Developing a Machine to Remove Tamarind Seeds

Abdul Khadar of Karnataka was awarded by the National Innovation Foundation for developing the device.

Villages in rural India are not just about farming and growing crops. They house some brilliant scientists and innovators who might not have the required technical qualification but through personal experience have learnt the art of developing a device or machine that can help them overcome their manual drudgery.

In fact, there are several such innovators housed in some remote corners of this county’s villages that the scientific fraternity has failed to recognise.

This could perhaps be because, technically, they are not qualified or the findings do not fall within their circumference of activities. Nevertheless, rural India’s brilliant minds continue to develop and find answers in its own way rather than depending on others for an answer.

The credit for recognising these rural innovators and helping them showcase their findings should go to the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) in Ahmedabad, which under the able leadership of professor Anil Gupta and his team, has been maintaining a database of thousands of such findings, new discoveries and lost ancient practices, bringing them into the limelight.

Every year, the government of India hosts a function at Rashtrapati Bhavan for these people through the foundation to encourage and throw more light on their inventions so that the common man can understand rural India better.

Awards are conferred on many of these rural innovators, with the president of India himself attends the function and gives the awards.

In fact, NIF has gone a long way in changing society’s perception of rural India. They have managed to change the perception of rural India as only about and for farmers to one of innovation.

Take the case of Abdul Khadar from Karnataka’s Dharwad district, whose innovation was recognised by the NIF.

Abdul Khadar

Khadar is from an agrarian family. Last year, his lands were dry throughout the year.

Since he was dependent on the annual monsoon, which was playing truant, he decided to plant fruit trees like mango, sapota and jujube, intercropping chilli in between so that he could get income in a short time. But owing to the acute scarcity of water, the idea failed.

In search of a crop that could grow in dry areas without needing much attention, he learnt that tamarind trees fit the criteria well. Huge tamarind trees planted on highways, uncared for yet with lush green canopies caught his eye.

Since the mid 1980s, he has planted nearly 2,000 tamarind trees on his land. Not only have the plants survived, they have also grown well. The success of growing tamarind with scarce water was an innovation in itself.

Khadar also sunk 11 bore wells to try to get some water but only two of them worked. He spent nearly Rs 2 lakh in the process.

In an attempt to make his land more fertile, he dug six small ponds to harvest rainwater. “After monsoon, water from the bore well was used to pump into the ponds. The water was then used for flood irrigating the plants,” said Vipin Kumar, the chief innovation officer at NIF.

Khadar constructed underground tanks to preserve the tamarind pulp. According to him, pulp preserved in such a manner had a long shelf life and could retain the original quality and flavour for a longer period.

Until now, value addition in tamarind is rare, but Khadar wanted to try something new. He began by manufacturing pickles and jam, which is marketed as far as Hyderabad.

He also thought of another new experiment when he faced problem in making pickles. The process of making pickle was labour intensive and tedious as one had to first harvest tamarind from the trees and then separate the fruit from the pods manually (similarly to groundnut). He conceived a unique technique for harvesting tamarind from the trees but did not go ahead due to the high cost involved.

“After spending about Rs 3 lakh and six months of hard and intensive labour I finally developed a machine to separate the tamarind seeds. It had a system wherein the seed gets thrown out of the tamarind pod,” he said.

The next step in pickle making was to cut the unripened tamarind into small pieces. For this also he developed a machine for slicing tamarind fruit into tiny pieces. “The machine serves multiple purposes and can do the job more efficiently and effectively,” he explained.

Through the support of the Karnataka government, many of his products are available to farmers at subsidised rates. Khadar’s innovation has been documented by the NIF, Ahmedabad.

Vipin Kumar, chief innovation officer, National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad:, 9825316994.

Adapting in Drought for a Good Yield

R. Baskaran has been studying climatic variations and planning his crops accordingly to achieve a good yield, even under drought conditions.

Drought management is the main concern in government agriculture departments, NGOs and farmers groups in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. The three states are under severe drought and farmers under distress with declining productivity. The delta region, often called the “rice bowl of Tamil Nadu,” is trying to grapple with the situation. In the last ten years, drought has become more common than floods, but has been managed with little success.

No scientific data, government steps or research has been able to help farmers overcome drought. Only the example of Israel’s booming agriculture thanks to drip irrigation is cited. To an extent, this has been working in Maharashtra, Karnataka and some other states. But for drip irrigation there has to be water in wells or lakes. It will not work in places that have no water or are prone to acute water scarcity like the Ramnad district in Tamil Nadu.

Farmers need to understand the cycle and the relation between seasons and crops. If the season is good with bountiful rain, farmers should select paddy; if the season is moderately hot and moist, they should go with millet grains. If their crop is selected as per the expected climate, they will have crops in their field for the whole year. They can cultivate using less water. This is the best way farmers should do farming and face climate variations, says R. Baskaran, a leading organic farmer  from Thenampadugai village, near Kumbakonam Tamil Nadu.

Baskaran is doing a lot of research in analysing the weather pattern regularly and its effects on crops. His on-field research on climate change and its effect on agriculture also brought significant practical solutions for farmers to adopt climate resilient approaches to farming, both in the delta region and also in other parts of Tamil Nadu.

According to him, the amount of rainfall that the region received was very good about 20 years ago, which helped to fill ponds and lakes for nearly ten months in a year.

“This has contributed to cultivation of two crops in a year. The rainy days were for three months in a year. Now, the water is running only for a month in the Cauvery river and that too not for all 30 days. All the water resources have become dry and only those who have bore well and electricity are involved in farming. The majority of the agriculture lands have become fallow,” he says.

On his analysis of the rain fall pattern from 1991-95, Baskaran says there were regular seasonal rains and that helped the farmers cultivate crops for two seasons in a year.

“In the year 2000, the rain fall has started to reduce gradually in to one cropping season in a year. Then the period 2000-2004, the rainfall has reduced drastically and lead to the severe drought situation. But in 2005, there was abundant rains which lead to flood situation. After that, the change in rain fall pattern started  fluctuating. Sometimes excess and sometime insufficient rain became a normal pattern until 2010. Then, the years 2012 and 2013 were very severe drought years,” explains Baskaran.

According to his analysis, there was a drought period every five years in Tamil Nadu and then one year with excess rain. Then it goes down again to severe drought and less than ten days rain in a year.

Because of this unpredictable rainfall pattern and climatic variations, farmers cannot adopt a particular strategy in farming. Even meteorological predictions are often not able to give correct information. Hence, farmers have to cope with the rainfall pattern, using their own farming experience and plan their strategies accordingly. While doing so, if that particular year is one with a dry spell, the crops get affected by water shortage. If it rains in a particular year, the crops get spoiled with flood water.

Baskaran says he evolved his own climate resilient approaches based on his experience in paddy farming and his observation of changing weather patterns. He emphasises the need for farmers to have a holistic outlook in paddy farming with a clear understanding on the characteristic features of paddy plant.

While analysing the characteristic features of paddy, a philosophy of drying and wetting was observed. Between 2011 and 2014, the availability of water gradually reduced and it gave a bad yield in the drought years. In 2012, after October, this region received seven days of rain and after that there was no rain at all throughout the year.

During that year, kharif was the major cropping period. After the introduction of hybrid seeds but the intensification of the Cauvery water sharing issue, approaches have changed, with transplantations taking place with the help of electricity based equipments. Farmers slowly moved away from natural processes and changed their methods. Earlier, traditional farming system was adopted with rotation and cyclic approach.

“We start with a short duration crop, then a long duration crop for kharif season, then cultivate black gram and again with a short duration crop. Thus, the farmers classified the crop cycle in a proper way.”

In 2012, when farmers experienced a severe drought situation, the meteorological department gave a report. During that time, farmers were confused and didn’t know what to sow.

Baskaran decided to go with a direct sowing method and selected a local paddy variety that comes to harvest in 140 days. After an initial rainfall period, he sowed the seeds on September 30. That initial rain gave him sufficient moisture to plough the land and sow the seeds. That moisture also helped the seeds germinate.

Then there was only one spate of rain in October. Using that second rain, the paddy crop was able to grow to certain extent. Then he got water from the river for ten days in October, November and December. In January, the paddy crop was ripe for harvesting. Naturally, the philosophy of drying and wetting worked out very well.

Thus, a 140-day duration crop came up very well with ten days of wetting and 20 days of drying, and this changing over helped the crop grow well and gave him a good yield in January. Though it was cultivated with the direct sowing method, the tillers were very strong and upright with mature full grains and less chaff.  He was thus able to prove wrong the perception that paddy is a water guzzling crop that needs more water.

Last year was not favourable for paddy cultivation. In June, he tried another two traditional rice varieties (Karunkurvai and Sornamazuri) through direct sowing with the anticipation of some rain in the following months. But there was no rain. The seed germinated using the available moisture at the time of sowing.

“There was good germination of Sornamazuri but dried up later on as there was no rain. But in the case of Karunkuruvai , germination survival was better. This single crop shows this variety is suitable for rabi season with some irrigation sources.  In the second season, that is, September and October there was some water in the river beyond that the Mettur dam could not support,” he says.

Anticipating monsoon rain farmers went for either direct sowing of paddy and transplantation method. But there was no rain as well till mid December. It was declared that monsoon had withdrawn by the middle of November. So paddy could not survive as both rain and the river failed.

Only a few farmers with the help of deep bore wella could cultivate. The rest of the farmers had a heavy losses, or no income for the year. Under such situation, he decided to go for plants which require less water and can perform well in the months of December and January with the help of atmospheric moisture and not irrigation. He selected black gram, green gram and gingelly and was able to harvest a good yield.

The crops came up very well without irrigation with little application of growth promoting inputs and pest control efforts. All the crops were harvested in March 25, 2017.

Unfortunately, Baskaran’s neighbours failed to understand the weather pattern, as a consequence of which their conditions have grown from bad to worse. Some have suffered heavily with the complete crop loss.

“Farmers should have a clarity on which variety is suitable for which season. Traditional varieties are always performing well and  helpful to mitigate different climatic stress conditions. That is why they are location specific. We have traditional varieties for low lying areas, rain shadow regions like Ramanathapuram, varieties suitable for uplands, varieties for sandy soil, varieties for coastal areas and saline areas. Likewise, for every climate conditions there are numerous traditional varieties available. Each paddy variety has its own character in it. If farmers are able to identify which traditional variety is suitable for water stress conditions and planting them with direct sowing method, they could achieve more in paddy farming,” explains Baskaran.

Another thing that the farmers need to understand is that they should not go two or three seasons with the same crop. They should not go three seasons only on paddy cultivation. The kharif crop is heavily dependent on rain, so during that season they should go with paddy. After this, in the month of January the surface of the land becomes dry due to mist. However just beneath the surface, there will be moisture.  That is optimum for planting pulses. In the summer months, the surface of the soil will be very dry and at that time they can sow millet grains like Ragi, Bajra and by the end of June these grains come to the harvesting stage. Baskaran is part of the Save Our Rice Campaign, an initiative of an NGO called CREATE, Thiruthuraipoondi.

For more details, interested farmers can contact R. Baskaran, Teynampadugai via Patteswaram, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu: 612703, mobile: 94428-71049.

How Changing Cropping Pattern Can Help Mitigate Loss

Apart from economic gains and increased production, mixed cropping has helped a Tamil Nadu farmer save on water for irrigation – a precious resource in the drought-ridden region.

Like many other places across the country, Kovil Veerakkudi, a small village in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu, has been impacted by a severe drought for the last five years.

Though it comes under the delta region, it is known for prone to droughts and dry, and does not benefit from the Cauvery water, the lifeline of the delta areas.

The impact of persistent droughts has led to a depletion in the groundwater level. In many places, agriculture has failed completely and compelled many farming families to migrate to nearby towns and cities. The availability of fodder is limited during a drought, forcing farmers to sell livestock and milch cattle.

Despite the recurring droughts and the agrarian crisis, some farmers have been able to foresee the impacts and change their cropping system to overcome the obstacles.

S. Kalaiselvan, a young and enthusiastic farmer, owns seven acres. His approach towards farming has always been different from that of others and he is constantly searching for alternatives, attempting innovative experiments in his field.

Despite using organic farming methods and techniques for five years, Kalaiselvan had little success. His expenses, despite labour, and pest and disease management, did not scale down as expected. The open well, which is his only water source, also depleted day-by-day with the monocropping system of paddy cultivation.

“At this point I started to seriously analyse the reasons for my loss and realised that monocropping with paddy is the reason. In the face of drought and monsoon failure, it is a risky crop. This realisation made me decide to change the cropping pattern. Instead of one crop, I decided to grow different crops. Accordingly, I allotted 75 cents for the experiment in which I cultivated groundnut as a major crop, intercropped with pulses and cotton along with greens and onion.”

In order to effectively use the irrigation water, he planted onion on the irrigation bunds and sesame in the main field bunds. He also planted cotton immediately after groundnut harvest and sowed short-term greens.

Not only did water and weed management become easy through this combination of mixed cropping, but it also saved him enormous time and farm labour required for irrigation and weed management.

“As the mixed cropping system completely covered the entire field from direct sunlight, it helped retain soil moisture of the field for longer time. Moreover, the weed growth also suppressed remarkably, resulting in the reduction of farm labour engaged for weeding. This is the first sign of big relief for him,” said K. Suresh Kannan, the deputy director of an NGO called Kudumbam in Tiruchi.

The young farmer was trained and made aware of the benefits of mixed cropping by the NGO, which has been working among several hundred farmers in different districts of the state.

According to the farmer, mixed cropping benefited him more than monocropping, from which he could get only paddy and rest of the food items he had to purchase from retail shops. Mixed cropping, on the other hand, contributed with the production of variety of food products for his own family and his day-to-day needs.

“From the 75 cents I was able to harvest eight bags of groundnut, out of which four bags was milled for oil for personal needs. In addition, 25 kgs of sesame was also crushed into oil and pulses. Onion and greens take care of my family requirement plus my income,” explains Kalaiselvan.

According to him, the net income from mixed cropping is around Rs 59,700 from 75 cents, whereas the net profit from monocropping with paddy is only around Rs 7,315 from 40 cents.

Apart from economic gain, the problem with pest was also minimal when compared with the monocropping system of paddy cultivation. As the land area is completely covered, the weed growth is also minimised.

“The biggest gain for him in mixed cropping system is the reduced number of days and time for irrigating the crops. For the monocropping system with paddy he used to irrigate water once in four days if he had little rain, otherwise he has to irrigate once in two days and each time two-and-half-hours of irrigation for the paddy crops,” said Kannan.

In mixed cropping system, irrigation is required once in 15 days. If there is little rain, irrigation is required once in a month and each time for five hours. Thus, he is able to save more of the water available in the well, which is the only water source.

For more details, interested farmers can contact M. Prabu at 9842988889 or and S. Kalaiselvan at 97513 25207.

Native Cows Could Help Prevent Farmer Suicides

Agriculture is no longer the work of illiterate farmers who depend on middlemen and grow crops using obsolete methods, doing the same run-of-the-mill job day in and day out.

The IT revolution has brought sweeping changes to India’s agriculture industry. The skinny, dhoti clad, unshaven farmers of the past have been replaced by young, educated men in jeans, Nike sneakers and Ray Bans, who are taking a new, more sophisticated approach to the profession.

A good example is S. Vinoth Reddy who hails from an agriculture family near Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh.

After he graduated with a B.Sc degree, Reddy’s family wanted him to work in a private company but he had his own ideas.

“I have been doing research on the current agriculture process and was getting a lot of information from farmers and the issues causing farmer suicides. My question is why do these farmers commit suicides? What is the reason behind this? My search continuously made me travel to different places, helped me meet several farmers, question them and at last I came to know that the main cause is debt,” said Reddy.

He explained, “How does this debt come to a farmer? From buying inputs like seeds and fertilisers. And mostly farmers buy fertilisers on credit for which a small interest is charged by the fertiliser retail shops. Monsoon failure or [using the] wrong methods [of cultivation] cause him to fail and he goes back to the shop to buy more inputs hoping he will succeed this time, not realising that he has not rectified his earlier mistake. Again he losses and finds himself under debt from which he can never come out. The easy way out of his emotional turmoil is committing suicide, which makes it easy for him to escape the humiliation, leaving his family permanently damaged.”

“I wanted to make a change, at least try to create a change in which I would be an example,” emphasises Vinoth. “At least try to stand up to tell others, see I am doing it and am successful if you like you can follow me,” he adds.

But his family was not going to accept his idea because they thought it was not worth the risk and quite dangerous. To them, a monthly income from a stable company was a safety cushion.

But Vinoth persuaded his family to give him three years time. He said, “If I failed in three years I would toe their line, I promised.”

He started working on his small farm as part of his research. As he had previously observed that farmers suicides mainly occur due to one reason – debt – he decided to start from there and bought four desi breed Punganoor cows.

In my opinion, desi cow-based agriculture is the only solution for preventing farmer suicides. Reddy can avoid most of the expenses of agriculture by developing seeds, preparing fertilisers and chemicals at home.

Reddy makes 18 cow-based products such as tooth powder, cow dung cakes, dish washer soap, wall hangers, face packs, phenyl, dung bricks, pain relief oil,  sacred ash, mosquito repellent and garlands; and sells them online through and websites.

Vinoth Reddy holds up a product made from cow dung. Credit: M.J. Prabu

“We get email and Whatsapp messages when a user requests cow-based products through these websites,” explained Reddy.

Presently he is trying to make 180 shapes of dung cakes with the help of the Bangalore Institute of Technology (BIT).

According to Reddy, a desi cow can help farmers financially, preventing them from falling into crippling debt.

Here are some short snippets of my conversation with him.

I asked Reddy that when labour itself is scarce and the monsoon is playing truant, how can one expect a farmer to keep native cattle?

“Every region/ district in a state has its own cattle. These are quite sturdy and do not need special attention like jerseys or HF (Holstein Friesian) breeds. Also, today in organic farming the solitary desi cow can help a farmer cultivate three acres of land with ease without much expense. This has been proven true in nearly 25 villages across Chitoor district. The sad part is that Telengana, which is hardly 80 kms from here, is a hotbed of farmers suicides and it will do the state’s farmers good if they can come here and see us, we can help them more than what the government says or has not done,” he smiled confidently.

Reddy also explained why the Punganoor cow breed is particularly popular in the state, in addition to Ongole.

He said, “The Punganoor cow is an amazingly efficient milker with an average milk yield of 3-5 litres a day on a daily feed intake of 5 kg. It is also highly drought resistant, and able to survive exclusively on dry fodder. It is known as poor man’s cow.”

Reddy compared the cow to a deer to explain his point further, “The body language of the cow is similar to a deer. The breed’s milk has a high fat content and is rich in medicinal properties. While cow milk normally has a fat content of 3 to 3.5%, the Punganur breed’s milk contains 8% . The body of the breed slopes downwards from front to hind quarters; tail touching the ground; slight mobile horns, almost flat along the back and normally at different heights from each other.”

Despite being such a useful animal, the breed is nearly extinct today. Reddy said, “Today the breed is on the verge of extinction, with some 20-odd animals remaining all over the state. The cattle are being reared mainly on the government livestock farm, Palamaner, in Chittoor district, while a small informal group of private breeders are also working on reviving the species. It is not officially recognised as a breed since there are only a few animals remaining.”

He continued,  “We can say the Punganur cow has become a craze, a status symbol among wealthy people. They are shelling out Rs 1-6 lakh to buy the cow, which is believed to bring good luck. In Andhra Pradesh today the poor man’s cow has become rich people’s property.”

Reddy offered some ideas on reviving the breed, “If the government is keen then scientifically, the breed can be developed through the artificial insemination process. There are some local breed cows available which would be suited to develop the breed by inseminating them with Punganur semen. The first calving can get 50% characters, and by the third or fourth generation 100% Punganur characteristics  can be developed.”

Finally, Reddy ended with, “But why wait for some government body to do this. I have started it and am going on with this. Those interested can reach me at and I am ready to help, share my experiences.”

Vinoth Reddy: 09440230052, Prakruthi, Eguva Thavanampalli Village, Thavanampalli Mandal, Chitoor District- 517131.

New Farming App to Help Farmers

A new farming app named ‘FEM@Mobile’, developed by KVK Malappuram, contains information about 100 crops and will help farmers to plan what they cultivate.

The farming app will help farmers plan cultivation better. Credit: CIAT/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

A group of scientists at the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), working at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Malappuram have developed a new mobile application named ‘FEM@Mobile’ for agriculture.

The application contains information about 100 crops included in the package recommended by KAU. It is available on the Google play store under the key word KVK Malappuram or FEM@Mobile and can be downloaded for free.

Farmer's Notebook.This is the first time that a mobile application which covers such a large number of crops has been developed. The application is designed in such a way that it takes care of the needs of both small and big farmers.

The specialty of the tool is its simplicity. The well structured navigation path makes information retrieval easy. The content information is presented in small sentences and paragraphs. This makes the information easily understandable.

Further, it is available for free. The size of the application is below 1,000 kb. Hence, users can freely download the application on their smart phone. The application can also be download from the site

According to P.V. Habeburrahman, professor and head, KVK Malappuram, the mobile application has two advantages. First it acts as a capacity building tool for extension officers. The extension officers can refresh their knowledge at any point of time.

Screenshot of the app on the Google Play app store.

Second, it reduces the cost, time and location-based problems involved in the transfer of technology. This assumes special importance for the small and marginal farmers located in remote places.

For example, a farmer growing five plants of banana and two coconut plants in his homestead can easily calculate the fertiliser details for his plants with the new tool. He simply has to download the application and install it on his mobile. Once installed the application doesn’t require an internet connection.

There are six different categories of information covered under the tool. The broad areas of information are crop cultivation, plant protection, organic inputs, agro chemicals, expert support and contact directory.

The crops are categorised based on broad groups like spices, vegetables, medicinal plants, etc. The crop production aspect covers information on planting, variety, fertiliser, after care and harvest.

The planting operations section provides information on seed material, spacing, planting time, method of planting and more. Information on around 800 recommended varieties are included under the variety details.

Around 300 fertiliser recommendations are presented in straight fertiliser format and in unit area per plant basis. The fertiliser information button also makes clear how much fertiliser is to be applied, when and how.

The after care button has information on weeding, irrigation and other intercultural operations. The fifth button is on harvest and storage. Information on the crop duration, maturity indicators, harvesting and what is to be done immediately after the harvest can be found here.

The plant protection part covers symptoms and control methods for over 500 insect pests, 700 plant diseases and 1,100 deficiency disorders. The control aspect gives equal emphasis on organic and inorganic methods.

This is followed by detailed information on other topics like different organic and inorganic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. It is followed by the expert support link that helps to send field photos directly to the scientists. This is followed by a contact directory.

Given the popularity of smart phones, the application makes information more accessible. People can retrieve the needed agricultural information through their phone making the role of extension agencies easier.

One of the major problems associated with communication is message distortion in the communication channel. The mobile application solves this problem as it carries the embedded message correctly to the end user.

For more details contact Dr Sunil V.G., assistant professor (extension), KVK Malappuram, Kerala, email:, mobile: 9446058252.

Tackling Drought With a Portable Solar Water Pump

The ‘drought fighter’ helps reduce fuel consumption, making crop cultivation cheaper and more efficient.

Solar portable pump. Credit: M.J. Prabu

Accessing water on time and its availability is one of the greatest challenges in Indian agriculture. Digging farm ponds is one way of ensuring water availability for crops, while many farmers across the country also follow the drip irrigation technique. But for those who don’t have a drip and are in areas where water availability is a serious issue, there is a need for a simple solution.

P. David Raja Beula, the assistant director of Horticulture Kadayam in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, seems to have an answer for this. Beula is currently employed in the government horticulture department, but he has always had a penchant for developing simple farm machineries that can be operated using solar power.

His recent development is a solar powered drought fighter, which consists of a suction tube, a smaller size delivery tube, a spray gun and a solar panel that needs to be connected to a motor.

A few years ago he had developed a similar smaller sized solar water pump that used 0.020 KW of power, whereas the new solar portable pump uses 0.37 BKW.

“In the previous drought fighter, water could be sprayed only from a barrel in which the required water or water mixed with water soluble fertiliser or bio manure is mixed. In this updated solar portable device I have made changes so that it can be used to draw water from even up to 15-20 feet depth. It can also be used to pump water from a sump to an overhead tank of up to 25 feet height. Water from the tank is then used for spraying. It is provided with battery back up as generator,” said Beula.

Explaining how to use it, he said, one end of the sprayer is fitted with a suction hose (approximately five meters in length) which is thrown into a pond or tank and another 20-meter long delivery hose is connected to the spray gun which enables the farmer to spray water over his crops. Powered by solar energy, the device reduces the fuel consumption for the motor, thereby reducing the cost of cultivation by more than 20%.

Farmer's Notebook.

Using this simple device, about 25% of the area can be covered in ten minutes, according to him. More area can be covered by a periodical shifting of the entire system. The sprayer can be used for any crops and water soluble fertilisers and organic manures can be sprayed using this device.

“The major advantage over the traditional backpack sprayer is that the farmer need not carry water and the weight of sprayer every time he walks in the field. The drudgery of carrying weight of water is completely wiped off. As the sprayer is operated by solar power, it is free from electricity,” Beula added.

The efficacy of the device was demonstrated to 25 farmers during a farm school training programme of Agricultural Technology Management Agency in Karuthapillaiyur village of Kadayam block in Tirunelveli district. Those who participated seemed quite impressed with the efficiency of the device.

“Even when the well has minimum quantity of water, vegetables and flowers can be cultivated in a few cents of land using this sprayer. In Kadayam block of Tirunelveli where farmers were hesitating to venture into horticulture crops, were encouraged to carry on cultivation with the help of this device,” he said.

Not just for crops, the device is also useful for those with a dairy unit where five to nine or more animals are housed. The main constraint in dairy is that the labourers clean the cow dung manually using bare hands and carry the basket filled with the dung on their head to the farmyard manure pits. The hands and legs of the labourers who are constantly exposed to cow dung and urine sometimes get infected and take a long time to heal.

The device can be adjusted in such a way that the water comes out with more speed so that it can wash the cow dung and urine into the channels which are connected to a collecting sump. The labourer need not handle the cow dung by hand. This will attract qualified labour to agriculture because of the healthy environment created.

Water being sprayed using the solar portable pump. Credit: M.J. Prabu

An economic analysis of the green and white revolution on agri-animal husbandry project was also conducted, which showed how rice cultivation and maintenance of ten cows in five acres of land complemented each other, giving a synergic effect on the economy earning of Rs 48,8000 a year, reducing external inputs and improving the fertility of the land resulting in a sustainable development. According to Beula, both the devices can also be fitted on tractors and used to spray large areas like tea, coffee and cardamom estates.

The cost of the device is Rs 45,000, which is at par with any tractor-mounted petrol or diesel sprayer.

P. David Raja Beula can be reached at 09486285704 or

Young India Can Save the Future of Agriculture

The historic Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s vice chancellor spoke to The Wire about the state of Indian agriculture and what Indian youth and the government can do to improve things.

Dr. K.R. was recently conferred a lifetime achievement award from the Institute of Biological Sciences.

Over a century old, the historic Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore has seen many remarkable individuals in the position of vice chancellor. Many have come and gone in the past decades. The coveted post entails dealing with technocrats, labourers, academics and students alike. During their term, vice chancellors are the face and emblem of the university.

In the last 20-30 years, just a few vice chancellors have enjoyed two terms in office. Currently, Dr. K. Ramasamy the present vice chancellor is serving his second term. Dr. K.R., as he is known in intellectual circles, believes that being vice chancellor is more than merely sitting inside AC cabins, hosting dinners and addressing meetings. He is dynamic and pro-active, well-known among farmers for his strong support of organic farming and for the measures he has taken to ensure that youngsters join the farming sector.

Further, Ramasamy is extremely approachable; students can contact him over the phone at any time with their queries. He emphasises that the future of agriculture rests on the shoulders of India’s youth, and it is only the younger generation who can ensure a food-secure future for all. Although he may be reserved by nature, when it comes to farmers’ issues Ramasamy is more than willing to see to it that problems are solved efficiently. Those who have seen him in planning commission meetings and other discussions vouch for his quiet commitment to improving the lives of farmers and encouraging young people to join the agricultural sector.

Here are some excerpts from The Wire’s exclusive interview with Dr. K. Ramasamy.

From when have been you been reading The Wire?

Since I am mostly traveling I rarely get time to read newspapers and during those times my iPad comes to my help. I browse all important news on it and keep regularly updated on several national and international issues concerning agriculture. It was during one such browsing I happened to read the ‘Farmer’s Notebook’ and immediately started to read The Wire from then, since rarely we have media houses which throw light on farmers and agriculture. I compliment The Wire for making such a great decision to publish ‘Farmer’s Notebook’. I would be happy if more agriculture news can be published in it regularly as it will not only give a platform for several scientists and researchers to showcase their works, but also highlight our real heroes – farmers.

How do you see the present state of agriculture in India?

Undoubtedly, India’s economic security continues to be predicated upon the agriculture sector, and the situation is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. Even now, agriculture supports 58% of the population, against about 75% at the time of independence. In the same period, the contribution of agriculture, and allied sectors, to the GDP has fallen from 61 to 19%. In spite of all these downfalls, around 51% of India’s geographical area is already under cultivation as compared to 11% of the world average. The present cropping intensity of 136% has registered an increase of 25% since independence.

There is also an unprecedented degradation of land (107 million hectares) and groundwater resources, and also a fall in the rate of growth of total factor productivity. This deceleration needs to be arrested and agricultural productivity has to be doubled to meet growing demands of the population by 2050.The schemes which the central government introduced to improve the situation of rural India were promising initially, but the recent release of the socio-economic and caste census report shows a totally different story. That is why in the past several days, several farmers have committed suicide. Somewhere untimely rains and the lack of basic facilities can also be a cause of farmer suicides. The question arises: how long can poor farmers and villagers be denied rural infrastructure?

Farmer's Notebook.

Even after spending crores of rupees in the twelfth five-year plans, villagers are forced to live in rural poverty. About 13.34 crore households, 75% of rural India, having [such] low monthly incomes that it is not even sufficient to feed their families. They feel helpless. The latest data released by the government stalked the reality of government schemes and programmes which are running for the villagers [and have been] for many years. In order to bridge the gap between the government and people, more and more people’s participation through NGOs and voluntary organisations is very important to disseminate [information] and the government schemes to the rural people. The real experience of associating with the farmers in Tamil Nadu clearly shows that the simple tinkering of ongoing schemes will definitely improve yield and profitably.

A single variety of rice, CO R51, has doubled the yield in one season. One technology (PPFM-drought protectant) [used as a] drought proofing attempt has saved four lakh acres of rice farms in the delta in 2012-13. Hence, farmers are receptive to technology and they love agriculture. They also know that urban poverty is more cruel than rural poverty. Youths have introduced and tested protected cultivation in the delta. Alternative agriculture is picking up. The future holds the key for the production of enough food from less land, less labour, less input and less water – without damaging the ecosystem.

What is the trend among youths today? Are they inclined towards farming as a full-time profession?

Agriculture as a farming business rather than development platform in India is gathering momentum. I think this is a positive perspective. Agriculture (production of crops, livestock etc) and agribusiness (value chain servicing agriculture) are rather different sectors, marked by different risk-return profiles. Agriculture is highly dependent on land, which is incredibly politicised, which in turn makes agriculture or farming unattractive especially for youth without political connections or financial capital.

With that being said, I think agriculture has enormous potential for eradicating poverty, needs youthful energy and passionate team players. In addition to the opportunities you have raised, I think we should expand the conversation to some of the challenges that make it unattractive so that we can seek solutions and build on the momentum that’s gathering.

Young people need to see live examples of other youth who made it in agriculture before they believe what they can do [in the field]. Youth need to own this; it is one thing to convince them agriculture is not a risky sector to venture into, and it is another thing for them to believe it themselves. As young people, they need to own and believe that within them lie many possibilities, and the future is in their hands to own.
The Indian government is making lots of efforts in bringing youth participation to agriculture. In this line, a recent scheme, Attracting Rural Youth in Agriculture (ARYA), has to be promoted jointly by all the state governments in coordination with the central government to promote the evergreen revolution in the country. The scheme will not only attract rural youth to agriculture by making them skilled but also make the state self-dependent in agriculture. Under the scheme, Agriculture Technology Management and Training (ATMA), the programme will provide training to rural youth. From each village, two youths will be selected and trained on how to make proper use of barren and uncultivated land and grow pulses.

There is also a special programme for rural youths which is aimed at benefitting the entire rural area in terms of carrying out farm operations and services at reasonable costs. Some of the activities to be linked with the ARYA scheme include identifying barren land in villages under the guidance of the Agriculture-Science Center, promoting suitable crops, encouraging the growth of different crops after harvesting paddy, inspiring farmers to use fertilisers as per the Soil Health Card, registering farmers on the Farmer Portal, providing new technology and constituting farmer groups.

In spite of the fact that so many schemes are available, many farmers are unable to access or have any knowledge of schemes which may help them. What do you think of this issue?

There are state-sponsored schemes and centrally-sponsored schemes that are implemented by the concerned state governments through departments of agriculture, horticulture and veterinary and animal sciences. The extension functionaries working in the department are disseminating the information through mass media, which includes text messaging . Moreover, a farmers’ call centre is also functioning in order to help the farmers on various technical information, package of practices and schemes available then and there for the farmers.

Above all, Agriportal, a website maintained by the university, provides all the information about the day to day developments of agriculture for the benefit of farmers. More importantly, NGOs and VOs active participation is highly encouraged by both central and state governments in order to deliver various benefits to the rural people.

If you look into the reasons why many farmers are still unaware of the welfare schemes implemented, they include corruption, lack of education, and mismanagement. For example, India has the largest public food distribution system for the poor in the world. Yet, 21% of adults and half of India’s children under five are malnourished. The leading source of corruption in India is entitlement programmes and social spending schemes that are meant for the welfare of our society. For example, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), is a $9 billion program planned to offer 100 days of employment annually for the rural poor. But MNREGA failed because of corruption and mismanagement. Just like MNREGA, the National Rural Livelihood Mission met the same fate. Though the government is making efforts towards inclusive growth, corruption is playing its role. So, all such programs designed for poor and needy fail to impress or help them.

Instead, the poor are even denied of their basic rights. Corruption is just like an epidemic in India. It leads to social inequalities and strikes the economy of our nation. Poverty is further worsened by administrative corruption. Even the simplest of tasks is not performed without a bribe. Corruption also delays and diverts the economic growth. Further, the rural youth is mostly not well educated, lack skill and are not interested in farming. Also, much of the funds allocated to the schemes are consumed in administrative costs. So, the entire chain that is formed to help the farmer does not allow this to happen. Government should come up with plans to make villages self-reliant. India must have a clear economic vision and a great system in place to execute this.

Do you think that three to four acre farming is still feasible in India, given that a majority of small-time farmers are losing interest?

Yes. For sure. Natural resources and agricultural land is limited. We could not increase it but we can enhance productivity and quality by use of Science & Technology. To overcome challenges, polyhouse farming, terrace farming and precision farming are alternative, new techniques in agriculture that are gaining a foothold in rural India. They reduce dependency on rainfall and make optimum use of land and water resources.

Potentially, polyhouse farming can help the farmer to generate income around the year by growing multiple crops and fetching premium pricing for off-season vegetables.
Government provides good amount as subsidy for polyhouse farming. A person having 20 cents of land can start hi-tech farming where the polyhouse will come up in 10 cents of land and the rest of the land for supporting the cultivation.

Let us learn from Taiwan, which excels in food production and exports to 25 countries through small farmer co-operatives and value addition. Small size is not a difficulty, but it should be taken as a resource wherein the family labour is assured for success.

Has the present government been proactive?

To give stagnant agricultural growth a boost, a shift must be made from concentrating on the country’s food security to focusing on the farmers’ income security. The green revolution, which is characterised by the introduction of high-yielding variety of seeds and fertilisers, undoubtedly increased the productivity of land considerably. But the growth in the productivity has been stagnant in recent years, resulting in a significant decline in the income of farmers. There have also been negative environmental effects in the form of depleting water table, emission of greenhouse gases, and the contamination of surface and groundwater.

Needless to say, the agriculture sector is in a state of distress, which is severely affecting peasants and marginal farmers, and urgent policy interventions are required to protect their interests. The government has responded to the problem by constituting a panel which will recommend ways to double the income of farmers by 2022. While this may be an overtly ambitious target, if we want to boost stagnated agricultural growth a shift has to be made. However, there are many hurdles that have to be crossed if we want to achieve this objective to double the food production and treble the farmers’ income.

Despite so many technical advancements, agriculture in india is largely dependant on annual monsoon. If monsoon fails, it spells doom for the farmer. Is there any accurate mechanism which can correctly predict whether there will be rains or not?

Seasonal climate forecast helps in making strategic farm decisions like land configuration, cropping patterns, and crop varieties. Medium range weather forecast helps in making tactical farm decision like land preparation, weather based crop sensitive operations such as sowing, irrigation scheduling, intercultural operations, fertiliser application and spraying of chemicals.

District level seasonal climate forecast is given before the beginning of rainy season by last week of May for the southwest monsoon, and in the last week of September for the northeast monsoon, with an accuracy level around 60%. The maximum possible level of seasonal climate forecast accuracy is around 70% only, since our country is situated very close to the equatorial region, where the climate variability is high. The accuracy of seasonal forecast could be increased by developing hybrid weather forecast, which is a combination of different forecast methods using probability (past weather), numerical model (present weather) and astrometeorology (future movement of planet). Agro Climate Research Centre is already start working on it and the fine-tuned hybrid forecast method will be released by 2018 to improve seasonal climate forecasts. District level medium range weather forecast by India Meteorological Department is given on every Tuesday and Friday with a lead time of next five days with 70-75% accuracy. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University gives medium range weather forecast using Weather and Research Forecasting (WRF) model at block level on every day with a lead time of next six days with 75-85% accuracy.

The level of accuracy of this forecast could be improved by providing still more high spatial resolution in the model at village level. Now, Agro Climate Research Centre has completed development of village level forecast, and is working on the front end to display the same. The village level forecast will increase the rainfall accuracy further the more to 80-85%. This village level forecast will come into force in the ensuing rainy season. Medium Range Weather Forecast accuracy level could be improved up to 85% while seasonal climate forecast accuracy could be improved up to 70%.

At the national level, the meteorological department has five regional forecasting centres in India which issue weather bulletins daily for farmers. The bulletin is ready by noon, but it is broadcast by the All India Radio in the evening so villagers can listen to it. The director of agricultural meteorology receives reports from government farms comparing the forecasts with the weather actually experienced. A periodical assessment of these returns shows that the forecasts have a very high degree of accuracy. Steps have been taken to ascertain how these forecasts can be used to secure better timing of agricultural operations.

Compared to a decade back, the number of villages both in the state and India engaged in organic cultivation have increased. Yet, there are bottlenecks when it comes to marketing, leaving farmers frustrated. What is the solution to this?

The marketing support for organically grown produce is a policy decision and draft on organic farming policy has been already submitted to the government of Tamil Nadu with much emphasis on creating marketing linkages. The key suggestions made in the policy draft were to promote organic farming companies, set organic marketing outlets at different levels, create Organic Certification, and establish premium price for produces.

Fortunately, as consumer demand increases for these popular products, so will sales opportunities for farmers growing specialty organic products. Niche marketing to ethnic populations, gourmet restaurants and retailers, developing value-added products, community-supported agriculture and participation in tailgate markets are a few ways to reach organic consumers locally and globally. Farmers approach direct marketing in a variety of ways using single or multiple channels. The goal generally is to develop a strategy to sell all their produce. This can be through one marketing channel or several. Farms may also add additional direct market channels as the business grows. For instance, many farmers begin with selling through a farmers’ market or a roadside stand. As the business grows, they can add other direct channels such as a grocery or restaurant sales. Direct sales channels for specific crops or a segment of a crop may be combined with wholesale channels. The options are nearly endless. Farmers’ markets also provide the opportunity to build a customer base.

Another concept to be thought of is agritourism. Agritourism appeals to customers who have a desire to visit a farm and experience its activities. As Indians lose family ties with agriculture, many are interested in maintaining some sort of contact with farming, especially for their children. This is a theme with most types of direct marketing but is a key feature of agritourism. The internet also provides a convenient method to advertise the farm business, sell products and communicate with customers. Most households have access to the internet in their homes. This is a potentially large market for specialty farm products.

How can a steady price be fixed for tomatoes, onions and other vegetables so that farmers do not throw their produce on the roads for not getting a good price?

Price fluctuations for vegetables like tomatoes, onions and other vegetables occur when there is a glut in the market for one or two months in a year. The fall in the prices of these perishable commodities does not occur regularly and the magnitude of price fall also varies. These price variations can be reduced by adopting certain strategies. First, when there is a glut of vegetables in the market, arrangements may be made to procure vegetables at the price equal to the average cost of cultivation with a margin of 50% of the cost of cultivation (Rs 10 per kg for tomatoes and Rs 15 per kg for onions) and they can be kept in cold storages established in the nearest regulated markets.

However, these prices need to be revised according to the rise in the average cost of cultivation of these crops. Second, these vegetables can be sold through pasumai vegetable stalls; they can also be supplied to kitchens operated by the education department operated through the noon meal scheme at schools throughout the state.

What is your take on present day agriculture – is it dwindling or is it going up?

Over centuries, the growth of agriculture contributed to the rise of civilisations. Agriculture kept formerly nomadic people near their fields and led to the development of permanent villages. These became linked through trade. New economies were so successful in some areas that cities grew and civilisations developed.

Food production must keep pace with population growth and distribution methods. This is an enormous agricultural and political challenge. The challenge is not food shortages, but unequal distribution of the world’s food supply. The ratio of population to farmable land has favoured some countries more than others. Some experts believe government policies in developed and developing countries have hindered equal food distribution. Droughts, floods and other disasters continue to cause local food shortages. Overpopulation also contributes to unequal distribution of food resources. Much of the population increase over the next 100 years will occur in developing countries where hunger is already a serious problem.

Exporting food or agricultural technology from countries with surpluses to those with shortages will not solve the problem of world hunger. Poor countries do not have the money to buy all the food they need and do not want to permanently rely on other countries. Many developing countries also regard biodiversity as an important resource and do not want to threaten it with genetically modified crops. Experts believe that the hunger problem will be solved in two ways. First, the citizens of all countries need to have the ability to grow or purchase their own food. Second, citizens of all countries need to have responsible diets and spending habits.

What about addressing the problem of overpopulation?

Agricultural science will help countries adjust to healthier methods of food production. Scientists are developing new high-yield varieties of crops that require fewer fertilisers or pesticides. Such crops reduce the need for using costly chemicals and trade. The challenges of feeding the hungry cannot be met unless the world’s land and water are safeguarded. Agricultural practices in developed and developing countries have led to a severe loss of valuable topsoil, water and other resources.

Many countries need better programmes for replanting forests. Overpopulation has pushed a growing number of farmers onto lands too fragile to sustain cultivation. Demand for food has led to increased irrigation worldwide. In some areas, irrigation has caused water tables to drop, rivers to run dry and wells to go empty.

Agricultural chemicals that increase production often contaminate soil and groundwater and disrupt food chains. Agriculture does not have to harm the environment. By protecting the land, water, and air, and by sharing knowledge and resources, people may yet find solutions for the problem of world hunger.

Under your dynamic leadership, in what ways is the university ready to increase production and encourage youngsters (those from other vocations) to try their hand at farming? What is your advice to them? Is it remunerative feasible?

TNAU has been nurtured by eminent agriculturists, and it imparts training to youngsters on technical skills for a variety of agricultural enterprises such as nursery techniques, value addition in baking, mushroom cultivation, beekeeping and more.

Entrepreneurs involved in business incubation are also encouraged to have their business units and the required technical advice is given to them to upscale marketing of their products. Farm technologies are continuously disseminated through radio, fairs, KVKs, exhibitions and technology parks and skill development centres. Farmers are also encouraged to pursue a B.F.Tech. programme in Open and Distance Learning mode. Many of the enterprises are paying remunerative returns to them. For example cultivation of pulses (green/black gram) pays a net return of Rs. 75000 per acre in 75 days. Similarly, the maize production pays a net return of Rs 30,000 per acre in 100 days. Protected cultivation of vegetables under a polyhouse will pay a return of Rs 1.81 lakhs in a unit of 1,000 square meters (25 cents). They can repay the investment in three years.

Agriculture technology park and ecotourism are programmed at the Agricultural College and Research Institute in Killikulam to demonstrate state of the art technologies in agriculture including horticulture, forestry, food processing, animal husbandry, fisheries etc. It will attract youngsters.

Skill development centres at the Agricultural Engineering College and Research Institute in Kumulur is offering training in repair and maintenance of agricultural machinery and implements, nursery seedlings production technology and commercial horticulture technologies.

Further, exclusive women development centre at the Horticultural College and Research Institute for Women offers training to women in horticulture and agricultural technologies, food processing and value addition. It helps women become entrepreneurs and earn incomes. These activities are being upscaled in order to encourage youngsters in participating farming.

Lastly, I am sure the future lies definitely in the hands of our youth for increasing food production.

Dr. K. Ramasamy can be reached at

Making Organic Produce Affordable

Partha and Rekha, who left their city jobs to become organic farmers, are now working to spread awareness on organic produce and make it accessible for all.

Partha and Rekha. Credit: M.J. Prabu

If you ask a farmer if they would like their children to take up their vocation, 90% would say no. A majority of farmers dream that their children will find a salaried position rather than getting involved in the physical drudgery that is a part and parcel of farming life.

The government claimed it would build interest in agriculture among the youth through a programme called ARYA (attracting and retaining youth in agriculture), but failed to do much other than hold a few seminars and publish information booklets.

While it is true that farmers are frustrated and the area of cultivable land is decreasing, agriculture may be getting a new start. Over the past few years, a number of young people born and educated in cities are trying their hands at farming.

Partha and Rekha, a couple, are a good example. Both are well-qualified and were working in a big city getting good salaries. But they were not satisfied with their work and worried by the regular illnesses that affected their only child. Based on advice from their family doctor to start eating organic food, the couple decided to leave their jobs and take up farming as full-time profession.

Since both were from traditionally agricultural families, access to land and crop-growing techniques were not difficult. But marketing their produce posed a big challenge. In their search for more information, they came across an organisation called Restore which buys and sells organic food.

Restore is headed by Ananthoo, who left a high-profile job in Switzerland to take charge of the organisation. They started only as suppliers of greens and rice. Today, it has a team of 16 young people, all professionals who have either left their jobs or are working with the organisation part-time.

Most of them have established their own shops across cities to market organically-grown produce. The team regularly send messages to their customers on social media, informing them about what is available.

The organisation also has a small team that visits farmers, checks their credentials and keeps an eye on whether their products are organic or not.

“A lot of our products are cheaper than the inorganic equivalent in supermarkets, since our overheads are low. Also, we don’t stock any brands and are not heavily dependent on any brands to supply us with the food, since we want complete traceability of the produce. Our customers are encouraged to find out which farmer had grown the product for them,” says Partha.

Farmer's Notebook.With Restore as a base, the team went on to start a marketing channel called Organic Farmers Market (OFM). OFM focuses on bringing down the prices of organic produce, so that all sections of the society can buy healthy food.

“We ensure that we eliminate the middle man by getting the organically-grown produce directly from the farmers and cooperatives. We try and ensure that the largest chunk of the money goes to the farmer,” says Radha.

OFM does not pressurise the farmer into ensuring deliverables are met. When there is a set requirement, farmers tend to indulge in inorganic practices and chances are that the vegetables can get adulterated. OFM only buys whatever the farmer has. If the farmer has very little of one vegetable and more of another, then that’s what they sell, buying whatever is available in bulk.

The OFM collective doesn’t sell packaged vegetables and allows customers to buy whatever quantity they want. The collective also focuses on reducing plastic usage, due to which customers have to bring their own bags. Customers are even expected to bring their own containers for oil.

All 16 members make it a point to visit at least two farms in a month and spend the whole day with the farmers, so as to make sure that no pesticides are used. The team also says that the time spent with farmers has helped to know them and their work better.

Since the members are in direct contact with the farmers, the chances of adulteration and chemical usage are quite low.

“We ask the farmers what prices they want to sell at and accept whatever price they quote. So sometimes the price could differ according to where it comes from,” says Partha.

The collective also ensures that the farmers are paid immediately, with no delays, and prefer to work with small farmers as they can make a bigger difference to their livelihoods.

OFM also makes sure that they procure native vegetables and don’t pressurise the farmers to grow any crops unsuitable for the weather.

“Even with rice, there are different kinds that grow in different seasons and we sell accordingly. Our customers are also open to trying different kinds of rice every season. We strictly don’t sell hybrid rice since we hope to save some of our traditional varieties by building a demand for it. Also our varieties have much more nutritional benefits,” says Ananthoo.

Big corporate organic brands invest a lot of money on advertisements, packaging and branding. OFM, on the other hand, does not spend any money on this, while succeeding in making healthy organic food available to all.

They have also been working on generating rural employment. For starters, they have revived a women’s self-help group in Partha’s village Pandeshwaram, about 12 km from Chennai. These women are now engaged in making nutritious organic value adds, which are then passed on to other organic outlets in the city. Some of the things they produce are wheat flour, multi-grain mixes, millet flour, groundnut barfis, pepper vadas and other traditional snacks.

In addition to OFM activities, the couple also wants to focus on reviving the community in their own village and hopes to make it a successful model that could be emulated elsewhere. Some of their initiatives include restoring local water bodies, career counselling for children and soft skill coaching.

They believe that there is a need to establish a platform to enable sustainable livelihoods for rural communities.

“There is a need for more number of organic shops to come up all over the country so that the awareness is more among consumers. Also, some of them think organic produce is expensive and is not affordable to the common man,” says Ananthoo.

OFM contact: 

Partha and Rekha:; 09789094118

Growing Organic Products Isn’t the Problem, Selling Them Is

Farmers have little access to marketing facilities, making organic agriculture unviable for many, Dr Narsimhan told The Wire.

Dr Narasimhan. Credit: M.J. Prabu

While the country debates the government’s decision to import pulses, Dr Narasimhan, a senior physician who has been a farmer for 60 years, is a worried man. He is an avid organic farmer and also trains others in organic cultivation techniques. His worry is that organic products are not being marketed at a good price.

“Compared to a decade ago, today every village across the country knows the importance of organic agriculture. But the problem lies in selling the produce, not in the inputs or methods,” he said.

We cannot compare organic agriculture to any other vocation, he said, as the crops are more diverse, infection resistance and yield well, but the price they get in the local market makes farmers feel frustrated and bitter.

“Drought, floods, heavy rains, is all part of the farming work and we have seen several of them over our years of farming. Nothing has changed much. Yes, the talk of global warming and the natural clock being altered is seen, since suddenly we get downpours in the middle of summer or some new insects which devastate our crops,” he said. Added to all this is the lack of adequate returns.

“We spend Rs 35,000-37,000 on paddy and after waiting for six months we get an income of Rs 45,000. It makes many farmers like me wonder whether we should continue farming or sell our lands to realtors,” he continued.

Farmer's Notebook.“Since I am also a medical doctor by profession, I don’t feel the pinch. But in a country like ours where there are numerous small farmers with less than two acres of land, how can they manage to survive with the income their lands generate?” Narasimhan asked.

Governments have come and gone, but how many agricultural officials can truthfully say that they have done something worthwhile for farmers? If Narasimhan is to be believed, a large number of them are ignorant of how agriculture in this country occurs.

Farmers do not need technology or advice on how to grow their produce, Narasimhan said. What they need is marketing help: more marketing outlets and better marketing facilities.

The real bottleneck is only after the harvest, he added. The hunt for a buyer is the most tiring part of being a farmer.

“And do you know that in organic farming, it is not the farmer or the consumer who makes money the organic input suppliers and the traders who sell it at 30% more than what they pay to the farmer,” Narasimhan said.

Especially in a state like Tamil Nadu, the chances of good marketing for organic produce is quite minimal. If the trader or consumer knows the farmer well they accept it and there is no need for any organic certification, otherwise even if you have all the documents you cannot get a good price.

But what about the present government’s talk in the media on e-farming, marketing and so on?

“I personally don’t know, I only read it in the newspaper and saw some clippings on television. Why talk about what happens in the prime ministers office when the local agriculture department official cannot be reached?” a frustrated Narasimhan asked.

It’s an irony that in a country where the agriculture department officials and those at agricultural universities are paid a monthly salary, farmers are left to depend only on their land and the seasons, Narasimhan continued. This is an unsustainable situation, unless we want to become dependent on other countries for food.

Those interested can reach Dr Narasimhan, RMO, Guruji Medical Trust, Tenangur, Vandavasi, Tamil Nadu; email: and mobile 09445382725.