“The home we live should be clean but the farm should remain a dump yard. Mulching is the only way to increase ground water level, to save water, control weeds and increase the crop yield”. This is what Nammazhvar, the great organic farming scientist, used to recommend in all agriculture gatherings. There are many farmers who have benefitted by following mulching, thereby increased the yield and became successful organic farmers. Ayyamperumal is one among those farmers from Virudunagar district.
Devipattinam village is situated 16 km from Rajapalayam. His farm, ‘Malar Organic Farming Grove’, is present in this village. It is the farm identified by Nammazhvar as one of the training centers for organic farming. We visited the farm during a forenoon and met Ayyamperumal while he was drying coconuts in the farm. He fondly offered tender coconut water and started describing about his farm activities.
Krishnapuram, which is 8 km away from here, is my native. I don’t belong to a farming community. My father was a palm climber. After completing B.Sc., in mathematics I joined BSNL for job. I learnt farming related jobs during my school and college days. I too used to climb palm trees. With that interest I bought a piece of land after getting the job and started agriculture. Though I have been involved in agriculture for the past 28 years, only during the past 8 years I am seriously into it. I took voluntary retirement to pursue my passion in farming as a full timer.
Frustration of farming
At the beginning, I was cultivating hybrid paddy in 5 acres of land. Week after week I used to spray pesticides as soon as I found a pest, specific pesticide for each type of pest, repeatedly. First time, I got only 8 bags of paddy in 5 acres. Then I tried with cotton but it was again a loss. After that I tried with tomato. When the saplings got dried up, I used gypsum as recommended by the local Agriculture Officers. So many bags of gypsum could not save tomato plants. I could not get any profit from 5 acres of my land. Though I spent on pesticides and fertilizers, equivalent to the cost of my land, I could not get any reasonable returns from my land. I abandoned agriculture due to frustration.
Lesson from Jack tree
Once I happened to visit Thiruvulakkamparai along with my friends to enjoy Ulakkai falls. I found a jack tree in the forest. It was so luxuriant and fertile. The soil was coarse and alluvial in nature. The ground is covered with dead leaves, decayed and fertilizing the soil. While looking around I could see all the trees healthy in the forest. There was no sight of nutrient scarcity. That was when I realized ‘Why should I add fertilizer to soil and weed out when the trees in the forest grow naturally without any fertilizer?’ So I left my coconut farm without weeding and also stopped giving fertilizer”. He continued his story after the preamble.
Direct guidance from Nammazhwar Ayya
“I attended one of the meetings on organic farming where Nammazhvar Ayya also participated. He emphasized about the importance of bio-mulching, “Look at the trees in the forest, look at the trees alongside a river, look at the trees in the front yard and the trees in the wastelands. Who is weeding out those places and who is providing fertilizers to them? Please think over it. Green mulching is important for agricultural activities. The land should be covered. Instead we injured our mother Earth by adding fertilizers and pesticides instead of biological cover”.
When I shared this, I got up and said, “Ayya, I have done biological mulching in my farm”. He was happy to know that and after the meeting he paid visit to my farm. There were other participants who accompanied him to my farm. After inspecting the farm he made some suggestions. I started following his suggestions and also attended all the meetings where Ayya was present.
Recognition by Ayya
Ayya will always conduct a question-answer session at the end of every training program. In one of the programs at Lalgudi, a farmer enquired him about biological mulching. He immediately announced to the crowd that ‘Krishnapuram veshti scientist’ would answer the question about mulching and made me respond. I explained about the way mulching was done in my farm and its benefits. So far I have participated in almost 30 training programs conducted by Ayya and spoke about mulching”. He took us inside the grove.
“This coconut grove is spread in 5 acres. There is 2 acres of land nearby, so totally 7 acres. Two years ago, all the trees died due to spread of forest fire. So, I replanted 300 trees. It is only two years since planting. There are 100 old trees giving out coconuts now.
From the two acre land nearby, it is fifteen days since I planted White Ponni in 20 cents. Eight years ago I planted palm seeds in 50 cents. The remaining land area of one acre and 50 cents is prepared for cultivating traditional rice and vegetable varieties.
Saplings from own soil
The farm laborers who go to neighboring farms for coconut harvest will bring to my farm fully matured coconuts they got for labour charges. I will buy those coconuts and bury and cover them in the soil. Watering them daily, the sheaths will sprout out after three months. Then and there they will be replanted so as to enable them spread their roots and grow well. If the saplings are brought from outside they grow slowly as the soil is strange to them, leading to slow rooting. Hence it is better to have them reared in our own soil so that their growth will be significant. By mulching in natural ways they will start giving coconuts within three and half years. But through chemical fertilizers it will take 4-5 years.
Mulching is the life for land
Whatever the crop is being cultivated the soil of the farm should not be seen. Dry leaves or grown up plants should altogether cover the soil. That is what mulching is. No plant should be cut in the soil. All types of plants and grasses will enrich the soil.
Foxtail grasses absorb water from the atmosphere and store it within. They retain water even during summer mornings. After they die new grasses will grow after sometime in the same place. They also have the capacity to absorb salinity in the soil.
Similarly, water management is equally important. More than providing water draining it is important. Moisture is enough for the plants and trees to grow. Mulching will help retain moisture in the soil thereby increasing water content. Irrigated water will not evaporate. Mulching will control weed growth. Because of mulching the water table in my land has increased.
In this coconut grove, I irrigate once in 20 days only. If it rains I will not turn to the farm at all. Wherever you take the soil sample in my farm, it will be coarse. Due to rich moisture content beneficial organisms such as white ants are available aplenty and therefore the soil is coarse and fertile. I will leave the dead sheaths of coconut falling on the soil as such, not even moving them an inch away. They are allowed to decay and fertilize the soil.
Coconut trees have long root system. The roots will travel long enough to reach water sources in the earth. They will get damaged while ploughing the land, thereby paving way for infections and pest attacks by Eriophyid mites. Sometimes the damage will be so deep that the whole tree will die. So there should not be a notion that the farm should remain clean always”. Followed by cultivation methods he described about returns.
Every 36 days I keep harvesting coconuts, amounting to 11 times in a year. From 100 trees I could harvest about 4000 coconuts per harvest. From 4000 coconuts I could get 350 copra to extract 280 liters of oil. I will sell one liter oil for Rs 135. Half of it will be sold in the local market itself. The remaining oil will be sent to the organic shops in Chennai, Madurai and Bangalore. From 280 liters of oil I will get a profit of Rs37,800. Based on that calculation I will be able to earn 4 lakhs per year from selling the oil. Deducting 50,000 towards expenses for cutting and grinding I will have a profit of about Rs 3.5 lakhs. I could get that much of profit due to the value addition of producing organically grown coconuts. The oil cakes from oil extraction will be added to the base of each tree”. Thus he concluded.
“I am extracting oil and selling it only for the past three years. I used to sell the coconuts as such earlier and I could only get about 1 lakh as return. The return gets tripled by selling it in the form of oil. This kind of value addition was also taught by Ayya only. It’s entirely a high profit venture as there is no spending on weeding, manuring, avoiding use of weedicides and very less maintenance requirement”. He bid farewell with a long smile of success.
For contact, Ayyamperuma, Mobile 94863 21090
No diseases at all
As the whole farm is covered with biological mulching there is no disease attack at all. On an average, I will cut out two bunches per tree in every 36 days.
I will leave the cut coconuts along with their sheaths on the ground to dry. Therefore I avoid carrying charges. They will remain there on the ground till the next harvest. Only then I will arrange to separate the kernels and drying them”.
High price at the end of season
“While he was discussing about the fish pond at his farm, he said, “I have made a pit with a dimension of 40 feet length, 8 feet breadth and 8 feet depth. The same clay available in the farm was applied at the bottom of the pond. The soil dug out from the pond was used to pave the road. There are four ponds in the farm. It is 7 months since I introduced fingerlings of catfish in two of the ponds and butterfish in other two ponds. Both the fish are bottom dwellers therefore the predatory birds can not pick them. There is also a good market price for them.
The surplus rice from the house will be given to the fish for every three days. There is no other food given to them. This is the first time I have introduced the fingerlings in my ponds. From Karthigai (Nov-Dec) to Chithirai (Apr-May) are seasonal months for pond fish in our surroundings. But I have decided not to catch the fishes during the season but do it after the season in order to gain more profit”.
White Ponni for household
He continued about rice cultivation at his farm. “For the household use, I cultivate White Ponni in 20 cents of my farm. Immediately after harvesting rice, I will irrigate the field. It will help the spilled over grains to sprout within a few days. I will keep the better quality saplings separately for planting. After that I will plough the land using cattle and plant the rice saplings in single sapling method. There will be more branches in single sapling method, thereby increasing the rice yield. In a single grass there will be 230 grains. I will erect palm stems of 4 feet height while planting the saplings.
These palm stems encourage birds to sit around and therefore they will keep a watch on the pest insects in the rice plant. While sprouting there will be Kathirnavai pest attack. To kill them, we can burn dry coconut shells and introduce Parthenium plants. This fumigation will destroy the pests. By this method mosquitoes can also be repelled. From 20 cents of land 350 kg of paddy can be harvested. It will be milled to rice for household use”.
I have been building a training centre with a capacity of 200 farmers to provide training on mulching, honeybee rearing, vegetable and paddy cultivations. On the windows of the training centre we are going to fix 80 honeycomb boxes.
The boxes will be arranged in such a way to facilitate honeybees to reach the comb from outside the windows and we will be able to collect honey from inside. The work will be completed within a month”.
(This article written in Tamil by Karthikeyan has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)