At a time when news of farmers’ suicide in Maharashtra due to crop failure comes as a setback, Mu.Balasubramanian, fondly called as Pamayan, comes across as the knight in shining armour for Tamil Nadu. For, he has not only created a model organic farm but also evolved a self-sustainable farming practice that has been drawing the attention of people from all over the State.
His model farm is spread across 4.5 acres in Solaipatti 15 km southwest of Tirumangalam and he calls his farming technique ‘Thalanmai Pannaiyam’ (self-reliant farming). He has evolved a training module that takes into account salient features of ancient farming practices such as farmers’ predicaments, how to enrich soil, how to grow a plant, best farming practices, marketing, visit to a farm and successful stories. It is now his endeavour to convert his farm into a revenue-generating source.
“I know this area is dry, the underground water is brackish and that is why I deliberately chose this place,” says Pamayan. When he took this land it was filled with karuvelam trees. “I cleared it all and dug two huge pits to store water. I didn’t get any free power from the Government and had to pump underground water into that pit. And rainwater also got stored in it,” he says.
A great admirer of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture design, which seeks to minimise waste, human labour, and energy input and to achieve a high level of synergy, Pamayan tried to infuse his own techniques to make his farming practice a sustainable one.
Born to a farmer in Sundaresapuram Village near Kadayanallur, young Pamayan had no idea whatsoever about agriculture. Severe drought drove his family out in pursuit of greener pastures and he ended up doing a course in journalism before joining the Association of Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA) as a documenter. It was his field job here that introduced him to agriculture. Several Sarvodaya leaders became his friends. The book ‘One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka presented to him by Gandhian K.M.Natarajan was an eye-opener. “I read about natural farming and was very impressive. The word sustainable caught my attention,” he says.
Natural farming advocates planting wild vegetable variety as one can learn from the forests. It is also against pruning of plants. The relevance of such farming practice propelled Pamayan to search for similar effective organic farming practices and gradually he started translating and writing articles on agriculture in several publications.
Pamayan was attracted to permaculture’s emphasis on a pattern that provides maximum benefit to the local environment. Zoning of plants is important. According to permaculture, plants that require frequent visit of the farmer should be in the inner circle while plants that don’t require farmer’s attention can be planted in the outermost circle. “Mollison’s designer manual is a big inspiration for people like us,” says Pamayan. “It even specifically states when to introduce poultry, goat and oxen into the agricultural land.”
He wrote for Pudhiya Kalvi magazine on environment and agriculture. It soon became the reference material for several farmers’ forums. When his friends asked him why could he not put his precepts into practice, that he decided to make organic farming a movement Thalanmai Ulavar Iyakkam. With ten like-minded friends, he started a group and created training modules for farmers and issued tips and booklets to help them set up their own organic farms. “We have designed the module on our own. We don't have any syllabus. It is purely based on practical difficulties of farmers and equips them to market their produces.”
There was good response for his training sessions as the faculties were not university professors but farmers. The Thalanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam later became Tamizhaga Uzhavaur Thozhilnutpa Kazhagam (Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Technology Forum).
The success of the programme encouraged farmers to volunteer. Now farmers from neighbouring states also visit to hear him speak.
Pamayan is a great admirer of legendary organic farmer Nammazhwar. But he concentrates more on integrated farming system. His vegetable cultivation stands testimony to this type of farming as he uses the dung he gets from cattle to produce vermicompost. The worms are used as feed for pisciculture and the water from the pit is filtered and used to grow climbers and tomato plants (no soil method). The plant wastes and weeds are then used as cattle feed. Pamayan has evolved this into a revenue generating mechanism. “The dung can also be used to generate biogas,” he says.
Now his fully green farm also sees swarms of black soldier flies.
“The larvae of these flies are free protein source for the poultry,” he says. He trains aspiring young farmers in his farm and offers guidance to those living in the villages nearby. He is already popular in his neighbourhood not only as Pamayan but also as ‘Farm’ Ayyan.
Egg is soaked in lemon juice solution and jaggery extract is then added. The calcium in the egg reacts with citric acid and jaggery solution to give excellent growth promoter for the plants.
Add more water to the vermicompost. The excess water drains out. Now collect it and enrich it with jaggery solution. The Actinomyces gets activated. It is also an excellent growth tonic for plants.
He has also developed a ‘Pazhakkaadi’. It is a process of obtaining fermented juice with rotten fruits along with cow dung. The solution enriches soil and makes the soil more productive.