Salai Sandhai would have remained an unknown hamlet near Peraiyur but for this farmer. It is now identified as the place where the ‘Madurai Vivasayee’ has his farm. Gokulam SRI Organic Farm provides work for at least 20 men and women of this hamlet every day.
P. Sathurakiri, who shifted to Salai Sandhai from Tiruppalai in Madurai in 2006 to be with the piece of land bought by him, has a raging passion in him even after a decade. From five acres and 22 cents, his farm has extended its boundaries to eight acres. But that is only an aside. The one line story is that he has proved that agriculture can be consistently profitable, vagaries of nature notwithstanding.
With practical knowledge gained through constant experimentation, Mr. Sathurakiri confidently says he has an assured daily/weekly/monthly/half-yearly/annual income. “My idea was to make farming self-sustaining. I have achieved this to a large extent by taking my farm practices along the path taken by nature,” he says. This traditional farmer, who stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides since 2010, has successfully adopted a five-pronged approach to farming.
He concentrates on the five parts of a plant – seed, leaf, flower, raw fruit and ripe fruit. He plans his crops for the next couple of years, taking into account groundwater availability, weather and market conditions. His Android phone, farm experts and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University supplement his knowledge. “I always go for the profitable crop as I do agriculture only to reap profits,” he says.
In the seed category, he raises paddy and urad dal; in leaf, a variety of greens; in flower, jasmine; in raw fruit, brinjal and bhendi and in ripe fruit category, sappotta and jamun. Integrated with these five categories are dairy farming, cattle breeding, apiculture and poultry farming, besides a mini solar power plant. No outside input enters the farm and only the produce goes out. The farm, which became a certified organic farm in 2013-14, has evolved as a model in integrated farming. Farmers from other places frequently visit Salai Sandhai to find solutions to their on-farm problems.
Mr. Sathurakiri firmly believes that a farmer should be multi-faceted. “First, he should have presence of mind. Updating knowledge of contemporary farm practices is essential. He should also keep abreast of market trends and climatic conditions. For a farmer, knowledge is investment. Only intelligent people can succeed in agriculture.”
Mr. Sathurakiri, who lives in a one-room home at the farm, had to sensitise his family members before shifting from Madurai. More than that, he had to give up certain conventional practices of farming. “I do not believe in the success of drip irrigation. I believe that water should not be rationed to plants.”
This farmer, like his plants, lives with insects. “Insects and pests are our friends and relatives. Virus and bacteria are not our enemies. We should not try to eradicate them in a farm,” he says. Then, what should be done in the event of a pest attack? “Only benevolent pests are visible to the eye. Bad pests are unseen. Whenever there is a pest attack, I use an organic pesticide to destroy the eggs of bad pests without doing any harm to the good ones. We should know the difference between pest attack and disease and use appropriate organic compounds.” “A farmer should not be overambitious. In his zeal to produce more, he should not thrust his unverified ideas, whims and fancies in farming. This will only result in loss. Crops take only what is essential for them. Unlike men, they are not greedy,” he says.
Mr. Sathurakiri is happy that he is able to provide quality food to people without harming the environment. The added incentive is low cost of production. However, he is not for direct marketing of his produce as that would divert attention from the farm.
Attributing the success of Salai Sandhai farm to the involvement of Mr. Sathurakiri, organic farming expert Pamayyan says that farming should be a 24/7 job if one wants to make it profitable. With an initial investment of ₹5 lakh, Mr. Sathurakiri today makes every day profit, besides providing an annual salary of ₹6 lakh to his employees and daily lunch.