A new approach to rice cultivation

Farmers use friendly insects to boost profit

August 10, 2015 02:33 am | Updated March 29, 2016 02:15 pm IST

Farm labourers removing weed from a paddy filed near Neerumarga on the outskirts of Mangaluru.

Farm labourers removing weed from a paddy filed near Neerumarga on the outskirts of Mangaluru.

A small group of farmers in Kuruvai village, near Vadakkencherry, in Kerala’s Palakkad district has demonstrated that rice can be cultivated without chemical pesticides and see the yield and profit rise substantially.

“Seeing is believing”, says K. V. Usha, Director, Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA), Department of Agriculture, about the Kuruvai experiment, which involved nearly a hundred families with holdings ranging between 0.4 and 1.5 acres.

They cultivated paddy as their survival crop for long, using traditional knowledge. But cultivation often failed. Some were forced to switch to cash crops and the others to tapioca and banana, which saw acreage under paddy shrink from 33 hectares to 18 hectares in a decade.

A spell of hope came as paddy procurement price was raised to Rs. 19 a kg by Kerala government. But labour cost rose. Pest attacks forced farmers to use heavy doses of chemical pesticides, which led to pest resurgence, a condition in which more and more pesticides are used with decreasing effect.

But during the second crop season (Mundakan), starting October 2015, the farmers, under the guidance of ATMA, adopted pest surveillance and agro-ecology-based plant health management, a concept being promoted now by the National Institute of Plant Health Management, Hyderabad.

Decisions on crop management were taken after weekly evaluations of the presence of pests and defenders, health of plants, soil condition and climatic factors. The farmers, on weekly field visits, meticulously recorded everything from the weather condition to presence of live rodent burrows in the fields.

The average yield rose to 5,500 kgs per hectare, an increase of 30 per cent over the previous level of 4,250 kgs. The farmers spent Rs. 47,785 per hectare from which the yields were 5,500 kgs of paddy and 3,000 kgs of straw. They earned a profit of Rs. 74,715 per hectare. Besides, Department of Agriculture pays a subsidy of Rs. 11,500 per ha.

Added to the profits is the fact that the new pest management method helped avoid four to five rounds of pesticide sprays, which cost them between Rs 4,000 to 5,000 per hectare.

The farmers also overcame perennial shortage and high cost of labour by using a mechanised planter and harvester operated by a farm workforce called the “labour army” or  thozhil sena .

The farmers, convinced about the effectiveness of pest surveillance and agro-ecology-based plant health management, have deployed the same method for the first crop season this year. The population of friendly insects is so high that there has been no incidence of pest outbreak so far, said an official associated with the programme on Saturday.

The farmers applied the same methodology to cultivation of vegetables and it was found that friendly insects and bio-controls were enough to protect the plants. They have spun their success with pesticide-free cultivation to a substantial business by opening a shop in Vadakkencherry, where produces from Kuruvai fields sold using the tag “safe-to-eat”.

The farmers owe their success to the initiative by the Krishi Bhavan, Vadakkencherry, under Department of Agriculture, which adopted the rice paddy collective during 2013-14 for mechanisation and reduction of pesticide use under National Food Security Mission.

During 2014-15, ATMA was roped in for a Farmer Field School for the second crop season 2015.

Dr. C. K. Peethambaran, former director of Research, Kerala Agricultural University, specilised in surveillance-based plant disease management, says that presence of friendly insects are overlooked in conventional cultivation. The Kuruvai experiment succeeded because friendly insects were used to fight pests, he said.

Normally, pest attacks are countered with chemical pesticides, which first kill the friendly insects. It was noticed that the pest:defender ratio was always at an advantageous level throughout the first 45 days after transplanting, recalled an officer associated with the programme.

Kuruvai farmers learnt the skill of reading the pest:defender ratio and realised that there was no need to apply pesticides if the defenders were enough to contain the pests. The farmers took a collective decision not to use chemical pesticides. 

Pheromone traps and inundative release of egg parasitiodes were used to fight yellow stem borers. Trichogramma chilonis was used against leaf folders. Flame torches placed on bunds towards the dusks during the cultivation period helped fight rice bugs. Spraying of fish amino acid from sardine and jaggery distracted rice bugs. As a result pests never came to the economic injury level, said Ms. Usha.

For more details contact: Farmer Santhakumar - 09037966827

Dr. Peethambaran - 09447014973

Bimal Ghosh - 08281155012

K. V. Usha – 08281155007


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