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Organic farming takes roots

S. Abraham Mills

A concept well established in western countries

— Photos: S. James.

FRUITFUL:An organic farm at a village near Varichiyur.

: “Small farmers find it hard to buy a power tiller.”

: “There is no maintenance cost at all in my farm.”

: “Mulching plays a vital role in organic farming.”

MADURAI: Organic farming, a concept well established in the western countries in the course of past two decades, is slowly taking roots in Madurai region.

Though demand for organic farm produce is negligible in our country, it is viewed as a highly-potential sector that remains untapped.

Farmers have learnt a bitter lesson through conventional methods that totally rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides: the soil with rich micro-nutrients has been ruined and lost its productivity resulting in poor yield. Organic farming or natural farming methods that were anyway followed successfully over the ages in our country till the advent of Green Revolution in the sixties to tide over famine has given hope for farmers that all is not lost with agriculture.

N.S. Parthasarathy, an engineer who studied rubber technology, had a calling for organic farming and is running a 20-acre farm at Thiruvalavayanallur near Samayanallur. Since he sells his produce to a loyal client base through his shop on Bypass Road, this farmer has a finger on the pulse of market. He says, “My father, a headmaster, was totally into ‘chemical farming' and dumped loads and loads of the poison into the soil. I'm undoing the damage now.”

He collects urine and dung from his eight cows and two bulls reared at home to make ‘panchagavya' or ‘ jeevamirtham,' a blend of cow products and flour, jaggery etc, as per the needs.

He mixes it with water at a fertigation tank in his field and supplies it through pipes to his coconut and banana plantations, paddy fields and vegetable gardens. He is raising brinjal, tomato, ladies finger, beetroot, Bellary onion, shallot etc., besides greens and root vegetables. He raises his crops on raised beds and says mulching of hay and farm waste plays a vital role in organic farming. He is the only farmer in this region to plant turmeric as intercrop in his coconut plantation – a practice prevalent in the Erode belt, an organic farming stronghold.

“The taste of coconut, rice and vegetables is so rich that once my customers find it out, they never go back to chemical foods,” says Mr. Parthasarathy.

A. Jeevanandam of Varichiyur is growing chilli, tomato, brinjal and chick pea in half acre and banana plantation in another half acre, and also grows one crop of paddy (Aduthurai-45) using water from a borewell.

His father, A. Alagar, is a Siddha expert and a storehouse of knowledge on traditional farming methods of not only this region but Cauvery delta as well.

These farmers prepare their fertilizer/pesticide in their own special way, depending on the crop and season.

In an earthen pot, they make a concoction of cow urine, dung or goat droppings and leaves of tulsi, neem, ‘nochi,' ‘erukkanai,' ‘kumuttukai' etc and use it for their crops.

Mr. Alagar says, “When I take my flowers (Kozhi kondai) to the Madurai market, traders quote more than the going rate since organically grown flowers last for two days, though it won't look bright like a normal flower that will wilt within a day.”

He says, “All the subsidies and government assistance goes to ‘benamis' while real farmers like us find it hard to buy a Rs.1-lakh power tiller, with which we can do wonders.” M. Ayyappan, a retired Public Works Department superintending engineer, practices no-cost cultivation near Isalani.

He says, “There is no maintenance cost at all in my farm. I let cattle and goats from nearby villages graze in my farm and the dung and droppings along with the termite-infested farm waste like coconut shells and fronds dumped between every set of four tress serve as a rich manure.”

He supplies water from an open well through drip irrigation and has cement tanks containing his own potion of ‘ panchagavya' in thick and thin consistencies.

This farmer, who has 10 acres of coconut trees, says yield from his Andhra variety was good compared to Batlagundu/Ayyampalayam and Uchipuli varieties. He sells the copra to an oil mill in Kangeyam. He has also planted gooseberry on 60 cents and plans to extend it to 2 1/2 acres soon “since it is the most profitable of all my crops,” teak on one acre, 50 rosewood tress and one acre of sugarcane.

“Through conventional method, sugarcane can be raised only for three years in a row, but I'm having it for the fifth year,” he says.

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