Family farms: Productive and sustainable

Efficient use of resources, time and energy is possible by creating self replicating cycles within the system. The careful selection of species – both plant and animal, the effective utilization of space and resources and efficient recycling processes will not only add stability and resilience to the system, but can also increase farm income. Mr. Thilagar, a farmer from Tamil Nadu has proved this.

Mr. Thilagar from Nemmeli village of Sirkazhi taluk in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu is a farmer dependant on his seven acres of land for his livelihood. He started to experiment with sustainable methods of food production from 2002 onwards. He reduced the use of chemical inputs.But, in the absence of continuous guidance or mentoring to shift to organic agriculture practices, he could not muster enough courage to completely stop the use of chemicals. He was not keen on taking risks as agriculture was the only source of income for the family.

Nurturing biodiversity on the farm

The actual transition from chemical agriculture to organic agriculture started in 2006 when he joined the farmers’ group working with CIKS, an NGO empowering farming communities through promotion of sustainable farming and allied technologies. An ardent lover of plants, animals and nature, Thilagar, initially limited his farming activities to cultivating crops like paddy, black gram, green gram and vegetables.

“Locally adapted traditional varieties of seeds are the true wealth of a farmer and that it is every farmer’s duty to conserve as many of these traditional varieties as possible”, says Thilagar. In his farm he grows four different traditional varieties of paddy – Seeraga samba, Mappillai samba, Thanga samba and Thooya malli, for purpose of conserving seed. However, for commercial cultivation he grows white ponni in thaladi (Rabi) season and ADT – 43 in kuruvai (Kharif) season. On an average, he gets an income of Rs. 1.26 lakhs from Kharif paddy and Rs.1.5 lakhs from Rabi paddy. During Rabi, after paddy, he cultivates black gram in six acres and gets a net income of Rs. 50,000/-. He sells all his farm produce to the Sirkazhi Organic Farmers’ Association in Sirkazhi, where he gets a better price compared to the market price.

Vegetables are cultivated in an area of five cents where a whole range of seasonal vegetables are grown. Every day, on an average, 5 kg of different vegetables are harvested and sold. This fetches an income of approximately Rs. 18,000/- per year. Also grown on the farm are several fruit trees including mango, guava, sapota, pomegranate, moringa, coconut, goose berry, banana, papaya and lime. There are also several other multi-purpose tree species like teak, gliricidia, leucaena, neem growing on the farm. Plants like Calotropis, Adathoda, Lantana, Vitex that are used for pest and disease control are also grown in the farm along the boundaries.

Integrating various components on the farm

Thilagar was getting good yield from his farm (crops, vegetables and trees) by following organic farming methods. Yet, his thirst for sustainability led him to move into an integrated farm having several components like crop cultivation, vegetable gardening, poultry farming, fisheries, cattle and goat rearing. It is interesting to know how he diversified and included the different components on the farm.

Paddy fields were irrigated with water from a newly dug bore well. On testing the water, it was found to be saline, affecting paddy crop. Since Nemmeli village is located 25 kms from the coast and also due to excess pumping of water through bore wells in the region for several years, the water table had turned saline. In order to treat the water and remove the salinity, Thilagar dug a farm pond, availing subsidy from the Department of Agriculture Engineering in Sirkazhi. The pond is filled with water from the bore well and pumped out to the paddy fields after two days. This improvisation worked.

The pond within the farm seemed an ideal situation to rear fish. Thilagar started pisciculture with 5 different kinds of fishes like Catla, Mrigal, Rohu etc. He does not feed any special food for these fishes other than 1 kg azolla each day. Each year, he introduces 1000 juvenile fishes into the pond. On an average, he harvests 750 kg of fishes and sells it for Rs. 100 per kg. Thus Thilagar, through the spirit of resilience and determination, turned a limitation into an opportunity.

Above the pond at 5 ft. height, a cage of 10 ft x 16 ft x 8 ft size was setup in which 14 country chicken and 18 white legan are being reared. He prepares the poultry feed using paddy, cereals, paddy husk etc., from the farm produce. Apart from this, greens like Sesbania, Moringa and Azolla are also added to the poultry feed. Through sale of eggs and birds, he is able to get an income of around Rs. 10,000/- per year. The poultry waste which directly falls into the pond also nourish the fishes as well as the water that is used for irrigation.

Thilagar also maintains native and cross-bred cows on the farm. The cow dung is used in the production of vermicompost and biogas. The slurry from the biogas plant and waste water and cow’s urine from the cattle shed are let into the pond, which not only enriches the water for irrigation but also provides nourishment for the fishes growing there. The cows yield 10 – 13 litres of milk per day which is sold at Rs. 20/- per litre, after meeting household requirements.

Six adult and 10 kids of native breed of goats called “Thalachery” are being reared in an elevated cage. This elevated cage ensures the safety as well as the health of the goats. The goat droppings are used as manure for the trees around the farm. He annually gets an income of around Rs. 50000 by sale of goats and kids.

The bunds of the pond are planted with fodder grass that serves two purposes – bank stabilization and fodder production. The green fodder crops like Co3, Co4, Gliricidia, Sesbania etc., are cultivated organically and fed to the cattle. This helps to maintain healthy livestock.

Ensuring sustainability

By adding various components on to his farm, Thilagar has ensured that the output from one component feeds into the other, thus perfectly integrating different farm components. While the crop wastes and fodder grown on borders serve as feed for livestock, the livestock dung is converted to manure which is ploughed back into the field. Also, over the years, with continued use of organic manures, vermicompost, biofertilizers, panchagavya and practice of green manuring, mulching etc., there is a remarkable improvement in the soil quality which is evident from the improved crop production. His input costs have been progressively declining as most of the inputs are from the farm itself.

Farm of Thilagar is a typical family farm. Most of the inputs required for agriculture like seeds, soil fertility management inputs, inputs for pest and disease control are all being produced within the farm itself. Also, most of the farm activities are managed by his family members. For instance, his wife Mrs. Karpagam helps him in farming activities like vermicompost production, biopesticides preparation, maintenance of livestock etc., and supports him in each effort. There is a lot of recycling happening on the farm, thus reducing dependency on external inputs.

With a farm which is productive, which can be managed by a family and which also fetches around four lakh rupees per annum, today, Thilagam is proud to call himself a ‘farmer’.

For further details, Mr. Thilagar -94882 15244

R Manikandan, Subhashini Sridhar, R Abarna Thooyavathy and K Vijayalakshmi

Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, No. 30, Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kotturpuram, Chennai 600 085

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