She adopts organic farming, provides value addition to the produce and also makes food products
K. Nagajothi of P. Subbulapuram in Peraiyur taluk of Madurai district is a phenomenon in self-sufficiency. The 55-year-old woman, who has studied up to SSLC, is good at multitasking – she is a farmer, entrepreneur, trainer, leader and, above all, a homemaker.
The mother of three practises 100 per cent organic farming in her 8.5-acre farm at Chinna Reddiyapatti, provides value addition to her produce and also makes food products. Whenever she finds time, Ms. Nagajothi joins other villagers in deepening the local tank under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
Like any rural household, Ms. Nagajothi and her husband V. Kanagasundaram, her classmate, were struggling to make a living with a meagre farm income. “After attending motivational and training programmes, I decided to adopt organic farming in my land in 2001. My husband was for use of chemical inputs and, at one point of time, even threatened to walk out of home if I continued with organic farming. On seeing the results, he is now my partner in progress,” says a proud Ms. Nagajothi.
Their farm resembles a kind of oasis in a village where use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is the norm. “We do not use even one per cent of chemical input. When there was a recent pest attack on maize, I suggested an organic insecticide to fellow farmers. They made fun of me, saying that I was suggesting ‘rasam’ for a crop. But they could not believe their eyes when their crop withered and ours was ready for harvest.”
Ms. Nagajothi practises integrated farming while raising tur dal, millets like thinai and kuthiraivaali, green gram and maize. She hires herds of goats and uses her own cows to provide manure to the rain-fed farm. She prepares organic ingredients at home to ward of pests. “We do not hire farm hands for deweeding. I and my husband do it ourselves.” Like in many places, P. Subbulapuram also faces shortage of farm hands.
“The cost of harvest has gone up now. However, it is essential to have workers during harvest. We hire vehicles to transport them to the farm,” she says. She does not depend on machinery for processing the produce. She has hand grinders at home on which she works and hires people for work on contract.
Last month, she, along with a few other women, processed one quintal of tur dal using hand grinders. “The organic nature and hand processing add value and taste to pulses and millets,” she says. On an average, Ms. Nagajothi processes 25 kg of dal or small millets a day. Mr. Kanagasundaram says that they have planned to buy a machine to dehull small millets.
In between, Ms. Nagajothi makes eatables from rice and millets, which have become famous in the region. Mr. Kanagasundaram, who sells the products on his bicycle, says, “We do not do it for profit. I give away eatables for free whenever I come across crying children.”
The couple have married off their two daughters and their only son is waiting to join a postgraduate course. The money they earn is enough to run the family. “Immediately after marriage, I pledged all my jewels in a cooperative bank. I could redeem them only when the government announced a loan waiver. Today, there is no need for me to approach lending institutions.”
Pamayyan, an expert in organic farming, feels that there is immense scope for developing small millet cultivation in the region. During the British period, the area around T. Kallupatti was “double taxed” for the fertile soil. He points to the couple as a classic example of how farming can be made profitable with value addition and marketing. “They have planned their lives without any significant help from outside,” he says.
Madurai-based Dhan Foundation, in association with the Government of Canada, has launched a project in the country to encourage cultivation of small millets.
It is focussing on T. Kallupatti and Peraiyur areas in Madurai district for the formation of farmers’ producer organisations. N. Karthikeyan, who is involved in the project, says that the objective is to support access to better performing varieties and production technologies; marketing of produce and processing.