Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture

Sustaining farm ecology and economy by integrating livestock

Manure from the cattle wastes is used for growing vegetables

Making the most of the natural ecological processes, often results in sustainability. Simple practices like integrating livestock and farming, makes both activities beneficial. Benefits are in terms of increased production, reduced costs,  enhanced family nutrition and better farm ecology.

Developmental experiences reveal that pathways of development in vulnerable situations are not linear, leading straight out of poverty, but are more like ‘virtuous spirals’. Livestock provide people with incentives to develop these virtuous circles. The food they consume and the manure they produce make them the nutrient and economic catalysts of smallholder systems.  For poor households, livestock serve as walking bank and savings accounts.  Livestock production plays a crucial role in the management and utilisation of semi arid and arid lands. Under these conditions, animal husbandry is the traditional and major source of livelihood of people, with farming playing more of a complementary role.

Despite its multifarious utility, there is a lack of an explicitly spelled out priority for livestock. Even in development programmes, livestock activities are considered as income generating activities, restricting its perspective and focus.   The following case elaborates the systematic planning and the need for integrated approach for maintaining livestock as a central component to enhance crop production and building agro ecology.

The initiative

Singonodai is a small village of Thirukkadaiyur block of Tharangampaadi taluk in Nagappattinam district. The village has around 60 farm families.  The village was affected during the Tsunami in 2004. The agricultural lands were affected by the salt water intrusion and consequently, the soil salinity had increased. At this time, Kudumbam, an NGO working with resource poor farmers  promoting sustainable agriculture alternatives, organized training programs and demonstration of organic agriculture approaches through farmer’s field school.  The process of participatory learning and sharing methods had motivated them to practise organic farming methods. A group of farmers

came together to form an organic vegetable farmers group.  In order to sustain the organic farming practices, farmers were supported with a loan assistance to buy livestock with the primary objective of preparing bio inputs using cow urine and cow dung and supplementary income through milk.

Umblachery breed is more resistant to diseases when compared to cross bred animals

Ecological management of livestock

Baskaran is a young and enthusiastic farmer living in Singonodai. He owns 2 acres of land. He cultivates groundnut in 1.5 acres of land. The other 50 cents being sandy and suitable for vegetable cultivation, he grows vegetables, especially various kinds of gourds. He took the lead in the group to integrate livestock as core component for the production of organic vegetables.  With the project support, he bought one cow of local breed Umblachery in 2009.  He preferred buying a local breed as he knew that Umblachery cattle are more resistant to infectious diseases when compared to crossbred animals.  Presently, he has two cows and a calf of the local breed.

Baskaran and family members consider the animals as part of their family.  They take utmost care for its feed and health care.  They are not allowed for free grazing.  Baskaran and his mother collect around 20 kg of green grass, per animal, everyday.  About 50% of the grass is collected from their own land and the remaining from the common pasture lands.   Apart from green grasses, each animal is fed with 2 kg of wheat husk, 1 kg of groundnut cake mixed with Azolla and 1 kg of rice flour. In addition, they also feed with dry groundnut stalks after harvesting groundnut from his field.  While he buys wheat husk and rice flour, others are recycled from his farm.

Umblachery breed (Bos Indicus)
Umbalachery breed is an excellent draught breed of Tamil Nadu for its strength and sturdiness.   This breed is the native of coastal districts i.e., Thiruvarur and Nagappattinam of Tamil Nadu.  This breed is the outcome of selection for short stature for work in marshy paddy fields.  The name has been derived from its place of origin i.e., Umblachery village in Nagappattiam district of Tamil Nadu.
The bullocks are capable of doing work for 6 hours to 7 hours under the hot sun.  The cows are capable of producing one calf per year, upto 10 calves, in their life span.  The fat percentage of the milk produced by this breed, ranges from 4.5% to 5.5 % and is more tastier.  When compared to crossbred animals, Umblachery cattle are more resistant to infectious diseases.  By instant skin twitching, it avoids flies and other insects sitting on its body. This is a typical character for this breed only.
The Government of Tamil Nadu has established a farm in 1954 at Orathanadu in Thanjavur district to develop this breed.  Later a new farm is developed in Korkkai,  near Umblachery village to conserve it on its home track.   Through Tamil Nadu Livestock Development Agency, 40 heifers were distributed  to Umblachery Cattle Herders Association members at free of cost during 2004 for preserving the germplasm of native breed.

The cattle’s health is managed using traditional wisdom. Baskaran finds this wisdom, passed on from his mother, very effective in maintaining the livestock health.  As a precautionary measure to prevent foot and mouth disease, Baskaran applies neem oil on the legs of the cattle. Also fumigation using dry cow dung powder with neem leaves is followed.

Returns from crop-livestock integrated farm

The integration of livestock and crops brought several benefits for him. Around 15 cartloads of Farm Yard Manure is being produced onfarm by recycling the cowdung and wastes, which is being applied to his farm. The soil health has improved remarkably and the continuous application of bio manure has also increased the soil moisture holding capacities. Wherever you go and take a handful of soil you will find plenty of earthworms which is mainly because of farm yard manure, which I got because of my livestock, says Mr. Baskaran proudly.  The improved production is very visible for everyone to see, in terms of the quality of vegetables, for eg., length of the snake gourd and its taste.

Soil is considered sacred. Livestock is considered as a vital component to support farming.

The two cows yield about 8 litres of milk daily. This is almost double the normal milk yield of this breed.  Out of the 8 litres, one litre is used for household consumption.  The remaining 7 litres is sold to the nearest milk society for Rs. 28 per litre.  Thus, he earns Rs.6000 per month from the two cows he owns.Application of FYM has greatly reduced the use of chemical fertilizers which has brought down his costs of production.   He could save Rs. 5000 per acre as he uses Farm Yard Manure produced on his farm, as basal fertilizer.  His costs further reduced by Rs. 3000 per acre, by using bio pest repellent mixtures.

Conclusion

Baskaran’s farm is a successful example of a truly ecological farming where various components are integrated to make the most of the natural ecosystems and processes. Soil is considered sacred. Livestock is considered as a vital component to support farming. There is an element of nurturing, both soils and animals, rather than exploiting to reap benefits. The integration of livestock and farming has brought in numerous benefits. The family has access to safe and nutritious food,  the entire family is engaged in farming, the farm ecology has improved and most importantly, the farm is economically viable too.

Baskaran is now a role model for integrated organic farming.   Inspired by him, around 15 farmers in his village started practicing organic agriculture in small portion of their land.

K Suresh Kanna
Kudumbam,
No. 113/118, Sundaraj Nagar, Subramaniyapuram,
Trichy – 620 020, Tamil Nadu, India.
E-mail: sureshkanna_kudumbam@yahoo.in

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