“Organic farming appealed to me because it involved searching for and discovering nature’s pathways, as opposed to the formulaic approach of chemical farming. The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.”
― Eliot Coleman,
Twenty years of hard work and devotion has made Kalaivani from Vellitiruppur, Tamil Nadu a celebrity of sorts in the organic farming circles in Erode district and beyond.Kalaivani, a single mother of three, took to farming after the loss of her husband almost two decades ago. Since then, she has grown all the crops on her farm without using chemical or synthetic pesticides or fertilisers. Over the last few years, she has focused her time and energy in growing organic cotton.
People often associate the cotton crop with parched lands and farmer suicides but Kalaivani insists that cotton can be profitable when grown organically. Organic inputs like Panchagavya and Jeevamritham, both of which contain cow dung as their main ingredient, not only improve the crop yield but also enrich the soil. Organic pesticides and growth promoters can be made at no extra costs. Farm and cattle left overs can be effectively used to conjure up a host of different potions to boost plant growth and immunity.
Cotton is a six month crop. Flowers bloom when the crop is a month and a half old. This gives way to the unripe fruit at the end of two months. During the first three months the farmers concentrate on providing good overall nourishment to the plant. Once the flowers appear after the third or fourth month, the field is flooded with water mixed with organic inputs like jeevamritham and amrithakaraisal .As a result of this the soil is thoroughly nourished and there is improved earthworm activity. A potion made from leaves called ‘Arappelaicharu’ is added to the soil and organic pest repellants are sprayed. In an acre of land, pots filled with neem seed concentrate are put at five to six places. This takes care of the insects which frequent fields during night time. The insects are attracted by the smell but when they land on the neem solution they die. The pod doesn’t burst until the fourth month. At the end of four months, the fruits slowly dry up and dehisce or split open. Cotton picking commences a few days after the first burst. The first three months pass in anticipation of a fruitful, pest-free harvest.
In conventional farming even if they spot a single insect they bombard the field with chemical pesticides. What most farmers fail to understand that when they spray insecticides they destroy insects which can do well for the plants along with the pests. On an average, a farmer invests around Rs. 10,000 to 15,000 for an acre of organic cotton. This includes the cost of seeds, costs involved in preparing the land and wages. Organic cotton is sold at a higher rate compared to those grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticicdes.When chemicals are used, the crop lasts around six months and cotton can be picked three times at the most. When purely organic inputs are used, the crop stands for more than 6 months, so more than 3 pickings are possible. More cotton equals more money. In addition, over time, the quality and texture of the soil improves and the amount of water required for the crop’s sustenance substantially reduces.
In conventional farming by spending about Rs 20,000 on cleaning the field, ploughing, spraying pesticides, labour charges etc, a farmer makes a profit of about Rs 15,000 only per acre. In the case of organic farming ,the yield increases to about 13 to 15 quintals of cotton per acre by using a variety called MCU 5.One can harvest somewhere between 13 to 15 quintals of cotton per acre. After deducting the input cost of around Rs 10, 000, the net profit is around Rs 80,000 per acre. So it would be wise to triple the profits, without slogging it out using pesticides and weedicides, by going the organic way. It also helps to save the soil which is spoiled by frequent use of chemical fertilizers. Overall, moving away from chemical farming has proved to have a lasting effect on the soil as well as the yield per acre. In her spare time, Kalaivani travels to villages in the vicinity, to spread the word, encouraging the farmers to switch to organic farming.