Is inorganic farming the only solution to meet the demand? How are we going to tackle health issues arising out of overuse of chemical fertilizers? Can we switch over to organic farming? At a time of acute water shortage what do farmers do to protect their crop? Such queries drove a group of students from Madura College to Vadivelkarai Village to study the environmental issues bothering the farming community.

“To get first hand information, we decided to take the classroom interaction to the field ,” says S. Balakrishnan, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy who is also project co-ordintaor. ,

“Students should visit fields for a better understanding as environment studies is part of the UGC syllabus now,” he adds.

Active learning

Since active learning is all about shaping perspectives, Balakrishnan feels students’ perspective towards subjects like bio diversity, climate change, global warming, water scarcity and food security should change.

Once a fertile area in the Nagamalai Pudukottai and Koothiarkundu ayacut, Vadivelkarai is now reeling under severe water shortage. Due to monsoon failure farmers are now solely dependent on ground water, which is also depleting fast.

Nagarajan, a local farmer, introduced various farming activities to the students and explained how he manages with the available water resource. “We have two crop seasons here and one has to adopt alternate cultivation method to enrich the soil,” he says.

Farmers here alternate between paddy and plantain or brinjal to give sufficient time for the earth to recharge itself. “Earlier, we used only organic methods for farming,” says Nagarajan. “We have used cow dung and goat’s poop as manure for crop and they are again in great demand now due to lack of sufficient water and cattle feed.”

G. Karthick, III year Physics, wanted to know why peasants go for inorganic farming when sustainable development is only possible with organic practices. Farmer A. Soundarapandian explained that chemical fertilizers gave more yield in less time . “For example, the Karnataka ponni rice variety takes 145 days to reach full growth but when we use organic manure it takes double the time and the yield is much less .”

“Though organic farming is beneficial to people, immediate implementation is impractical as the gap between demand and supply widens, “ points out feels Balakrishnan.

S. Sornarajan, Assistant Agricultural Officer, Department of Horticulture, Madurai West, briefed farmers about the best farming practices to achieve desirable results. “Our department regularly conducts orientation programmes for the farmers. We encourage them to install drip irrigation system in their fields so that water is evenly supplied to all parts of the field in short period of time. We also offer substantial subsidies,” says Sornarajan, also a native of the village.

The 21-member team, including 15 girls visited the brinjal field to learn about pests that destroy the crop.

“Such extension activities are organised regularly to sensitise students,” says R. Murali, Principal, Madura College. “It creates environmental awareness among students. Though many of us claim that we are from villages none of us know what agriculture-based lifestyle is all about. Understanding tradition is not about visiting only heritage sites but also to places like these where one learns more about social life of people.”