How an NGO comes to jatropha cultivators’ rescue
— Photo: M.J. Prabu
The growers seek Government, banks’ assistance for their crops
Strong hopes: A farmer in Usilampatti village in Madurai in his jatropha field.
Water shortage and labour problems are like twin razors which can make agricultural activity come to a grinding halt. Crops which require both these inputs in minimal measure are indeed a blessing for farmers and Jatropha curcas seems to fit the bill well, especially in the southern parts of India.
Currently more than 6,000 farmers in about 26 districts of Tamil Nadu have planted Jatropha in their fields (a majority in 2-3 acres) and surrounding wastelands and are satisfied with yield and market of the produce.
Marketing made easy
A voluntary non-profit organisation (NGO) called AHIMSA (All Human Integrated Meritorious Social Awareness) started for uplifting the lifestyle of small farmers has been supplying seedlings (Rs.3 per seedling) and buying back the harvested seeds at the rate of Rs.10 per kg.
According to Mr. R. Kanakaraj, Managing Director, AHIMSA, the crop can be ideally grown on waste lands and in fields and requires minimal water and labour compared to many other crops.
Seedlings are grown in poly-bags and then transplanted to the main field which is ploughed once or twice depending upon the nature of the soil.
About 5 kg of farm yard manure needs to be applied per plant during planting. Apart from organic manures, NPK fertilizers may also need to be applied if the soil is found deficient in nutrients
“There is a myth that jatropha does not require water. The crop needs to be irrigated at ten to fifteen days’ interval during the initial three years. In addition, the plants should be pruned every year to increase yield.
Pests such as top shoot borer, leaf borer and fruit borer also need continuous observation and proper pesticides need to be sprayed. If taken care properly, the plant can be maintained for 35-40 years,” he explained.
Marketing the produce
How does Ahimsa market the produce? Mr. Kanakaraj said, “We are now selling the produce for Rs.12 a kg to the Indian Railways at Perambur Loco works.
We have also signed an agreement with a Swiss company, called Jatropower AG, which has assured the buyback of all seeds from our farmers. Asked about the yield, farmers say they are able to harvest about 2.5 to 4 kg of dry seeds from a tree.
From a hectare we expect to harvest about 6.25 tonnes of seeds during the 4th year after planting (it is for irrigated lands that is watering is done during summer months of January to June).
Banks not willing
“In fact all our farmers started cultivating the crop based on a promise by us that bank loans (Rs.50,000 before deduction of governmental subsidies) will be disbursed to them.
“But till date the banks are not willing to disburse the loans to the farmers (numbering over 6,000) even when we are ready to pledge our lands as collateral security,” regretted Mr. Kanakaraj.
The government should be more proactive in its approach and help us by releasing subsidies it had promised,” said Mr. Palanichamy Thevar, a jatropha farmers’ representative in Madurai district.
“Even the much touted subsidies for jatropha growers under the State government’s scheme under the wasteland development project has drawn flak,” said Mr. Palanichamy.
In fact many farmers in most of these districts are disappointed both with the banks and the Government. “Both the banks and Government should come forward and encourage farmers.” said Mr. Ram Krishnan, a jatropha grower in Tirunelveli district. Till date Ahimsa has been providing inputs such as seedlings and manure worth Rs. 9,000 per hectare from its own resources.
Area under plantation
It now has a stock of about 30 million seedlings, which can cover about 12,000 hectares (at 2,500 plants per hectare).
“The state has a total of 5,500,000 hectares under cultivation and we have planted about 18,000 hectares without any help from the Government during the past three years.
We plan to cover 12,000 hectares a year till we reach a total area of 100,000 hectares, but we need help both from the government and the banks for this,” said Mr. Kanakaraj.
Readers can contact Mr. R. Kanakaraj, Managing Director, AHIMSA, No 2/38, Dr. J.J. Nagar East, Chennai-600037, email: email@example.com, phone: 43550159 and 43550253, mobile: 9444402253.
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