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Food security depends on small and marginal dryland farmers

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New beginning: A banana farmer tying a
New beginning: A banana farmer tying a

M.J. PRABU

About 40 villages in Tirunelveli have stopped using chemical fertilizers

Vilathikulam, in Tuticorin district, being drought prone most of the year, forced many farmers till a few years ago to either sell their lands or leave them barren.

But today more than 600 farmers in the region are successfully growing different crops ranging from sunflower to chillies, using low cost input technologies called Panchagavya (PG) for raising their crops.

Few years back

“Till a few years back, due to drought, many of the lands in our village lay fallow and unploughed. We walked several kilometres every day in search of potable water. The situation turned even worse during summer. Though a few big farmers continued to carry on with some farming activity, severe shortage of fertilizers forced them also to give up," says Mr. T. Antony a farmer in the region.

“Today, inspite of acute water scarcity and power cut problems, we are growing different crops such as sunflower, plantains, paddy, chilli, and groundnut successfully. Some farmers in our area earned nearly a lakh of rupees from growing small onions as intercrops in chilli fields,” adds Mrs. S. Jayalaxmi another farmer.

Key role

The Suviseshapuram and Neighbourhood Development Society, or SANDS, and Prof. R. Venkatraman (retd), Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore played a key role in educating the farmers on the benefits of using low cost input technologies. Though several farmers initially refused to accept PG as they doubted its potential in increasing yield, they accepted it later after hearing about its benefits from others using it.

Procedure

Explaining how to manufacture PG, Prof. Venkatraman says:

Take about five kg of fresh cow dung, three litres of cow's urine, two litres of cow's milk, 500 gm cow's ghee, three tender coconuts' water, a dozen bananas, two litres of sour buttermilk, handful of calcium powder (called Chunambuin Tamil) and some living soil (soil taken from the field in which crops grow).

Mix the dung and ghee well in a plastic drum using a neem tree stick and cover with a lid. For three days the mixture should be stirred well once during the morning and evening. On the fourth day all the other inputs are to be added and stirring continued for 20 days.

On the 21st day, PG solution can be used either as a spray (after filtering) or along with irrigation water or poured in small plastic bags and tied to crops such as plantain. PG made by this method can be stored for nearly six months.

Existing belief

“For the past four decades there exists a belief that fertilizers and manures improve soil fertility. It is not true. Crops do not need fertilizers. The nutrients for crop during field life are absorbed from the soil only.

“Fertilizers and manures stimulate a plant to grow well and remain inert in the soil. They are regulators and not exactly nutrients. The soil is the only source of plant nutrition,” explains Prof. Venkatraman.

“Proper seed treatment before sowing ensures good yield. When seeds are treated properly followed by right irrigation practice and PG sprayed 5-6 times a farmer gets a bountiful harvest.

“This is being proved in all the 40 villages in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin being drought prone. It is not magic but mere logic. I spent many years doing research on this and the outcome seen in the villages,” he explains.

Says SANDS president J.H.S. Ponnaya:

“The government keeps on harping on increasing food security and production. But they do not seem to know how to achieve. Merely issueing statements and conducting meetings cannot solve the problem, unless small and marginal farmers are encouraged.

Proactive role must

“Already hundreds of farmers are suffering due to so many problems on the agriculture front. It is high time the government played a proactive role in bringing awareness to farmers on benefits of using low cost technologies such as PG in drylands."

For visits and more information readers can contact Sands, Suviseshapuram (via) Ittamozhi-627652, email: sands_suviseshapuram@yahoo.com, phone: 04637-278173, mobile: 9444582911 and Prof. Venkatraman at 9488418719.

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