Seven farmers from six villages across Erode district in Gobichettipalayam taluk are an experiment in progress. They are in the process of moving from inorganic to organic farming.
Project Green Hands (PGH), an initiative of Isha Foundation in Coimbatore has picked these farmers as models to encourage sustainable, environmental-friendly and, most importantly, profitable farming practices. All seven are into tree-based agriculture that promises a higher net income for them besides increasing the green cover in the State.
Annamalai from Akkarai Kodaveri has 5,260 trees in his 8.5 acres that include mahagony, rosewood, red sandal, and neem among others. He has created a shelter belt along the periphery of his land with trees that acts as a barrier to gusts of wind that would otherwise blow the top soil away.
The trees control the micro-climate, sustain bird life and provide valuable mulch and natural fertilizers for his fields. But there was a time, says Annamalai, he was resistant to the idea of planting trees in the boundary of his land.
“Now I have trees as my main crop,” he says. In between the rows of trees, is a confusion of greenery. “It looks like chaos, but there are pineapples, curry leaves, ginger, turmeric, toovar, castor, etc, growing there,” says the farmer. Annamalai has also planted pepper that will further augment his income.
Some miles away, Maheswaran and Kalaivani work on their 12-acre land. They too have a shelter belt. “We don't buy anything from outside. We are totally self sufficient,” says Kalaivani as she unrolls a chart with a layout of their farm. There are 2,300 trees on their land and intercropping is thriving. Divided into coconut-based and banana-based plots, they grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses, and herbs in-between. Kalaivani says there are nearly 140 medicinal plants on her land of which she can identify 80. She is also toying with the idea of growing coffee.
For the other farmers too it is a happy story. They report the same thing: assured yield, sustainable growth, better environment, less labour, healthier soil and less risk with multi-cropping.
K. Arunagiri and his wife Devaki farm in 15 acres of land at Kaaliyur. For two years now they have been ‘clean'.
They have 1,225 trees in their shelter belt, and their land yields coconut, arecanut, lemon, plantain, papaya, pineapple, pepper, and ginger besides fodder for their cattle. They practise hundred per cent drip irrigation.
“The satisfaction of knowing that we are not defiling the earth is immense. And the money continues to come,” says Arunagiri. They need not worry about labour. At a pinch, they may hire people for a few days, but otherwise, they are on their own. Like the others they grow everything for their home needs. “We grow 64 kinds of crops just to run our household,” says Devaki. It includes groundnut for oil, rice, wheat, millets, vegetables, fruits, herbs, greens and plenty more.
The experiment initially assures the farmer an yield on par with what he was getting in his inorganic phase. Then it promises him an assured yield which is more than that and finally encourages him to go for the record yield. S. Arunachalam of Pudukoraipudur who has 13 acres is another of these farmers who has worked closely with organic farming activist S. Namazhvar and brings a wealth of experience to his farming practice to that of his six fellow-agriculturists.
The experiment hopes to bring in more farmers into the fold of organic farming.
There are other initiatives in the pipeline where farmers are trying out tree cropping in smaller one-acre farms. PGH runs 80 nurseries across Tamil Nadu where native endemic tree saplings are grown and distributed to the farmers. A staggering 35 to 40 lakh samplings are produced every year in these nurseries.
In an attempt to speed up and extend the greening campaign in Tamil Nadu, PGH has started a fund raising campaign where it offers to plant trees on your behalf. For this, log on to www.giveisha.org/pgh , state the number of trees you want to adopt and pay Rs. 50 per sapling.
You will receive an e-generated certificate and a tracker id that will help you keep track of the tree/trees that have been planted on your behalf.
Keywords: Project Green Hands