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Sustainable farms, sustainable futures

Y M M Srikar and Debasis Mohapatra

A shift from conventional to organic methods of cultivation is possible with a little support.The case of Golapi, a tribal farmer in Odisha proves this. Golapi has not only become an organic cotton farmer, but has been practicing ecological ways of cultivation in other crops too, enhancing the sustainability of her farm.


Golapi Illa is a tribal woman in her mid-thirties and resides in Badmanjurkupa village in Muniguda block of Rayagada district, Odisha. Married for about 17 years, she lives with her husband and 6 children. Till some years back, her family depended primarily on conventional agriculture and made their living from the four acres of land that they own.

Owing to lack of irrigation facilities, the family grew only paddy in the kharif season. Some crops were grown in Rabi in case there was sufficient residual moisture left in the soil after harvesting paddy. Many times, shortage or delay in rainfall led to the failure of paddy.  During times of drought, they had no other coping mechanism and were forced to work as agricultural labourers in the nearby town of Ambadola. Sometimes, Golapi’s husband migrated to other towns outside Odisha in search of work. Managing a large family of eight members was becoming extremely difficult.

The organic journey

In 2011, Chetna Organic, an organisation which promotes organic food production launched the pigeon pea programme in Badamanjurkupa village. Farmers were trained on improved practices in redgram cultivation. Redgram was promoted as an intercrop in maize.

Women picking cotton

In 2013, the Mahila Kishan Shasakti Karana Pariyojana (MKSP) programme was implemented. Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana(MKSP)is a sub component of the National Livelihood Rural Mission(NRLM) is a programme by Government of India for livelihood enhancement and vulnerability The objective of the programme was to empower women in agriculture by making systematic investments to enhance their participation and productivity, and also to create and sustain agriculture based livelihoods of rural women. As a part of the programme, women were organised and Maa Bhairabi SHG was formed in October 2013. Golapi became a member of the group. The SHG was oriented on SHG strengthening, organic farming, and compost preparation, among others. She got trained on farming methods and shifted from managing a household to being a farmer.

In April 2015, Chetna Organic in an attempt to address these issues, started working with the communities under a project titled “Sustainable Farms, Sustainable Futures (SFSF)”, with the support from Traidcraft Exchange, UK, and The Big Lottery, UK. The broad objective of the programme was increasing food security and reducing the vulnerability of cotton farming households in two districts of South West Odisha. The project was designed to address the issues of high risk, high cost and unsustainable cotton cultivation practiced by small and marginal farmers. Other important aspects of the project were to enable women in small-scale cotton farming families to get increased access to information, technology and income generating opportunities, leading to increased status in the household through greater ownership, access, and direct control over resources.

Till 2015, Golapi was cultivating crops like paddy, pulses, millets and maize. In 2015, with the support of Chetna Organic,  she started cultivating organic cotton. She was trained on various organic methods of cotton cultivation. The trainings were organised before the season, during the season and after the season too.  Along with trainings, she was supported with supply of non-GMO cotton seeds at lesser price and marketing of organic cotton. Besides this, she also received training on SHG strengthening, leadership, communication and gender issues.

Biological initiatives

Several initiatives were taken up by the project to enable farmers shift to more biological ways of farming, for example, application of tank silt, an organic amendment for improving water-use efficiency and productivity.  Farmers identified potential tanks which contain healthy sediments in the village. Samples from these tanks were collected and sent for testing in the labs to understand the status of organic carbon contents and other nutrients in the soil. Thereafter, farmers were recommended to deposit the soils once they received a positive report from the labs. Each farmer was recommended to deposit a minimum of 10 tons of silt in an acre of land.  Golapi applied 16 tractor loads of tank silt in one acre of land in the year 2017-18. The tank silt was procured from the Baraghati dam, which is a kilometre away from the village.  Since the government was undertaking renovation of ponds through panchayats, procurement of silt was easy.

Table 1: Intercropping in cotton and their advantages

Inter-crops Ratio (Cotton: Intercrops) Advantages
Red gram 10:2 Provides additional income;

acts as insurance crop in case of main crop failure; improves soil fertility.

Green gram/Black gram/Cowpea 15:1 Provides additional income; traps sucking pests; improves soil fertility as N will be fixed; enhances predator and parasite population for controlling pests.
Trap crops
Mari-gold, Sunflower Randomly sown Trap crop for Helicoverpa (American Bollworm); provides additional income.
Bhendi/Okra Randomly sown Trap crop for Erias/ Spotted bollworm; provides additional income.
Castor Sown in borders and also randomly in between cotton Trap crop for Spodoptera; provides additional income.
Border crops
Maize, Jowar Sown in borders Promotes multiplication of natural enemies/pollinators; provides additional income

 

Women prepare liquid manure using plant biomass

Increasing cropping system diversity was yet another strategy adopted. Promoting diverse based cropping system helps in building the food security of the household apart from enhancing the income to the farmers. Earlier, Golapi’s family used to cultivate paddy which was used for household consumption and cotton for the market.  Cotton was grown as a monocrop.

Now, red gram is grown as an inter-crop in cotton, as it not only enhances soil fertility but is also serves as an insurance crop, if main crop fails. Green gram, black gram and cowpea are included in cotton crop, which act as trap crops and also provide nutritious pulses to the family. Marigold, okra and castor are grown as trap crops. Maize and sorghum are grown as border crops to enhance presence of pollinators.

Planting castor and maize as border crops helped in reducing pest incidence in cotton.

Farmers were encouraged to apply liquid manure, as plants can absorb nutrients 20 times faster through the leaves than if they are applied through the soil. Liquid manure is made from farmyard manure or plant material by soaking them in water for several days or weeks to undergo fermentation. Frequent stirring induces oxygen resulting in more microbial activity. Theresulting liquid manure can either be used as a foliar spray or as soil application. Some of the liquid manures used by Golapi during vegetative and reproductive stages were Panchagavya, Amruthpani, Jeevamruth and Vermi-wash among others. These liquid manures/growth hormones have lots of macro and micronutrients, which helps in growth of the crop and production.

A training session for SHG members

Golapi faced many challenges in controlling pests in cotton and other crops. Chetna helped her overcome the challenges by providing training on pest management techniques. Information on preparation of bio-pesticides and application on pest infested crops helped her learn various techniques which also enhanced her knowledge on bio-pesticides and their relevance. She prepared and applied bio-pesticides like Neem Seed Kernel Extract (NSKE) and chilli – garlic spray as an alternative for the management of insect pests of cotton and other crops.  Planting castor and maize as border crops helped in reducing pest incidence. Golapi also practiced mechanical methods like hand picking of larvae, beating with stick and shaking the tree, among others.

Some impacts

Adopting these organic methods continuously, Golapi has been harvesting better yields than before, not just from few crops but from diverse crops. She introduced cotton in 2 acres of land in first year and got a yield of 4 quintals. In the second year, the yield rose to 7 quintals and in the third year, it went up to 12 quintals. Through introduction of cotton crops and various promotional activities supported by Chetna Organic, her family income tripled as compared to the previous years. Table 2 represents the average increase in the crop yields in the area.

Table 2: Increase in crop yields with organic production system

S.No Type of Crop Production in Quintals /Acre
Pre-conversion After Conversion
01 Cotton 3-4 7-8
02 Paddy 8-10 12-14
03 Paddy (SRI) 18-20
04 Finger Millet 2-3 5-6
05 Red Gram 2-3 4-5
06 Green Gram 2-3 3-5
07 Black Gram 2 4-5
08 Horse Gram 4 6-7
09 Ground Nut 5.5 7
10 Tomato 20-30 50-60
11 Brinjal 35-40 50-60

 

The capacity building efforts has increased the confidence of farmers like Golapi. The convergence method adopted by Chetna with different agencies like Tata Trust along with projects like MKSP and SFSF has also helped her maximize the productivity of land. Golapi is now a certified organic farmer.

Her leadership qualities are further enhanced by participating in training and meetings at different block and district level forums. Her importance and decision making authority, both at household and community levels, has also increased. She is now able to address different social issues along with members of different groups in the village. Her socio- economic condition has improved and she leads a more dignified life in the society.