Victor Iand Suresh Kanna K
Farmers dependant on rainfall are always vulnerable. But turning crisis into an opportunity requires determination and support from many. Sebastian is one such example who transformed into a role model, supporting farmers transition to organic farming methods.
It is a well-known fact that the use of organic or biological inputs has assumed importance in the promotion of organic agriculture. In conventional agriculture where the application of chemical inputs is widely known for its direct action to feed and protect the crop,on the contrary, in organic agriculture, inputs are being used to feed the soil and to create an environment to keep the pests below the economical threshold limit (ETL). In this effort, there are two crucial issues for farmers who are in the mindset of transitioning to organic. One is the availability of organic inputs and the other one is the quality of the product.
In recent years,few innovative entrepreneurial farmers have made attempts to adopt appropriate production methodologies to produce quality bio-products and have made them available to other farmers at reasonable prices. They took advantage of the growing awareness of organic agriculture among farmers.Various types of organic and biological inputs are being launched and sold to farmers.Sebastian is one such farmer entrepreneur who has been successfully producing organic inputs, serving as a role model to others in the region.
Sebastian is a small farmer from Mugavanur Village in Vaiyampatti block of Trichy district, Tamil Nadu. He owns four and a half acres of agricultural land in which two and half acres are under rainfed condition. He irrigates 2 acres from well and borewell sources.With cyclic years of drought for more than a decade, cultivation of crops has always been a challenge for him. Hence, he limited the cultivation of high-water intensive crops like paddy and has moved to cultivation of creepers like ridge gourd, snake gourd, bottle gourd. In the shade of these creepers, he cultivates tomato, innovatively. This has been recognized as one of the effective grassroots level innovations and included in the Clima-adapt program of Norway and TNAU in the year 2012.
The journey of organic agriculture
The place he lives and farms is very close to Vanagam, an organization founded by late Shri. Nammalvar, a renowned organic agriculture proponent in Tamil Nadu. During 2013, he attended a 5-day course on ecological agriculture conducted on Vanagam’s ecological farm at Surumaanpatti village. This was a turning point for him to shift his approach towards farming.
Sebastian also participated in a training on integrated pest management organized by AHIMSA, a local NGO. It is one of the pioneering organizations which took up IPM approaches in the late 1990s in Tamil Nadu with the technical guidance of AME (Agriculture Man Ecology) and continues to work for the promotion of ecological agriculture in Vaiyamppatti block. Later, he became an active member of Uzhavar Mandram facilitated by NABARD and AHIMSA. With the exposure he got from VANAGAM and AHIMSA, Sebastian was motivated and strengthened by his conviction towards organic agriculture. He started to adopt organic agriculture approaches in his own farm and within a year he completely adopted organic methods in his entire farm area of four and a half acres.
Crisis to creativity
To challenge his conviction, nature started to play its role in the form of consecutive years of drought and dry spells which shattered his dream of continuing as an organic farmer.Cultivation on the rainfed land could not be taken up owing to consecutive years of low rainfall in the region. The open well as well as the borewell dried up making it impossible to grow anything on irrigated lands. To save his vegetables, Sebastian was forced to fetch water in pots and irrigate his creepers.
At this point of time, he had an opportunity to participate in 2 days trainings organized by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University at Anna Horticulture Farm, Kudumiyanmalai in Pudukkottai District. The training was focused on how farmers can generate alternative income through bio input production and marketing. The inputs and ideas from the training have him confidence to venture into production of bio-inpupts. He perceived it as a solution to his farming crisis. Thus, he shifted his focus and energies from crop cultivation to bio-input production and marketing.
“Though, I have enough land to practice organic agriculture, I could only cultivate crops in 50% of my land due to the limited availability of water. At the same time few farmers interested in organic agriculture, expressed their inability to produce their own bio inputs. Hence, I decided to take up production of bio-inputs, which not only became a source of income to me, but has helped me to support farmers interested in moving towards organic. This makes me happy and satisfied”, says Sebastian.
Production of bio inputs and income
Currently, he is involved in preparation of bio inputs like Dasagavya, Panchagavya, Fish Amino Acid, Vermi Compost, Herbal Pest Repellent Mixture based on the raw materials available in his farm. Cattle and crop residues serve as raw materials with limited inputs being sourced from outside. He owns 2 desi cows (a native breed called Manapaarai cows) and 1 jersey cow. He uses the cow urine and cow dung from desi cows only for bio input preparation.
Seeing his entrepreneurial skills, the department of agriculture supported him to construct vermi-compost pits with a capacity of 2 tonnes. Similarly, AHIMSA, the local NGO supported him by providing parallels to produce Dasagavya, Panchagavya, Fish Amino Acid and Herbal pest repellent mixtures along with sprayers for application.
Farmers who produce bio-inputs require buy back support initially, to overcome marketing challenges.
After fulfilling his farming needs, presently Sebastian annually markets 100 litres of Dasagavya, 100 litres of Panchagavya, 20 litres of Fish Amino Acid, 100 litres of herbal pest repellent mixture and 2000 kgs of vermicompost. His income from selling the bio-inputs is around Rs.60000 annually. Around 60-70 farmers are in his buyer list with 20 of them being frequent buyers.His entire family, consisting of wife and two children, is involved in this initiative. He has trained his children in a way to identify herbs and its uses and involve them in collection of herbs and raw materials required, preparation of bio inputs, regular monitoring, maintenance and also marketing.
Almost, 90% of the bio inputs are sold at his farm gate itself. For the remaining too, he sells through his phone contacts. Of late it is being shared on the social media , which has increased the demand for his bio-inputs. He also offers advice to farmers interested in preparation and application of bio inputs.
The mini lab
In the year 2018-19, the Department of Agriculture organized a state level training for strengthening farmers collective initiatives and enhancing their entrepreneurial skills. Sebastian, as a member of FPO, along with 70 farmers participated in the training. After the training, Sebastian expressed interest in the production of Metarhizium anisoppliae, a fungal entomopathogen which acts as a bio control agent for soil inhabiting insects and related root rotting problems. He approached the Department of Agriculture and expressed his interest in setting up a mini lab and producing Matarhizium.
As a follow up, the officials from the Department of Agriculture made a field visit to his place and interacted with their group members and finalized the plan for setting up a mini lab. A total support of Rs. 70,200/- was provided to purchase materials to establish the lab – tables, pressure cooker, UV lights, buckets and containers. Sebastian produces around 50 kgs of Metarhizium, annually and earns around Rs. 9000.
However, there are challenges of marketing. The Department of Agriculture directly sells Metarhizium to farmers, with an attractive packing and a brand name. The department itself becomes a competitor for farmers like Sebastian, whose product is neither packed well nor branded. Buy back support initially is what Sebastian looks for to overcome this marketing challenge.
By going organic, Sebastian and other farmers are happy to see their soil health being improved. Application of bio-inputs has resulted in regeneration of life beneath the soil, healthy plants, less pest incidence and improved access to safe and tasty food for the family.
Experiences of Sebastian has been covered in the local newspapers and in All India Radio, Tiruchirappalli in Velaan Arangam, a special prime time slot for agriculture. Sebastian has emerged as a role model for entrepreneurship in the region.
No. 1-207 C, Sona Complex, Main road, Vaiyampatti, 621 315
Trichy District, Tamil Nadu,
Suresh Kanna. K,
Senior Team Member,
Trichy 620 020