With monocropping, mechanization and modernization, agriculture has moved away from being a family based profession. Farmers in Kanyakumari district have proved that agriculture based on agro-ecological principles which integrates several farm sub systems, provides an opportunity for the entire family to participate and engage themselves in farming, resulting in ecological and economic benefits.
Kozhikottupothai village is a backward area of Kanyakumari district near the forest area. Of the more than 85 farmers in the village, more than 50% are small farmers. Farmers have been practicing monocropping using heavy doses of fertilisers and pesticides.During 2004 – 2007, Vivekananda Kendra – NARDEP, an NGO started working in the village with the support of NABARD. The baseline survey indicated that the micro fauna and micro flora in the soil were very low due to heavy and unscientific fertiliser application. There was no economic security and nutritional security for the farmers as they were practicing monocultures of two main crops Paddy and Coconut. Owing to the presence of a huge market for flowers, many farmers practiced floriculture which is chemically intensive. This apart, there were no livestock or other enterprises which could fetch income to these farmers.
To help farmers make a decent livelihood out of farming by productively engaging all the family members, VK-NARDEP promoted improvements in present cropping systems and also helped farmers in including and integrating various subsystems on the farm. Firstly, farmers were organized into groups and the groups were registered as Farmers Club. Weekly meetings were organised in the village and problems were discussed. Farmers were taken on a exposure trip to open up options for specific problems. During such visits, by interacting with other fellow farmers and the staff of concerned farms/institutions, farmers became more confident in accepting and implementing new practices and interventions.
Sub-systems integration leads to increased family involvement
Changes in cropping systems were made on some farms. For instance, banana was grown in coconut garden and catch crop was cultivated in paddy fallows. Farm interventions like inclusion of livestock, backyard poultry, bio-manure unit, bio-gas unit etc increased the subsystems within the farm and generated income and employment for the family, round the year.
Over a period of three years, the diversity on the farm has increased. By the end of third year, 16 farm households had more than 7 species in their homestead garden, while there was none in the baseline year.
Previously, when the village was heavy on intensive chemical floriculture, the livestock sub-systems were almost non-existent. Today, all the farmers of the group have more than one subsystem. Around 13 farmers have 2-3 livestock species and 4 farmers have 4 livestock sub systems.
The increased synergy has led to further proliferation and integration of sub-systems like apiculture units, poultry, azolla etc. Increased subsystems necessitate the involvement of the household members. As more sub-systems get integrated into the farmers’ homesteads, there is increase in the participation of the family members.
Apiculture units and poultry units are seen in majority of the farmers’ houses. These are looked after by women, primarily. School going children too get involved in their leisure time as a hobby, thus picking up skills at an early age. Today, the village is not only self-sufficient in egg production but also produces eggs in surplus.
Azolla have become well integrated into the farming cycles. Thus it is cultivated in almost all farmers’ backyards and is incorporated into the fields of the farmers. Azolla production is largely managed by the women in the households. Besides using it in their own fields the women have also started selling them. Though they have started with a modest beginning they have earned a good reputation in the neighbouring villages.
Once again, the women in the households are the major managers of the biogas units installed in the households. Now, they are able to get clean energy under hygienic conditions. They also use the slurry from the biogas plant for the production of enriched bioformulations including fish-amino, panchgavya etc.
The change in ecological parameters after the involvement of the family members is perceptible. The food security of the 19 familybased agriculture households is being met by the farmers themselves. Access to nutritious vegetables as well as medicinal herbs has increased. The quantity of vegetables bought from the market has declined and these families have totally stopped buying eggs. They are producing surplus eggs, fruits, milk and vegetables and selling them in the local market, thus earning some income.
Presently, the farms are not only sustainable but has provided the much needed economic as well as nutrition security. Also, by increasing the number of farm activities/subsystems, farm families are engaged throughout the year.
of dynamism among the farmer club members. As a group, a number of activities are taken up. Labels for organically produced roses are designed which fetch premium prices for in the flower market of Thovalai. Members have started selling surplus vermicompost. Farm inputs like panchagavya, three-leaf extract bio-repellent and fish amino are being prepared by women and sold through local SHGs to neighboring villages. Farmers club with support from NABARD has also enlarged and strengthened the common resource center.
P Kamalasanan Pillai
Senior Scientist, Vivekananda Kendra-NARDEP