Redesigning farming – A response to climate change

By transforming and reorienting agricultural systems, innovative farmers are able to build resilience in farming and ensure food security, in a changing climate situation. Scaling up such grass root level innovations is necessary which require appropriate institutional and policy support.

Baskaran is one of the leading organic farmers from Thenampadugai village, near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu.  He has been practicing organic farming for the last 15 years greatly influenced by Dr. Nammalvar, the pioneer in organic farming in Tamil Nadu.  He is also a regular participant of Nel Thiruvizha (Paddy Festival) in Adhirangam, since its inception in 2006.  Apart from doing organic farming and cultivation of traditional paddy varieties, he does a lot of research in his field with constant observation and analysis of the changes happening in agriculture and the climate.  His on-field research brought significant practical solutions to farmers to adopt climate resilient approaches in farming, both in the delta region and also in other parts of Tamil Nadu.

Unpredictable weather pattern

Twenty years ago, rainfall was very good and water was available in ponds and lakes for nearly 10 months in an year.  This had ensured cultivation of two crops in an year.  Rainy days stretched across 3 months in an year.  But now, water in the rivers is seen for less than a month. All the water resources have become dry, making farming possible for only those who have access to bore well water and electricity to pump water. Majority of the agriculture lands are left fallow.

Analyzing the rainfall pattern, Baskaran finds that there were regular seasonal rains during 1991-95, which helped the farmers cultivate crops, in both the seasons.   In the year 2000, there was a gradual reduction in rainfall, compelling farmers to cultivate only one crop. The period 2000-2004 saw a drastic reduction in rainfall leading to severe drought situation.  But in 2005, there was abundant rain which led to flood situation. After that, there was a lot of fluctuation in rainfall – sometimes in excess and sometimes in deficit, which continued until 2010. Then, the years 2012 and 2013 were very severe drought years.

According to his analysis, there is a drought period every 5 years followed by one year of excess rainfall. This is then followed again by a severe drought year, with less than 10 days rainfall in an year. Because of this unpredictable rainfall pattern and climate variations, farmers are not able to find and adopt any particular strategy in farming.  Farmers are not sure about the rainfall situation in a particular year to plan their crop accordingly.  Even the meteorological predictions have gone wrong.  Hence, farmers have to cope with the rainfall pattern using their own farming experience and plan their strategies, accordingly.

Climate resilient approaches

Baskaran evolved his own climate resilient approaches based on his experience in paddy farming and his observation on weather changes.  During the year 2012, when farmers were experiencing a severe drought situation, and were not knowing what to do.  During that time, Baskaran decided to go with direct sowing of paddy and selected a Vellaipooni variety of 140 days duration.  One rain in September provided sufficient moisture to plough the land and sow the seeds. The moisture was enough for seeds to germinate. With the second rainfall in October after Deepavali, the paddy crop was able to grow to a certain extent. Baskaran had access to river water for 10 days in October, November and December. In January, the paddy crop was ready to harvest. Baskaran found that the philosophy of drying and wetting worked out very well. Thus, a crop with 140 days duration came up very well with 10 days of wetting and 20 days of drying period. This alternate drying and wetting helped the crop grow well and gave him a good yield in the month of January.  Though the crop was cultivated with direct sowing method, the tillers were very strong and upright with matured full grains and less chaff.  Thus, it proved that paddy crop could grow with less water.

In the year 2016, which was not favourable for paddy cultivation, Baskaran tried with two traditional rice varieties namely  Karunkurvai and Sornamazuri. These were taken up in the month of June by direct sowing method, with the anticipation of rain in the following months. But, there was no rain. Sornamazuri germinated well but later dried up as there was no rain. But in the case of Karunkuruvai, germination survival was better, proving that this variety is suitable for Kuruvai season with some irrigation sources.

In the second season, i.e., September and October there was some water in the river. Anticipating monsoon rain, some farmers went for direct sowing as well as transplantation method for paddy. But there was no rain till mid-December. So paddy could not survive. Only a few farmers with the help of deep bore well could do some cultivation. The rest of the farmers incurred heavy loss or no income for the year.

Baskaran, however, decided to go for less water requiring crop which can perform well in the month of December and January, using atmospheric moisture. He selected black gram (ADT-3), green gram (desi variety) and gingelly (TMV-3). He broadcasted the seeds on December 20,2016, which was followed by two good unseasonal rains – once in December 27-28 and another during January 20-21. The crops came up very well without irrigation, with little application of growth promoting inputs and pest control efforts. All the crops were harvested on March 25, 2017. He harvested 250 kilos of gingelly from two acres of land and 1100 kilos of black gram from two and a half acres.  He also harvested 350 kgs of green gram from one acre.

While Baskaran made the most of changing climate by cultivating multiple crops, other farmers went with hybrid paddy without understanding changing weather patterns, suffered heavily with complete crop loss.

Lessons for learning

For every climate condition, there are specific traditional varieties available. Traditional varieties are location specific and perform well, helping farmers to cope with different climatic stress conditions. If farmers have clarity on varieties suitable for a season, they can cultivate them accordingly.

Farmers should avoid planting paddy continuously for 2-3 seasons. While paddy can be grown in samba season, the residual moisture should be used for raising pulse crops. So, they need to go with pulse crops only after mid January.  Then in the summer months April-May, the soil surface will be very dry and at that time they should go with millet grains like ragi, bajra etc.  This way, farmers should plan their cropping systems to make maximum benefit of the prevailing climate conditions. Baskaran’s experience is one good example.

Suresh Kanna K 
Program Associate,
Save Our Rice Campaign
Tamil Nadu, India 

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