The ground is dry when a couple of goats are trying to find some grass to eat. They are being banked up by an elderly woman with a scarf around her head to protect her from the burning sun. Here we find Mr Ramalingam who stands in his ecological field, he has now been an ecologic farmer for three years. The red chili is dangling from the crops. Mr Ramalingam realised that he needed to change his crop pattern and way of farming due to climate change. The severe drought is a problem for every farmer in Tamil Nadu. But there are ways to manage the water scarcity, to lower the water usage and still be able to grow fine crops. Mr Ramalingam shares how he has made the change from irrigated crops to low water utilizing crops.
“I own 13 acres of land and have both irrigated and rain fed land. In the rain fed land there is no watering system and it is totally dependent on rain fall. Earlier I cultivated 10 acres of land of irrigated crops which consisted mostly of paddies. But because of the reduce of rain I could no longer irrigate so much land, so now I only irrigate two acres of land. I have one open well but at the moment it is dry, so because of the drought I decided to make a deep bore well which is 340 feet deep.”
This year is the first time he changed his crop from paddy to millet. Millet needs less water than paddy. “Last year I received Fox Tail Millet seeds from Kudumbam for seed multiplication. Two kilos of seeds were given to me from Kudumbams ecological farm, Kolunji, and I cultivated 50 kilos of grains in one season. There were some problems with birds who ate the crops, otherwise the harvest would have been bigger.”
Kudumbam has given six types of millet to different farmers and Mr Ramalingam was one who received Fox Tail Millet and also Mappillai Samba which is an indigenous and drought tolerant paddy variety. Once again he got five kilos of seeds from Kolunji ecologic farm which he cultivated in one acre of land and harvested 400 kilo of grains in one season. “Previously I cultivated short term, improved varieties which need more sunlight and water, are easily attacked by pest and I needed to use fertilizer and pesticides. When cultivating Mappillai Samba I need no pesticide and I can get more yield. The indigenous variety is tasty and it’s tall so after harvesting the seeds I can use the rest of the crop for fodder to my animals.” Mr Ramalingam owns four cows, nine goats and five chickens. With the dung from the animals he can fertilize his field in a natural way.
The benefits from the indigenous variety is that he can sell the seeds, use it for domestic purpose, it’s very nutritious, he can use it for fodder to his animals, there is no need for pesticide and chemical fertilizer, it makes the soil much more fertile and do not harm the surrounding nor the soil. To be able to control the pest in the field he uses a parasite card, which is a yellow sticky card which attracts the pest and make them stuck there. At night he uses light traps which attracts the insects towards the plant and away from the plant.
“After the installation of drip irrigation I now need less water for the field. I only water it every third day for one hour. Compared to the open channel method that I used before drip irrigation – where the water goes everywhere – this is a good way to minimise water usage and save water. Because with drip irrigation the water goes directly to the crop.”
The benefits of changing the crop pattern is that some crops give nutrition back to the soil, such as red gram. Also in not being dependent on only one crop the fear of market fluctuation is not as big. For example, the kilo price for chili was 40 rupees in December and in March it was only 8 rupees per kilo. In the rain fed land he cultivate red gram, peanut and cow pea. This he can do under the rainy season once a year, July to November. Before the chili season he usually cultivate bitter guard, tomato and cucumber. From January to March he cultivate sesame because there is not much rain and quite cold that time.
“I’m very satisfied to work with ecological farming, especially now since I have changed to less water utilizing crops. I have income and can feed my family, my children, my wife and my two brothers and their families. As long as I can manage, I will continue my agricultural work.”