Thursday, January 14, 2016

Green crusader

Spread across five acres P. Mayazhagan’s farm at Kallampatti near Melur is now a model for the villagers who look up to him for cost effective farming methods. Also he does not use any chemical fertiliser and has gone organic to enhance soil biological activity and restore ecological harmony.
Mayazhagan’s minimal use of off-farm inputs has helped him to reap rich dividends as yield from his farm is on the rise now. “It was not before a decade-long struggle,” smiles Mayazhagan.
He was born in an agricultural family but was keen on studying and did his electronics in an industrial training institute. He used to listen to organic farmer Nammalvar’s lectures and was inspired by his lectures on pest free farming. At that time Soorakundu and Kallampatti villages were popular for brinjal cultivation. “Brinjal from these villages was of high quality and was even fondly referred as ‘balloon’ brinjal. Every day these villages used to ship three lorry loads of brinjal to Kerala. But it gradually lost the name because of decline in production. Then I realised it was because of excessive use of chemical fertilisers which has ruined the soil. That was the time I decided to take over the mantle and go organic,” he says.
Mayazhagan chose paddy cultivation. Amidst stiff opposition from his family members, he tried to follow organic farming methods to improve the soil condition. “I revived age-old traditional farming practices. To inject life into the soil, I prepared ‘Amudhakaraisal’, a mixture of cow dung, jaggery, ‘komiyam’ (cow urine), and irrigated my land with the mixture and water,” he says.
The smell of the mixture attracts earthworms, which are in lower depths because of acidic nature of the upper soil (due to chemical fertilisers), to the surface. The worms burrow the land thereby improving the physical structure of the soil, creating space for plant roots to penetrate the soil. “A farmer ploughs the land once a day but these worms do the activity three to four times a day,” he says. Also the recycling of organic matter resulted in the uniform distribution of plant nutrients.
Once the land was ready for cultivation he followed the ‘Semmai Nel Sahupadi’ (System Rice Intensification) method as it reduced water requirement and increased productivity. “Elango Kallanai a fellow farmer from Narasingampatti Village ignited the spark in me to develop cost effective farm equipment to counter the rising labour costs. I developed a seed thrower that effectively sows the seed in set dimensions and a cone weeder which removes the weed and shaves the shoots to give birth to bunch of new saplings. This brought down the labour costs to a great extent. The machine costs only Rs.4000,” he says.
He sprayed ‘Panchakavya’, a mixture of banana, jaggery, cow dung, curd, toddy or tender coconut, yeast, over the saplings to stimulate plant growth. “You have to be careful. It should be stopped once the plant flowers otherwise the growth hormone acts and the rice becomes big,” he says.
To control pests he sprayed Meen Amino Amilam (an organic homemade liquid manure made by composting fish waste with jaggery).
Mayazhagan and his friend Elango regularly visit traditional paddy festival in Thanjavur where they meet farmers from various parts of the State to exchange ideas. “It is an exhibition of traditional rice varieties. We don’t sell rice there but exchange varieties. This time I got two kg of Poongar rice. I planted the paddy in my farm and got a yield of 680 kg of rice. I have already distributed 120 kg of rice to different farmers and I am also planning to do only traditional variety,” he says.
Mayazhagan does not stop with this. He is also cultivating traditional millet variety and has sownkuthiraivali in his farm. “Millets have a longer shelf life for example Varagu’s shelf life is 12 years. People are using kuthiraivali as main ingredient to make payasam and even parotta,” he says.
Now his yield is like any other farmer using chemical fertilisers. “By using chemical fertilisers a farmer is risking his livelihood. One day or the other he will have to pay the price for jeopardising the fertility of the soil,” he says.
For seven kg of paddy Mayazhagan gets around 2,000 kg to 2,600 kg of rice in 120 days. “The only difference is that I have to work for 100 days to get this yield whereas farmers using chemical fertilisers spend less time on the field to get the same yield. But the only satisfaction I derive is that I am eating healthy food,” he says.

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