Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture

Revival of a sick sugar factory

The M.R.K. Co-operative Sugar Mill area is situated in the coastal zone of Tamil Nadu with nearly 21.42 per cent area under alkaline soils which reduces the sugarcane productivity drastically (average yield is 52 t/ha). The yield at that time was very low compared to the state average of 110 t/ha. The climate is not suitable for sugar accumulation leading to reduction in sugar recovery. However, the area is conducive for the spread of red rot disease

A program envisaging participatory mode of technology transfer (farmer- to farmer interaction) was implemented during 1998-2001 to spread the new sugarcane variety Co 86032 in the factory reserved area. Due to the better performance of this variety, it was well perceived by the factory as well as the cane growers and the spread was in leaps and bounds.

The obvious success of the previous program and the desire to accelerate the transition to a more farm-oriented sustainable program, fully based in the particular sugar mill and with greater emphasis on use of the farmer participatory approach gave rise to the initiative to formulate and execute the present program during 2002. The project was implemented as a collaborative venture of Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore with Annamalai University, Chidambaram. Project period: 2002-2006. It was under the project ‘Participatory rural action to remedy problem soil situation’ which was funded by out institute. It was an inter institutional project done in collaboration with Annamalai University and M.R.K Coop sugar factory.

It was participatory approach, wherein the cane growers were made to conduct trials in their fields and choose a variety most suited for their factory area. Participatory rural appraisal and agro-eco system analysis were done with the participation of farmers to assess the situation and identify the needs of sugarcane growers. The PRA techniques utilized comprise participatory mapping, timeline analysis, trend analysis, seasonal analysis, crop calendar, matrix ranking, livelihood analysis, gender analysis, venn diagram and transect analysis. Based on PRA, agro-ecosystem analysis and discussion with the farmers and factory personnel, the problems prevailing in the area were identified and prioritized as per the importance.

To start with, an action plan was charted out for the three collaborating agencies and implemented with the participation of farmers. Subsequently adaptive trials and multilocation trials were conducted in farmers’ fields and two sugarcane varieties viz., CoV 92102 and Co 86032 were identified for alkaline soils.

The factory was considered as a sick unit in 2002 and was in the verge of closure. Due to the timely introduction of alkaline resistant varieties, the average yield of the factory has increased from 52 t/ha during 2000-01 to 67.15 t/ha during 2005-06 season.  During 2004-05, the factory was awarded by the state government for best performance among the cooperative sugar factories.
SourceDr. T Rajula Shanthy, Senior Scientist,
Extension Section,
Sugarcane Breeding Institute, Coimbatore,
TamilNadu – 641007;
email: rajula.sbi@gmail.com

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