My notes and musings …

Posts Tagged ‘organic farming

The Sri Lanka connection

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I first came to know about Revathi following the tsunami that hit parts of coastal Tamil Nadu in Dec. ’04. Sudha visited Nagapattinam and met with Nammalvarji and Revathi during her travels through India in Jan-March ’05. Their soil desalination work in the tsunami affected land received wide publicity and acclaim from all quarters, finding prime time spots in President Abdul Kalam and then in the former US President Bill Clinton’s visits. When Sudha and I visited Nagai again in Dec ’05, we could see the difference the methods they advocated had made – the productivity of the land said the story loud and clear.

After sporadic correspondence over the past two years, we established contact with Revathi and her partner R.T.. It was decided that we would meet with them in Thiruvarur and visit their newly started farm in Aliyur, between Thiruvarur and Nagai on 17th July. Apparently Revathi had returned from Sri Lanka just a day earlier and had to rush to her son’s school in Coimbatore that evening. In the few hours that we had that day, she told us about the work her group, Tamil nadu Organic Farmers Movement (TOFarM), was doing in Sri Lanka.

Due to the continued violence in the northern and north eastern parts of Sri Lanka, a unique situation has been created. SL is a tropical country and most of its agricultural land were deforested in the recent past. The extremely rich soil means that an amazing variety of weeds grow at a lightening pace. Farmers depend on chemical weedicites to help control this problem. Transportation is exorbitantly costly and unreliable in the region due to the violence and instability. So neither fertilizers nor weedicides are available when they are needed.

Oxfam (Great Britain) hired Revathi and TOFarM as consultants to help move the community towards organic agriculture and greater food security. The initial success of the program was noticed by the local govt. authorities and they pulled out all the stops and soon had Ampara’s entire agriculture dept officials trained by TOFarM. As part of the Rebuilding Ampara project TOFarM has helped move thousands of farmers towards organic farming.

Apparently, impressed by the success of the organic farming program, Tamil rebel leaders have initiated talks to take the program to Trincomalee and other strife torn provinces. If and when the program is implemented in other areas controlled by the Tamil rebels, any questions about the veracity of reports from a govt. agency in the war zone can be put to rest.

Written by Dwiji

Monday, July 28th, 2008 at 15:21

Posted in Feet on the ground

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Organic village

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From what I have heard, Karnataka is the only state in India with a policy on organic farming. It was started in 2005 with an idea of converting 1000 hectares of land in each district to organic farming. In 2007 this was extended to 1000 districts in each tehsil over a three year period. The govt. provides full financial assisstance o an NGO engaged in the field of organic farming to motivate and train farmers from one gram sabha to convert their fields to organic techniques. While covering the full cost of some initial investments like the tanks used for vermi composting, partial assistance is provided for supplies such as earthworms for the vermicompost pits, neem cakes, etc. The NGO is paid about the amount needed to cover expenses of a full time field worker and a coordinator. Labour and other costs are borne by the farmer. A certain amount is also set aside to cover certification.

I visited the organic village work under taken by Sahaja Samrudha in Huliyur village in the Biligiri Ranganabetta Hills of Kollegal district. The soil conservation work by another NGO MyRADA during the last decade can be seen in the many bunds and check dams across the countryside. Chandrashekhar, the full time field worker is working with about 40 to 50 farmers. I visited just before the rains, and hence sowing, began. Alongwith compost and vermiculture manure, they were ready with a variety of different seeds primarily of traditional varities. Many families also had a few heads of cattle and had taken to cultivating Azola, a fern that serves as a high protein food supplement.

I tagged along with Krishna Prasad, the Sahaja Samrudha coordinator visiting the village to discuss the plans for the near future including the upcoming start of the growing season. Most of the land was non irrigated and receive a reasonable amount of precipitation through the season. The soil and the climate were best suited for growing traditional millets like raagi, saame, navane, etc. A few varities of dry land paddy were also being planned to be grown.

Karnataka initiating measures at the policy level to move towards organic farming is a laudable first step. But being the first of its kind the organic village policy has a few desirables. While the policy takes a fairly detailed look at the on-field needs of organic farming, it does not address the market needs of the organic produce. Even though this is mentioned to be a contribution from the primary NGO to the project, it does not allocate the necessary funds. Secondly, providing funds for expanding the program to neighbouring farmers after the first year would help accelerate the spread of organic farming. While a three year program helps introduce the concepts and techniques of organic farming, there is a strong need to make consultations with experts available to farmers on an ongoing basis for a much longer duration. This would allow the farmers to wean themselves off the decades of farming according to ‘extension’ programs and gain confidence to grow and sell their organic produce on their own.

Written by Dwiji

Thursday, July 17th, 2008 at 14:09

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