Leading woman eco-farmer believes organic farming is the only hope for healthy life

Rathinathai was among the few trained on eco-farming and sustainable agriculture 14 years back by Tirunelveli Social Service Society (TSSS) under Caritas India Natural Resource Management programme. Since then she is practicing sustainable agriculture in her 1.5 acres of land by cultivating paddy in one half and multiple crops like sweet potato, groundnuts, green gram and Bengal gram, coriander, greens and fodder for cows on the other.

‘I take pride in saying that all my three educated daughters employed as nurse, teacher and an English literature graduate and they join me in the farm work whenever they get time. They don’t hesitate to graze cows, collect cow dung and walk bare foot in the slush. They are my ambassadors for propagating organic farming’, says Rathinathai.

On an average in a year from 50 cents of land, she is able to harvest 300 kgs of sweet potato, 420- 450 kgs of groundnuts, 1850 kg of paddy, 150 kg of pulses. One bag of paddy containing 70 kg is sold @ Rs.1300/-, groundnut @Rs.1450/-, Bengal gram @ Rs.80/- and the green gram @ Rs.70/-. Thus, she earns a good profit and at times of drought and monsoon failure the loss she incurs is manageable.

Today, Rathinathai is a leading eco-farmer in Parvathiapuram village situated in Kanarpatti Panchayat in Manur block of Tirunelveli District, Tamilnadu.

She says, ‘Agriculture should be promoted as our culture, with gender justice and we should have control over the choice of cultivating crops. I decide what should be cooked in my kitchen and consumed by my family. We should defeat the corporate forces that colonize agriculture and food systems’.

She also rear milch animals and goats and the waste from animal and farm is utilized for producing vermi-compost and other bio inputs. The organic farming practices using organic inputs replenishes the soil with earth worms and attract the beneficial insects like dragonflies, butterflies, bees,etc., towards the plants and trees in the land. The yield from the crop is double compared with the lands where chemical farming is practiced.

She is convinced that agriculture and dairy farming are inseparable twins. In May, 2017, when Tamil Nadu faced the worst drought in 114 years, she had to part away with one of the 3 cows which she had to sell for Rs.10000/- which otherwise would cost Rs.40000/-. ‘After spending Rs.28000/- for fodder alone in 6 months’ time, I did not want to get into debt trap. This was the worst moment in my life’, she added. She shared that due to drought, people have started realizing the importance of organic farming. Her immediate plan is to equip herself on water conservation and management techniques and train the villagers on the same line so that the negative impact of climate change is mitigated.

Expressing her gratitude, she says, ‘I am ever thankful to Caritas India and TSSS, the two organisations that have instilled interest and confidence in my mind. I have become a trainer in organic farming to NGO representatives and Government staff’.

Recently she had trained 40 women farmers each from Ettankulam, Vallavankottai, Seethaikurichi, Pillayarkulam and Pallamadai villages. All these 200 women farmers undergone 15 days training on organic practices and the preparation of bio manures and pest repellents, preparation of panchakavya and vermicompost, soil test and conservation. On the last day, she took the trainees to her farm and gave them one packet of vermicompost so that they in turn multiply and give to others’.

‘Dr. John Arokiaraj, Zonal Manager (South) of Caritas India extended constant support and encouragement to the organic farmers movement in Tirunelveli District through TSSS. He along with Dr. Haridas, Thematic Manager (NRM) has created a good platform in the form of Environmental Core Group for sharing the traditional knowledge with like-minded farmers. Ms. Selvamani, Ms. Esther, Mr. Suviseshamuthu and Mr. Kumarasamy are some of the active farmers in this process’, she acknowledges. They all want to strengthen this movement of food growers to democratize agriculture so that healthy food becomes accessible to all poor people.

Personal conviction and involvement, starting on a small scale on trial method, observing patience, courage to face and ignore negative and demotivating criticism are the key elements of success for an organic farmer as told by Rathinathai.

She wants to give few important advises: ‘Don’t spend money on medical treatment rather invest on healthy food cultivation and eating habits; Before your village turns into a graveyard, make it a heaven with organic practices; Start educating the younger generations the value of eating good food’.