Women organize for seeds – an experience from Tamil Nadu

Karatampatti is a village, located not very far from the township of Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu. Around 1000 families belonging to various sections live in this village. The livelihoods in Karatampatti predominantly depend upon dryland agriculture with some farmers having access to irrigation. Farmers with irrigated land grow paddy – groundnut followed by coriander or black gram. When groundnut is grown as a sole crop, after its harvest, coriander is cultivated. But for farmers with dry lands, it is possible to grow only one crop a year – either groundnut or jowar. Farmers mostly opt for groundnut if the rainfall is favourable and grow jowar only when rain fall is scanty.  Groundnut is usually inter cropped with pulses such as redgram, cowpea or mochai (lablab) and castor.

Karatttampatti is known for its groundnut cultivation, generation after generation. In earlier days, farmers used to cultivate ‘spreading’ type of groundnut.  They could harvest the pods by loosening the soil using a country plough. Then, over time, the villagers switched over to a ‘bunch’ variety TMV-7 which was seen to perform better. Since then, the villagers have been growing TMV-7 variety only owing to its better yields and ease for harvesting as compared to the earlier variety. Moreover, farmers were not aware of any other alternative varieties.

Getting together

The village as a well knit social system, was always forthcoming in organising themselves for common good. More so, in the case of the women folk. Entry of development organizations like SCOPE, Department of Agriculture (DoA) and special programmes like Tamil Nadu Women in Agriculture (TANWA) Programme paved the way for multiplication of various Self Help Groups (SHG) in the village. There are now nine social groups organized into Self Help Groups. Majority of the women in this village are a part of one or the other group and are quite familiar with the activities and benefits of SHGs. Though the change-agents withdrew gradually for various reasons, the groups continue to meet, realizing the benefits of savings and credit activities.

When one of the groups in this village heard about AMEF’s  SA initiatives in the neighbouring village, they immediately approached AMEF team, enquired about the programme, and requested the team to help them in improving their crop yields. For AMEF too, Karatampatti was an ideal village to start the programme for three reasons. Firstly, the request had come from the people, making it easy for AMEF to initiate its activities. Secondly, Karatampatti had a widespread of dryland groundnut thereby providing large scope for improving the productivity. And, thirdly, there were well established community based institutions in the form of women SHGs. Moreover, AMEF which works with groups and not individuals, did not have to spend time and energy forming new groups. Thus, soon the group members of the Tamil Nadu Women in Agriculture Programme became active as members of AMEF groups.

With the support of AMEF’s Tiruchi Unit, an impetus was given to these members who proactively came together forming into AME group. As the group members were known to each other and were a part of the older group, it was more or less a stabilized group. The group members met regularly, once a month, to discuss crop related activities, thus enabling knowledge sharing. The members also saved on a regular basis and lent loans to the members. Rules were laid down and strictly adhered to with respect to recovery of loans. This apart, these group meetings provided a platform for these women to discuss certain social as well as domestic issues of the group members.

As active participants, the members of SHGs have been quite vocal and open to try out alternatives that AMEF discussed with them. The issues included declining crop yields, particularly of groundnut, a cash-fetching crop in the dry lands. They showed keen interest and commitment through active participation.

During the year 2003, livelihood improvement being the basic goal, with low yields in groundnut being one of the major concern of farmers, AMEF focused on this aspect. To address the issue of low yields in groundnut initially and then move towards promoting sustainable agricultural practices, the Tiruchi Unit of AME Foundation, started to work with the groundnut farmers. PRAs and extensive base line surveys were conducted to understand the agro-ecological situation and to arrive at the production problems in groundnut.

Poor soil fertility, increasing soil erosion, delayed and erratic rainfall were some of the factors affecting yields. The farmers were of the view that the variety they were using did not have high yield potential. TMV-7, now a local variety, was the only groundnut variety grown in the village. It was being grown by all the farmers for many years. The average yields ranged from 350 to 420 kgs per acre. The haulm yield was less owing to leaf shedding during plant maturity stage, thus resulting in fodder shortage.

PTD as an entry point

To start with, AMEF along with the farmer groups, initiated its efforts to address the issue of choice of groundnut variety. Group discussions were organized with the group members focusing on the findings of the baseline survey. Specific problems which had no solution had to be taken up for finding local solutions. Problems like ‘shedding of leaves’ and ‘low yields’ were prioritized by the farmers for varietal trials.

The group members were interested in going in for a new variety, only if they were convinced that it worked well under their farming situations. It meant that they wanted to test the new variety on a portion of their lands and if satisfied, would expand it to a larger area. Hence, Participatory Technology Development (PTD) was found to be the most appropriate means for introducing an alternative variety – VRI-2. This variety was selected for trial as it had higher potential in terms of yield and in generating additional plant biomass.

Way back in 2000, the State Department of Agriculture (DoA) did try to popularize the variety VRI-2 in Karatampatti. They designed location specific trials. But these trials resulted in low performance of the variety in terms of yield. As a consequence, DoA decided not to popularize VRI-2 in the area and the same was not recommended for dry lands also. Thus, with no other option, farmers continued cultivating the local cultivar (TMV7) to support their livelihood.

When AMEF approached the Department of Agriculture for VRI-2 seed, it cautioned AMEF that the variety was unsuitable for the region where Karatampatti was located. However, AMEF went ahead with its varietal trials, while including the combination of alternative practices for improving soil moisture, soil fertility and crop management.

Group members allotted half an acre of their land for conducting PTD trials with the new variety along with other alternative farming practices. Another half an acre was set apart as a control, with the existing variety and cultivation practices. Initially only two farmers volunteered to take up PTD trials with VRI-2. Seeing the performance of VRI-2 variety, other members of the group came forward later to try out on their lands. Trials were laid in half an acre plots in all the members’ fields. Along with the variety, a combination of Sustainable Agriculture (SA) practices were also included for adoption on PTD plot.

The land was ploughed across the slope after the first rains and furrows were made to conserve the soil moisture. About 15 quintals of FYM was applied to the PTD plot, though the general practice is applying FYM, once in three years. FYM was enriched with Rockphosphate, Phospho bacteria, Rhizobium and Trichoderma viride. Field bunds were formed and species like cassia and stylo were planted to conserve soil as well as to generate more plant biomass for composting.

A lot of care was taken in selecting the best seeds. About 25 kgs of seeds were used. After treating the seeds with Trichoderma viridae, they were dried in the shade and sown before 24 hours. A significant difference was observed in terms of plant growth and control of root rot disease in the treated seeds compared to the untreated seeds.

Castor was sown as a border crop. Trenches were made around the fields, to prevent the movement of red hairy caterpillar. Bajra was also grown to invite beneficial insects like wasps to feed on groundnut pests. All these were new learnings for the group members engaged in PTD.

On the control plot, TMV-7 variety was grown. About 36 kg was used for sowing on a half acre plot. The practices followed were similar to what farmers usually have been practicing over the years. For instance, the usual practice is to grow cowpea and greengram as mixed crops. Generally, seeds of cowpea and greengram are mixed with groundnut seeds and broadcasted. Excepting for two weedings at an interval of 20-25 days, no other operation is carried out on groundnut field. No fertilizers are applied to the soil.


Members observed that the VRI-2 performed better than their local variety in many aspects. While the number of pods in TMV-7 variety was 3-5 pods per plant, in the case of VRI-2 it was 10-12, in some cases going up to 22. TMV-7 had more of single kernel pods, which was not found in VRI-2. In the new variety, some pods contained 3 kernels also. As Anjana, one of the members, puts it – “the people who were harvesting found difficulty in separating seeds from uprooted plants, due to its good pod size and well filled kernel size”.

VRI 2 yielded 225 kgs of pods from half an acre of PTD plot whereas in the control plot, the yield was 175 kgs.   There was a significant increase in the yield by 22%. In addition to groundnuts, farmers also realized yields from intercrops – lablab-90kgs; castor-20kgs and greengram-3kgs.

The production costs increased by 26% in PTD plot. This was mainly due to the increased cost of seed owing to its non-availability and increased labour requirement owing to seed treatment and harvesting. There was a definite price advantage for VRI-2 over TMV-7. Owing to good quality, VRI-2 fetched Rs. 27/kg while TMV-7 was sold at Rs. 17/kg. The yield increase coupled with the price advantage resulted in doubling the net returns making VRI-2, the most promising alternative variety for the region.

The VRI-2 also yielded haulms of 190kgs, which was used as livestock feed. Even after harvesting, the haulms were green with more leaves. Cattle seemed to relish it more than the local variety. In case of local variety, the harvested plants did not have much leaf material.

Rising demand for seed

Initially, AMEF Area Unit in Tiruchi, could source only 2 bags (80 kgs) of VRI-2 and distributed to two members of group to rise in their PTD plots while the other members were given pure and quality seeds of TMV variety. There was a definite shortage of seeds to start with.

The successful performance of VRI 2 motivated other farmers in the village to adopt the variety. The message that VRI-2 yielded better, spread across the village, through labourers in ‘peer’ groups. The non-members of the village were the first to see the success of the variety. In fact, while they were passing by the field, they invariably observed the VRI-2 field. Convinced with the performance, prior to harvest, they started booking their seed requirements with the group members. The response to VRI-2 was so high that there was a heavy demand for VRI-2 seeds, for the next season. Realizing this, members with irrigation started cultivating the same variety in irrigated lands for meeting the seed demand for the next season in dry lands. The members made a clear plan for fulfilling the seed requirement among the members first and then the non-members of the same village.

‘Field days’ organized at the end of crop season became one of the important sources for the spread of the variety.  The message also spread to nearby villages through farmer to farmer sharing, through relatives and field day events. Farmers of nearby villages approached the Karatampatti group for the seeds. Gradually, farmers from neighbouring district of Dharmapuri too started asking for seeds.

The group members distributed VRI-2 seeds to five of the neighbouring villages and Dharmapuri farmers. In 2006, the group supplied seeds for Kottur and other villages of Dharmapuri district through Dharmapuri Area Unit, thus, catering to the needs of outside areas. The group has planned to supply seeds to the other groups in the forthcoming season.

 Organising on a larger scale through federations

Karatampatti farmers group along with groups of four more AMEF’s cluster villages have formed into a federation. The federation consists of 15 members with 3 representatives from each village. They meet every month on a fixed date. Group plans, activities, and the experience on the adoption of SA practices and its benefits are shared during the meetings. Besides, the members also discuss community level initiatives for the benefit of the group and federation. For instance, in one of the federation meetings, members discussed about collective purchase of inputs. Consequently, the members could purchase 6.5 tonnes of Rockphosphate for distribution among members.

Similarly, the demand for VRI-2 seeds was discussed in one of the federation meetings. It is during these discussions that the idea of seed bank cropped up. Members decided to establish a seed bank in Karatampatti. Accordingly, Karattampatti took the exclusive responsibility of preparing the group work. As per decision in the cluster federation meet a seed storage house temporarily has been selected in Karattampatti. Two committees were formed to manage the seed bank. The Seed production committee with 4 members would look into the production aspects during the season. The Marketing committee with 6 members would look after the seed storage, external contacts, sourcing and selling of seeds, looking on accounting systems etc.  The finalizations with some more roles/responsibility are being finalized.

On establishing seed bank in 2007, all the farmers in the group pooled their seeds of Groundnut varieties such as TMV7, JL24 & VRI2 and Sunhemp seeds were stored in seed bank. The seed bank was initially located in a group member’s house. Now the group members feel proud to sell their produce through seed bank. The seed bank committee maintains the finances.  The committee has fixed one rupee more per kilogram of seeds as selling price to outsiders, for meeting the expenses. On sale of seeds, the payment is made to the respective members by the committee. During the Kharif season in 2007, the committee was able to distribute 402kg of Groundnut and 5kg of Sunhemp seeds from their seed bank

Moving ahead

With the success of VRI-2, the Department of Agriculture has approached the Karatampatti farmers for purchasing seeds. They also had interactions with the farmers and decided to select Karattampatti as the primary seed village of the taluk.

The group has become a source of inspiration to many. The DoA has given a new assignment to the group members – of producing sunflower seeds. Eight members from the village, of which 2 are from the group, have raised sunflower and produced 650kgs. Seeing the efforts of group members, non-members of the village also took initiative in sunflower seed production.  This initiative of Karatampatti group has motivated Santhanapatti, a neighbouring village in taking up group level initiatives.

Above all, the knowledge level of farmers on various alternative-cropping aspects is being recognized by one and all. This is evident by the fact that the DoA has planned to use the members as resource persons in training farmers in other villages in seed production.



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