At an altitude of 1,600 metres, farmers at Meenakshipuram near Sirumalai range of forests have started a revolution of sorts in organic farming.
As many as 100 farmers in the remote village belonging to Madurai district have been cultivating pepper, chow-chow and coffee which are free of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.
The farmers, who were buying dried cow dung and vermi-compost from Dindigul and Madurai, have now also been trained in setting up vermi-compost units in their farmlands.
“They have adopted natural farming techniques with a loan of Rs . 25 lakh from National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development,” says S. Alagesan, secretary, Centre for Rural and Education Development, an NGO which has been working with the community there. These techniques are all based on low external input and sustainable agriculture, he adds.
Better marketing needed
V. Gunasekar, a farmer at Meenakshipuram, says pepper varieties cultivated here are popular in the markets.
“We take our produce to the markets in Dindigul. Despite being grown organically, we are still struggling to market our produce better and end up selling a kg of pepper at Rs. 700 to merchants who, in turn, sell them for more than Rs. 1,000,” he said. Farmers who cultivate chow-chow also say the crop is completely organic. “Most of the farmers here have less than three acres of land. While chow-chow can be harvested once in three months, pepper takes much more time which is why all of us cultivate the vegetable for a continued source of income,” says Chinna Ayyavu, another farmer. While poor road connectivity and access to resources had crippled the residents of the village, the recent boom in organic cultivation has come as a boon with regard to strengthening their livelihood. “We are earning a steady income by selling produce and are also saving a lot of money by not spending on fertilizers,” a farmer says. The organic farmers, however, say that their crops do not receive any special attention or better rates in the markets despite being fully organic.
“At present, we have a brand, ‘Sirumalai,’ under which we sell the organic produce in the markets. But, we want to expand and market the brand better so that we can take our produce directly to the customers through stalls or retail stores. The quality is superior than other crops grown with chemicals,” Mr. Gunasekar says.
Farmers, who were earlier buying dried cow dung and vermi-compost from Dindigul and Madurai, have now set up vermi-compost units in their farmlands