scarcity I applied for government subsidy through which I installed drip irrigation. The government gives 100% subsidy if you own land less than five acres. Since I own 13 acres I got 75% subsidy. After installation of drip irrigation I now need less water for the field. I water the fields once in three days for one hour. Compared to the open channel method that I used before drip irrigation – where the water goes everywhere – this is a good way to minimise water usage and save water.”
“Previously I cultivated short-term, improved varieties which required more sunlight and water and were easily attacked by pest. I needed to use fertilizer and pesticides. When cultivating mappillai samba I did not need any pesticide.” — Ramalingam
Marketing was a problem. For example, one a kg of chilli fetched Rs 40 in December last year and in March this year it was only Rs 8 a kg. The reason was that all farmers cultivated chilli during that time and the market was flooded with chillies. Now he has to cultivate other crops which have a higher demand on the market.
The benefits of changing the crop pattern is that some crops give nutrition back to the soil, such as red gram. Also in not being dependent on only one crop, the fear of market fluctuation is not as grave.
In the rain-fed land, he cultivates red gram, peanut and cow pea once a year from July to November. Before the chilli season he usually cultivates bitter guard, tomato and cucumber. From January to March, he cultivates sesame because there is not much rain and quite cold that time.
“I am satisfied that I am in ecological farming, especially now since I have changed to less water utilizing crops. My income has improved and it can feed my family, my children, my wife and my two brothers and their families. None of my brothers are in agriculture. They have their hotel business. As long as I can manage, I will continue to do farming,” he signs off.
For more details, please contact M. Ramalingam, Udayalipatti Village, Kundandarkoil Union, Kulathur Taluk, Pudukkottai District. 622 502, mobile: 9786604097.