Innovative technique showcased at national conference


Mr. Sakthivel

A farmer is comparable to a one man University.

“A single person combines in himself the work of a weatherman, an engineer, a marketing executive, a veterinarian, and above all a statesman endowed with the responsibility of feeding his people, says Mr G. R. Sakthivel an enterprising and innovative farmer from Sathyamangalam, Erode, Tamil Nadu.

A member of the scientific advisory committee of MYRADA-KVK and Erode district organic farmers’ federation, Mr. Sakthivel developed a simple yet effective mechanism to filter cattle waste and use the same in sugarcane cultivation.

Four compartments

The four compartment system includes the filtration technique, ensuring that an enriched solution gets collected at the end, mixed with water, and sent by drip irrigation system to the field.

The first section is meant for collection of cow dung and urine mixing. After thorough mixing, the solution is sent to the second compartment for first filtration.

The solid matter is used for biogas production and the upper part of the solution is then allowed to flow into a third compartment where jaggery is added for fermentation. The clear enriched filtrated medium is collected and used for irrigation.

By adopting this technology the farmer can save Rs.27,000 per acre as it reduces labour and fertilizer cost, according to Mr. Sakthivel. This technology aids water holding capacity in the soil and presence of earth worms is considerably increased in the fields.

A believer in organic cultivation, Mr. Sakthivel says that “one of the main reasons that encouraged me to develop this technique was the decreasing quality of soil due to the continuous usage of chemicals for growing crops.”

Cattle resources

“Fertilizers not only affect one’s health considerably, but also decrease the quantity of yield. I worked on this innovation to do away with the use of fertilizers, and use available cattle resources for the purpose of soil nourishment.” he says.

Decreased availability of labour also acted as a catalyst in the process of innovation for this farmer.

“The increase in sugarcane yield in the farmers fields are a standing proof for the success of this innovation. From 60 tonnes in the first harvest, the yield increased to 63 tonnes in the second harvest. The crop, now in its third harvest, is expected to yield higher,” says agricultural expert Mr Saravana Kumar. Priced at Rs.20,000 the filtering system can be used for other crops as well.

Successful model

Bannariamman sugar factory at Sathyamangalam area identified this technology as an alternative suitable farming practice and the Sugarcane breeding institute, Coimbatore identified this as a successful model for addressing labour and fertilizer reduction in sugarcane cultivation.

“So far we have not received any complaints about the filtration use but in some places blockages in the drip irrigating tubes have been noticed. But we rectified it by using EM (Effective Microorganism) solution once in three months. The EM solution is also mixed with the end solution to flow in the drip tubes to prevent blockage,” says Dr. K. Alagesan, Program Co-ordinator, Myrada Krishi Vigyan Kendra,

Lot of queries

Till date about 10 farmers in the region and a few from Tirunelveli district are trying this technique in their fields.

“Farmers from Dharmapuri, Madurai and Dindigul are now approaching me to learn the technique. I did not innovate for an award. My greatest achievement would be to inspire as many farmers as I can, to take to organic farming methods. Organic farming is the only way to increase declining yields today,” says the farmer.

This, according to him is the real award. Mr. Sakthivel presented this technology at the 6th National level KVK conference at Jabalpur where nearly 1,000 delegates participated. Contact Mr. G.R.Sakthivel at No. 149, Ganeshapuram, Gettavadi(P.o), Talavadi (Via), Sathyamangalam(T.K), Erode District-638461, Mobile: 94863 16041.

 

Break the barriers between researchers and ryots


Mr. Jayaram

For a farmer, the field is office and a good crop means a rewarding salary.

“If he manages to get a little extra then he considers it as a bonus. In a country, where agriculture is supposed to be thousands of years old, isn’t it an irony that a majority of its farmers are not happy financially,” says Mr. P. Jayaram, a progressive farmer in Bangalore growing grapes, tomato, vegetables and mulberry in 15 acres.

Who is to be blamed for the present crises?

Accountability is a must

“There is no use in passing the buck. Accountability is a must, Of what use are all the financial schemes and bank loans, all claiming to be in the farmers’ interest?

“Most of these are only on paper. Do you know the difficulty in getting a Rs.10,000 small-crop loan from a bank? Ask a farmer and he will tell you. And today we are able to buy a Rs. 5 lakh car in a few hours over the phone. Is this a healthy economy?” he asks.

“I am not disputing the fact that the facilities and comforts are today a necessity, but in the name of new luxuries, farmers and agriculture should not be bartered,” he contends.

Role of media

India being an agrarian country, it is the duty of journalists to identify and suggest solutions to burning problems of villages, instead of only reporting on deaths and suicides, Mr. Jayaram argues, calling on the media to be proactive in this.

A journalist’s report must be like a platform to record, show, inform the society about farming experiences in villages, and their traditional methods of conserving land, water etc. According to him, though farmers are true scholars in their area, in reality they are not treated so.

“Often the brick compound wall and wire fences erected around agriculture research centres keep them away from approaching these places.

“Being shy and reserved by nature, a farmer naturally gets flabbergasted by the security at the gate and the protocols involved in such centres,” he says.

“Till date I have never heard or seen any instance where a farmer treats his guests anything but cordially. But the same farmer seldom receives the same courtesy in agricultural offices or research centres he visits.”

Not be a barrier

“Such a treatment of the farmers is not acceptable. The high walls of the research centres should be limited to safeguard the privacy of research, and must not become a barrier between the minds of the researchers and the farmers,” explains Mr. Jayaram. In fact it is their knowledge and skills that should be sought after by those in agricultural varsities.

Scientific farming should evolve involving “true scholars” – the farmers, according to him.

The fact to be noted here is that though the famine or flood does not seem to affect a politician a beauraucrat or businessman – it is only the farmer who endures the loss and suffers.

Needs money

“Have you ever heard about a person from any other profession committing suicide due to crop failure,” he asks.

Seeds, fertilizers, insecticides etc. do not come free of cost. Even such a basic profession as farming needs money.

And the farmer needs financial assistance. Drawn by the several advertisements, that endorse these financial institutions, a farmer buys the seeds and sows it with hopes of high yields.

“When he fails to get a good yield the company that supplied the seeds does not take any reponsibility, and the agriculture experts keep tight lipped. This is the case prevailing in many villages,” asserts Mr. Jayaram.

Indirect support

By lowering the rate of interests time and again, the government too indirectly encourages them to take such financial assistance, making them lifelong debtors.

The hope of a getting a good yield remains just a dream for a poor farmer.

For more details readers can contact Mr. P. Jayaram, Byrdhenahalli, Devanahalli taluk, Bangalore rural, mobile: 09740963352 and 09591527526.

Simple traditional practices can help control rising prices


Prof. Anil Gupta, Vice Chairman, National innovation Foundation.

In the last few years the prices of almost all agricultural commodities shot up by more than sixty per cent.

Prof Anil Gupta, Co-ordinator, Sristi and Honey Bee Network, and Executive Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad in his blog mentions one clue on why this problem is becoming intractable – we are too focussed entirely on output prices as a balancing exercise.

Need more attention

We do not pay enough attention to reduction of cost in most commodities. We need to aim at reducing unit cost of all goods and services in manufacturing as well as agriculture sector.

Farmers also will not plead for higher prices every year if the cost of their inputs can be controlled and reduced, according to him.

He adds that it is alright for the agricultural minister to say that to pay farmers well, society should bear the inflationary burden.

But that is not the right or understanding attitude towards the poor who suffer the most, nor towards farmers who do not care about prices as much as profits.

Convincing problem

He even wonders how to convince the wise people in the planning commission considering the inflation, and adding cost of ten per cent or so to every unit cost.

He gives the example of growing cotton. The crop consumes almost forty per cent of the country’s chemical pesticides followed by paddy at 20 per cent.

What are we doing?

“What are we doing to reduce the cultivation cost of cotton? Farmers like Mr. Lakhra Bhai of Surendra Nagar in Gujarat used the idea of growing lady’s finger around cotton crops to trap the cotton pests nearly 20 years ago,” he says.

If that did not work, they sprayed jaggery or sugar solution to attract black ants which controlled the pests.

Prof Gupta was requested by the Government to look into the problem of farmers’ suicides in India. “While recommending establishment of village knowledge management systems, I pointed out a great tragedy confronting the children of farmers who committed suicides.

“I asked them whether they knew about any low cost or non-monetary technologies for reducing pest in cotton, since that is what pushed their fathers to the extreme step with no hope of coming out of their debt. The answer was a loud and repeated NO,” he rues.

Ironically, farmers from another district of Maharashtra which he visited, shared a traditional practice (also found in many other parts of India) that lady’s finger as border crop acts as a good trap crop.

It belongs to the same family as cotton and flowers earlier than cotton.

Wrong practice

“Has any experiment been done to prove that the above simple traditional method is wrong in India or Africa or central or West Asia?” he asks.

But will these practices ever reach the masses?

“No. because then farmers will become self reliant and sustainable. Will the department of agriculture share this disregarding the pressure from the pesticide lobby, I doubt it, as for twenty years they did not do it,” he voices his point emphatically.

Free for all

“These kinds of solutions are available on sristi.org web site in open source for decades. When the cost of failure is low, and chances of success high, only inertia can explain the indifference to such bottom-up grassroots solutions for decades.

“These solutions will reduce cost, check inflationary pressure, and make the poor better off too as they will not suffer from exposure to chemicals. I hope technocracy will prove that we are wrong,” he concludes with a chuckle.

Community-based organisations will solve many problems


Dr. V. Rajagopal (left), president, She

The Government’s claim about agricultural production achieving a record of 241 million tonnes raises a pertinent question as to how far this can translate into alleviating poverty and reducing hunger index in the country, says Dr.V. Rajagopal, President, Society for Hunger Elimination (SHE), Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh.

The Society works with a missionary approach to care for farmers, those below poverty, and starving Indians.

Fooling the public

“While data on farmers’ suicides is available in the country, there is harldy any projection on starvation deaths occurring in many tribal and rural areas. Does the Government want the public to believe that everything is fine with food security?” he wonders.

“Why does the Government want to provide subsidised grains to the general (above poverty line) category, who are already benefited mostly by the price index based dearness allowances twice every year to meet food inflation?,” is his next question.

More holistic

Food security should be made more holistic than just providing only cereal based food — an incomplete food basket to the poor who need health and nutrition security more than the families above the poverty line.

“Is not the mismatch between the food production and chronic hunger among over 400 million Indians visible to the Government? Why are they turning a blind eye to this stark and ugly reality?” he asks angrily. Dr. Rajagopal urges the Government to work on a strategy to substantially the reduce hunger index to meet the target of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations.

Whatever steps the Government has taken so far are not enough and only lacklustre, seems to be his view.

New initiatives with innovative ideas alone can solve the problem to some extent backed by strong political will to make our country hunger free; otherwise the number of hungry people will mount further, according to him.

National shame

“Is it not a national shame that India is being placed alongside countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda on the hunger index. Where has all the money sanctioned for rural development and poverty alleviation disappeared?” he queries. Although the government boasts of record food production, the farming community responsible for achieving the same is left in the lurch.

Bad reflection

This reflects badly on the policies and schemes like loan waiver announced by the government for the distressed farmers.

Obviously the Government could not implement some of the important recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers to combat the problem of farm suicides.

The problem still exists with the minimum support price for crops that does not satisfy the farmers who have to deal with high costs of cultivation.

The small farmers, who account for large scale suicides, are the worst affected. The concept of community based organisations (CBOs) for small farmers will be the best solution to minimize the risk of price fluctuations.

Technologies

Technologies like zero tillage, good agriculture practices, multi crop system instead of depending on a single crop, product diversification, and value addition and crop insurance are some of the opportunities for the farmers to generate income and ensure sustainable livelihood.

“The Government needs to declare farmers as national assets and restore agriculture to a prime position,” he says.

Dr. Rajagopal recently presented a paper on this issue at the John Hopkins University, Rockville Maryland U.S.

For more details readers can contact Dr.V.Rajagopal President SHE, Flat 102 Sri Kataaksham, 18-4-60 Railway colony, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh -517 501 A.P. Phone number 0877-2287083, mobile number 094412 00217 and e mail id rajvel44@mail.com

Debt increases with dependence on fertilizers, pesticides


Vishwasrao Narayanrao

“Farmers first” becomes an ideal motto for any nation to progress. “Unless farmers are empowered the economy of the country can collapse. India boasts of development, scientific advancements, and achieving self sufficiency in food grain production. But malnourishment, suicides, and health problems are stark realities that still exist in many rural areas. Unfortunate “It is a well known fact that farmers in our country are considered unfortunate as there seems to be no great future for them in their profession,” says farmer Mr. Vishwasrao from Washim, Maharashtra. For Mr. Vishwasrao, both his profession and health did not prove to be conducive. Born with a single kidney, blind in one eye, and surrounded by abject poverty, he worked as a farm labourer for many years. “Though life proved frustrating, the desire to live made me invest the small amount of money I saved from my hard labour in buying a thorny and weed-infested fallow land deemed unfit for cultivation in my village. Some consolation “I worked hard on the land, and the presence of a river near the land proved beneficial for irrigation. Within a year, I harvested a good yield of jowar, cotton and wheat. “But after some time I realised that growing crops is not all only about irrigation as the outputs started declining.” A local agriculture official explained to me about chemical and organic fertilizers, insecticides, and water management. “I followed his advice and the yield increased but even this lasted only for a few years,” he says. According to the farmer, overuse of chemical fertilizers and neglecting organic manures could be the reason for the declining yield, and he again started looking for the cause. Search for a guide Mr. Vishwasrao’s search brought him in contact with several farmers practising organic farming. They impressed on him the need for making one’s own input for the crops and that it drastically saves money for the farmer and helps get a good yield. Own inputs The farmer started dumping all the cut weeds, refuse and other wastes he could find in a three foot pit he dug and added urea and superphospate to the waste to accelerate the process of decomposition. “It proved economical. I got nearly 30 cartloads of manure for my fields and it cost me about Rs. 600,” he says. He is now using his well decomposed manure, vermicompost, and neem extract as spray for the crops. He is getting a very good yield of soyabean, greengram, bengalgram, tur and wheat. “Recently, I harvested a record yield of 16 quintals from 2 kg of tur dhal seed. I sold the seeds at Rs. 200/ kg and got a gross income of Rs. 3,20,000. Farmers also benefited as they got it at a much cheaper rate, at Rs. 200/ kg instead of original price of Rs. 500/ kg,” he says. Advance booking In fact Mr. Vishwasrao’s tur dhal became so famous in the region that many farmers started booking the seeds in advance for the next sowing. The farmer also gets good yield of 35-40 quintals of chilli from an acre and gets an additional amount of Rs. 52,000 from selling them. “As a farmer, I am able to realise that many of us incur debt mainly because we buy fertilizers and pesticides. If this dependence can be reduced, it can in turn reduce indebtedness and distress. Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day but teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime, goes the popular saying. The same is the case for farmers, ” he says. Need today “What we need today is a means to sustain throughout our lives. If our country needs to grow faster, empower the farmers. Only then true growth and development can take place. Without agricultural improvement all technological progress is like mirage in the desert,” he says prophetically. For more details contact Mr. Vishwasrao Narayanrao Bunde at Pedgaon taluka, Risod district, Washim, mobile: 9765815472 and M. S Swaminathan Research Foundation village resource centre, Karda district, phone: 07251-226544.

Natural inputs, multicropping advised for Vidharbha region


Mahajan showing his simple four-chamber system using brick and mortar to store cowdung.

The names Vidharbha or Wardha immediately evoke memories of farmers’ suicides. “Several reasons such as growing only one crop, total dependence on monsoon, lack of infrastructure and irrigation facilities, small land holdings, poor marketing, and insensitive government policies towards farmers are attributed to this. Visiting the region drives home one point, that not all of Vidharbha is a graveyard of dead farmers,” says Mr. Praful Bansod, Scientist MSSRF village Resource Centre, Yavatmal. National shame “Termed as a national shame due to the gross indifference of the Government, it is true that the region recorded the highest suicide rates among farmers. “In fact the Prime Minister reacted late by visiting the region but responded immediately on television channels to the share market slump during the period. This only proves how far the government is pro-farmer in its attitude,” he adds. “But still a sizeable number of ryots continue to farm their lands and are able to overcome the crises by using natural inputs and trying different crops and cultivation techniques,” says Mr. Bansod. Take the case of the husband and wife farmers in the region. Popularly referred to as Mahajans, both Mr. Purushottam Jagannath Mahajan and his wife Mrs. Sunita are practising agriculture in this region for a long time and today are a guiding force for many others who wish to build a new life. “Chemical fertilizers are perennially in short supply in the region. Even if they are available, the cost burns a hole in our pocket. “We explored other alternatives for using as inputs and learnt to make our own liquid manure from compost. I constructed a simple four chamber system using brick and mortar to store cowdung.” Water is mixed with the dung in one of the chambers and the slurry is released in the subsequent chambers. After some days the mixture is released along with flowing water into the fields. Black liquid manure “Since the slurry is black in colour and helps the crops to grow well, we named it as black liquid manure,” explains Mr. Mahajan. He also advocates the use of Sanjeevak or Jeevamrut, fermented liquid manures, made from cow dung and urine. “Amrutpani, a soil tonic can also be used instead of Jeevamrut. About 200 litres of any one of them can be mixed with irrigating water to be applied to the field. A minimum of three applications are necessary,” he says. First immediately after sowing, a second application after 25-30 days (after first weeding), and the third application at 50-60 days after sowing (after second weeding). For better crop growth, diluted Jeevamrut can also be sprayed on the crops at an interval of 20 days after sowing. Main reason “One of the main reasons for the crop failure and accumulating debts from the farmers’ side is going in for monocropping using chemicals.,” explains Mr. Mahajan. Many farmers cultivated only cotton. Be it two or five acres, the lure of big money in a short time attracted many to grow cotton. They did not bother to enquire about the crop suitability for their area, whether water is available or not etc. When the crops died so did many farmers.The main reason being accumulated debts from private moneylenders fleecing them with exhorbitant interst rates. “In fact, several farmers thought that they could get back their money by growing cotton again in the second cycle and again failed. I thought about this and introduced several combinations of multicrops,” says Mr. Mahajan. Different crops The farmer grows maize, cowpea or sorghum in one row, red gram in two rows and cotton in four rows in one acre. The field is mulched using a thick layer of crop residue, immediately after sowing. The Mahajans also grow different vegetables, pulses, fruits, spices, and medicinal plants. Though during initial stages they faced many hurdles ultimately it turned out to be a very satisfying and profitable venture for them. “Today they are a standing example for others on how to become successful farmers in the region,” says Mr. Bansod. For more information contact Mr. Praful Bansod, Scientist MSSRF, Village Resource Center Yavatmal, email: prafulbansod@gmail.com, mobile: 9420960830 and Mr. Mahajan at Karanji Bhoge, Deoli taluk, Wardha, mobile: 9552955897 and 9922354663.

Good harvests do not always translate into money in the bank


Dr.Suman Sahai, convenor, Gene Campaign.

Tilhar lies about 300 km east of Delhi in the fertile plains of northern India. Here, acres of wheat stand sturdily in the fields, slowly changing colour from green to yellow.

“If all goes well the farmer can get a good harvest, but whether it will bring prosperity to their lives or not is a big question. Will the crop in the field translate into money in the bank? Unlikely,” says Dr. Suman Sahai, Convener, Gene campaign, New Delhi.

Important centres

Western and Central Uttar Pradesh produce surplus grain like Punjab and Haryana, and since the days of the Green Revolution, these have been important centres where rice and wheat are procured for the central pool.

In areas blessed by nature like the Indo-Gangetic belt where Tilhar lies, farmers know how to harvest good crops.

In the early days this worked well for farmers but in the last few years, procurement has become an exercise to torment farmers rather than support them. First, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that is announced, is never paid in full, always less.

Real price

If the price announced for wheat is Rs. 1.120 per quintal, as it is this year, the real price that the farmer would get could be anything from Rs. 750 to Rs. 950 per quintal.

“Corruption locks the farmers in a vice like grip because they lack storage facilities and must sell their produce immediately after harvest,” she says.

Both procurement agencies and the market are aware of this and turn the screw on price as they know the farmer is left with no choice but to sell. Other strategies that are used to pull prices down is to tell the farmer that his grain has not been dried sufficiently and cannot be bought.

Trade tricks

“But as soon as palms get greased, the grain gets sold miraculously. Other tricks are to declare the grain as being ‘light’ in weight, not fulfilling the standards set by the Food Corporation of India (FCI). The FCI’s exacting standards are equally miraculously met once the farmers’ pockets have become correspondingly lighter,” explains Dr. Sahai.

Often there exists an unholy nexus between the FCI agents and private companies. The deal is that the procurement agency will reject much of the grain on one pretext or another, she mentions in her blog.

Farmers travel to different procurement centres with their grain, for it to be inspected, weighed and lifted. If they do not own their own bullock carts, they hire or rent trucks or tractors to bring their grain to the centre. Every day, causes delay and bleeds the farmer.

“It is like the way ports charge demurrage if you do not lift your goods. Each day the port holds your goods, it charges you a fee.

“Bullock cart, tractor-trolley and truck owners do the same. So if they need to wait around till the farmer can negotiate the deal, the cost of hiring goes up every day. This eats into the farmer’s profit,” she adds.

Becoming desperate

When the farmer’s grain is held up and he is desperate to sell, the private companies step in and buy the grain at low prices.

In this way the backbreaking effort put in by the farmer and the little subsidy he gets on fertilizer and diesel to irrigate goes to benefit the private companies.

“Despite a good harvest the farmer may not make a profit. Sometimes he cannot even recover the input cost and gets poorer. This makes many farmers desperate and forces them to abandon agriculture.

“This is not my version. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) discovered this in its survey in 2007 when almost half the country’s farmers said they would abandon farming if they could find another occupation,” she says.

This should set the alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power. “If the farmer does not grow food what will we eat? Import food?

“But there is nothing available on the international market to buy! Droughts in Australia and Russia, floods in New Zealand and turbulent weather everywhere have ensured that the guaranteed food surpluses cannot be counted on.” she says.

Short supply

The biofuel drive in the U.S has drawn away the American corn into ethanol production so that wheat is being diverted to animal feed and both corn and wheat are now in short supply.

It is not like understanding rocket science to realise that we need to make agriculture work if we as a nation are to get anywhere, seems to be her strong conviction.

“The Prime Minister says internal security is the country’s largest crisis. Fixing agriculture and putting money in the farmers’ pocket is a dead sure way of finding our way out of this crisis. When will we achieve that?” she enquires.

Contact Dr. Suman Sahai, blog: sumansahai-blog.blogspot.com, email: mail@genecampaign.org, J-235/A, Lane W-15C, Sainik farms, New Delhi- 110-062, phone:011- 29556248 and 29555961.