Tan Cheng Li writes about a growing number of farmers in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu who are returning to the old way of chemical-free cultivation of crops:
YONG Weng Thing was amazed when he saw the field of spinach. Being a farmer himself, he knows good quality stuff when he sees it and quickly helped himself to the greens. A bunch of spinach in hand, he gestured a thumbs up to R. Venkatrasa, owner of the organic farm in a village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “Very good, very healthy,” quipped Yong. Showing me the leaves, he added: “See this layer of oil under the leaf? It helps repel insects. You don’t get this in vegetables grown using conventional methods.” The farm was one of several stops for a group of 15 Malaysians on a trip to observe natural farming practices in Tamil Nadu. The visit was put together by the Consumer Association of Penang and on the trip were farmers who grow vegetables, sweet potato, mango, papaya and strawberry, as well as wholesalers and one agriculture researcher. They hope to learn from the past mistakes of Indian farmers, who had relied on hybrid seed varieties, synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides which eventually robbed the soil of its nutrients and biological life, resulting in poor yield. In Tamil Nadu, a growing number of farmers are undoing the mistake of the past by returning to the old way of chemical-free cultivation. Over the course of four days, the Malaysians observed how these farmers use home-made fertilisers formulated from farm waste, natural pesticides concocted from plants, and various techniques to grow produce with minimal water and without relying on costly, harmful chemicals.A market in Tiruchirapalli, a city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Some Indian farmers are going back to the traditional way of farming, one that does not rely on synthetic chemicals. — TAN CHENG LI/The StarThis sustainable approach to farming is best explained by organic farming scientist G. Nammalvar, who stressed the importance of self-reliability: “To get optimal results in farming, farmers should rely minimally on external inputs. All inputs should come from within the farm. So-called wastes should be recycled and used as input.” He said farming with expensive inputs like hybrid seeds as well as chemical fertilisers and pesticides were futile as farmers were poor. Modern-day agriculture, he added, has become export-oriented, resulting in the neglect of land and people. Food security, he said, should mean the availability of sufficient fresh, nutritious, and locally-produced food to the people. Integrated farming The concept of a self-sufficient farm is evident in the 12ha owned by R. Venkatrasa in Velayuthampalayam village in Karur district, where he grows sugarcane, coconut, legumes and spinach. “I don’t have external inputs. I have my own seeds and make my own fertiliser. Goats and cows are the basis of my farming,” says the 34-year-old who has been farming organically for 14 years. “When you use chemical fertilisers, it is easy to get a boost in yield initially. But eventually, you will need larger amounts to get the same yield. When plants are extra green (because of the chemical fertiliser), pests get attracted. Then you have to bring in pesticide, which will also kill beneficial insects on the farm. Only now, people realise what they have done.”
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