When there are serious challenges to agriculture such as climatic changes, absence of reasonable pricing, lack of water and so on, if we promote inter cropping among the primary plants, one can gain income from one or the other in terms of failure. This strategy has been followed for long by farmers and this has been adopted effectively by the natural farming experts and enthusiasts. One of the farmers who has been successfully gaining considerable income by strictly adhering to these recommendations, is Sirumani, Vembanur village, Kanyakumari district.
Vembanur village is situated at the tenth kilometer on the road from Nagarkoil to Kurunthankadu. He is successfully cultivating multiple crops, with coca, banana, paakku (areca), thippili (long pepper) and milagu (black pepper) through natural farming methods. He serves as District Secretary, District Coca Farmers’ Association, as Head, Vilaiveedu Paddy Farmers’ Group, as Secretary, Perumselvavilai Irrigation Committee, and at the same time seriously committed to organic cultivation at his farm.
“At the time of studying at school itself I touched spade for farming. I used to go to school only after doing some minor garden work in the morning every day. After completing my studies I could get a teacher post in a government school. But I did not leave farming. After retirement I became a full time farmer. I have been doing natural farming from the beginning. In between I switched over to chemical inputs. Only at that juncture I directly learnt about the ill effects of using chemicals for farming. Particularly, I came to know that plants lose their immunity against diseases and become prone to pestilence. I was forced to use pesticides and chemicals along with manure. Then I went back to organic farming.
At present, I fully follow organic farming methods in my 8 acre land, for the past eight years. There is Ambai 16, a kind of rice variety, in one acre land, coconut in 6 acres. Pepper is grown as an inter crop for coconut. There are multiple inter crops such as coca, areca, and long pepper in a separate land of two acres with coconut trees”. After this he continued explaining about the various inter cropping techniques.
No threat of disease by natural farming
“Planting with a spacing of 30 feet, about 75 coconut trees can be planted in an acre. In that spacing inter crops can be grown. Coca should be planted with a spacing of 8 feet. The space between coca can be planted with a local variety of banana. Areca trees can be planted along the periphery of the farm with a spacing of four feet. All the crops can be collectively irrigated once a week.
Dig a circular trench with three feet breadth and half a foot depth around each coconut tree. Fill it with decomposed plant parts, coca, coconut tree and banana plant wastes along with 75 kg of farm yard manure, once in every six months. Cover it with soil and irrigate the trench.
Generally, disease and pest attack will be at the minimum in organic farm lands. Rarely, if there is a burn disease attack, dig a circular trench 3 feet away, around the base of each tree, at a depth of half a foot. Fill it with vembu (neem), nochi (vitex), erukku (calotropis) and adathoda leaves along with farm yard manure. Cover the trench with soil and the disease will be curtailed after sometime.
Neem seed powder against Humpback beetle
There is a chance of attack by Rhinoceros beetle on the young coconut trees. These beetles will bore into the young and tender stem and destroy it. The pest attacked holes will be occupied by the humpback beetles, laying eggs and living inside it. Within three months of its attack the tree will wither away. Two handful of neem seed powder can be sprayed on the affected area to control them from further damage.
Caution after Coca harvest
Once in every six months 10 kg farm yard manure should be provided to coca plants. Coca can be harvested after the third year of its planting.
As soon as it has started providing coca, the leaves can be pruned once in a month and the leaves can be mulched around the plants. Generally, this crop is never attacked by any diseases. Coca fruits can be harvested once in every ten days. The collected fruits should be stored for ten days in a separate place. By keeping them for ten days, the fruits will become fully ripe. Then each fruit can be broken using a stick and the seeds inside can be stored in a bamboo basket for six days. The seeds can be mixed on day 3 and 5 and be sun dried after day 7. They can be dried for five days and be sold.
Lime for country bananas
Two months after planting of country bananas, add ten kg of farm yard manure around the base of each plant, covering it with soil. On month four, vembu, nochi, erukku leaves can be mixed with ten kg of farm yard manure, 200 gram of groundnut cake, 100 gram of neem cake can be provided to the plants.
On 6th month, 100 gram of neem cake and, 200 gram of groundnut cake can be powdered and mixed with 10 kg of farm yard manure. This can be provided around each plant and covered with soil. On an average, INR 60 will be spent for each plant, for manure. Banana will sprout on 7th month and it can be harvested on 12th month.
If the banana plants are affected by leaf burn attack, vembu, nochi and erukku leaves can be ground and 100 ml of extract be mixed with one liter of water and sprayed on the leaves. For humpback beetle attack, apply handful of lime powder on the whole stem. Even if there is no beetle attack visibly seen it is better to apply the powder weekly once so as to protect the plants from humpback beetles.
There is no need to take extra measures for areca trees. Their resistance to disease is high. Dig a circular trench with two feet breadth and half a foot depth around each areca tree. Fill it with 5 kg of farm yard manure once in every six month. That’s enough for the trees. Five years after planting areca can be harvested once in 15 days”.
Inter crops making the farm fertile
After having completed the cultivation techniques, Sirumani continued. “I have planted black pepper and long pepper in whatever bits and pieces of space available in the land. They have grown now for harvesting. Even at this time of drastic dip in coconut price if I am able to be rich that is only because of inter crops.
At the beginning, people told that inter crop cultivation will bring down the yield of coconuts. Because of that I contained inter cropping only with two acres of my land. But, there is more yield with inter cropping than the trees free of inter crops.
There are 200 coconut trees in two acres. We collect coconuts, once in two months. At each pluck we can get not less than 2500 coconuts. We get 15,000 coconuts in a year. At present, we get exactly INR 5 for each coconut. We get an income of INR 70,000 to one lakh through coconut trees annually.
There are totally 450 coca plants. Every ten days we get 25 kg of its seeds. Representatives from Cadburys reach the farm to get the seeds from us. They give INR 130 per kg. It can be more during peak seasons. Through coca plants we can get an income of INR 60,000 to one lakh annually.
There are 100 banana plants in the farm in total. A bunch of it will be sold for INR 100- 200. Shoppers from Apda shandy in Nagerkoil, come directly to the farm and buy them. We get an income of INR 10,000 through banana plants annually.
There are 100 areca trees standing in the farm in total. In Kumari district, yield will be at its peak from August to March. Every 15 days, we can get 600 – 800 areca nuts. I am selling one nut for 50 paise in the local shops.
“However way we calculate, considering everything in total, a minimum of two lakhs can be earned from the two acres of my land. Even if the expenditure is considered to be INR 50,000 we can get a profit of 1.5 lakhs in a year. It’s sure it won’t be that profitable if coconut alone is being cultivated”, he was so sure about it.
Advance income through intercrops
Banana, areca, glyricidia and coca are cultivated in between coconut trees in the farm owned by Subramanian, a retired school teacher and a successful farmer from Kaduveli village, Tanjore.
“Mutually helping each other the intercropped plants grow together between the coconut trees. The benefits of multiple cultivation of crops are very obvious. It requires lesser water, lesser expenditure, facilitates efficient weed control and assures protection from pests and diseases and above all, prolific growth, are some of the innumerable benefits out of intercropping. It’s only two years after planting and already it has become like a forest land,” he shares his experience happily.
He continued, “This is a mix of sand and alluvial soil. It’s totally 19 acres. It has Casuarina trees in 12 acres and banana in five acres. In the remaining two acres, coconut, banana, glyricidia, areca and coca are planted. We have made the farm fertile on zero budget, using only Jeevamirtham.
There are tall varieties of coconut trees with a spacing of 35 feet. Among 4 tall varieties there is a single tall-short variety. Because of this combination there is a gap of 18 feet available. These two varieties will not meet directly on each other. This is to avoid bracing of sheaths and at the same time garnering more sunlight. In the space of 4.5 feet between the coconut trees, banana, glyricidia, areca and coca are planted in rows.
With two acres in total, there are 150 coconut trees, 850 banana plants, 850 glyricidia trees, 850 areca trees and 850 coca plants. The shade needed for the young coconut trees in the first two years is provided by the intercrops. Banana plants will retain water in its stem and roots and provides it to the coconut trees. Glyricidia will absorb the nitrogen in the atmosphere and fix it in the soil and at the same time fertilize the soil by shedding off its own leaves. Therefore the soil always contains adequate moisture and even during summer we irrigate the land only once in 25 days.
More fertility with less expenditure
We spread the leaf wastes from glyricidia, coca, banana and also from the dry sheaths from coconut and areca plants, sporadically on the ground. At each time of irrigation 200 liters of Jeevamirtham is supplied along with the irrigation per acre of land. Throughout the farm land the soil is coarse and fertile due to numerous earthworms. It helps avoiding soil preparation for banana plants. This is the third time of banana harvest but the yield is as good as the first time yield in terms of its quality and vigor. The fruits also are rich in taste. It will not decay even for a week. The trees are strong enduring even the stormy and rough weathers as they are organically grown.
Immediately after planting of coconut trees, we also planted 850 short variety of moringa (drumstick trees). I got an income of INR 25,000 through moringa cultivation. The trees are felled after the harvest and made into manure. Now coca is present in the place of moringa trees. Two harvests are over with the banana variety. Before getting the benefit of yield from the primary crop, the coconuts, I am able to get continued income from the intercrops” he told happily.
(This article written in Tamil by Swaminathan & Ramakrishnan for Pasumai Vikatan has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)