Contributed by: B.Praveen Kumar, Program Manager, Digital Green, Andhra Pradesh
Soora Munijanaki, 58, looks like an ordinary farmer. But when an interaction with her goes beyond pleasantries, one finds her knowledge on non-pesticide management (NPM) is akin to an experienced extension professional. She aptly mixes her learning in NPM with positive results from her own farming experience and presents a perspective which one must accept without debate.
In the course of our conversation, Munijanaki shared that untimely rains in November and December spoilt everyone’s crop in the village except hers. When the rains stopped, the vegetable plantation in her field had withstood the cyclone and started to yield fruit. Its only because of the NPM practices that my plants were strong enough to withstand a natural calamity like the recent cyclone, she says confidently.
Munijanakis family has three acres of land in Diguva Guluru hamlet in Sirugurajupalem village, Puttur revenue block, Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, where her son, Soora Vijay, 40, helped her, to cultivate paddy on it till three years back. Vijay says We had been applying chemical fertilizers and pesticides on our crop. At the end of every harvest season, when we calculated, our returns barely made up for our expenses. We used to spend INR 15,000 per acre on fertilizers and pesticides and get INR 15,000 -20,000 rupees from selling the produce. Every year more or less, it was the same story. This continued till 2013.
Srivani, a SERP-CMSA (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) extension functionary and cluster activist in Puttur block, learning of Munijanakis problems in agriculture, visited her field in 2013 along with G. Muniratnam, District Project Manager, SERP-CMSA, Chittoor district. Munijanaki recalled Srivani initially suggested that we shift from mono-cropping ( a practice of growing a single crop) to vegetable poly-cropping ( a practice of growing more than one complimentary crops in the same field). Srivani screened a Digital Green video (a localized community-based video) on vegetable poly-cropping in a small plot of land to encourage adoption of this practice.
We started cultivating paddy in two acres of our land and vegetables in the remaining one acre. We immediately realized that by doing this we could also get a regular income on a weekly or fortnightly basis – by selling our vegetables in the vegetable market nearby, shared Munijanaki happily. We started growing brinjal, ladies finger, bottle gourd, and bitter gourd. We also grew varieties of leafy vegetables as inter-crop in our vegetable garden, she added.
Since Munijanaki was a member of the Self-help Group (SHG) that Srivani was in charge of, she has got an opportunity to watch different instructional videos screened by Srivani on various NPM practices, based on the current agricultural seasons. Munijanaki has seen videos on various topics ranging from nursery bed preparation for vegetable cultivation, organic manure preparation to bio-fertilizers. Initially what we knew about natural farming is that it requires only cow-dung and organic waste. But, after watching videos, we have realized that it is much more than that. Every crop disease has a different NPM solution and each solution is different from the other, Munijanaki shared.
Srivani screens videos twice every week on the preparation of Pachichirotte yeruvulu (green leaf manure), the importance of summer ploughing, Dravajeevamrutham (growth enhancer), Neem kernel extract, Egg-lemon extract, Neemastram, Brhamstram and Agniastram and other such organic fertilizers and pesticides in Diguva Guluru village. She has not only screened videos for the Self-Help Group members, she has often visited our fields and observed whether we are following what they have shown in the videos correctly. She also clarifies our doubts related to those practices, added Vijay.
Digital Green video dissemination has been quite helpful. It’s easy to convince farmers with video testimonials of other farmers and also to get the right technical information across about each practice says Srivani.
Information on practices like Brahmastram and Agniastram (organic pesticides) is not easily available to farmers otherwise. This is echoed by Vijay when he shared that Every brinjal crop inadvertently gets affected by stem borer (insect). But, nobody knew what suitable NPM method was available for that. Digital Green produced and screened a video on Brahmastram to SHG members here in my village. My mother also watched it and came home and discussed it. Now, we prepare and spray Brahmastram on our brinjal crop.
Munijanakis family is now getting a regular income from selling their vegetable produce almost daily in the Putturu vegetable market. Their expenditure on farming has also reduced greatly. Earlier we used to spend INR 15,000 per acre on fertilizers and pesticides apart from labour costs. Now, we only spend on labour that is 6,000 rupees per acre. We prepare all kashayams and bio-fertilizers from the material available in our field, shared Vijay.
Continuous follow-up and timely solutions from SERP-CMSA functionaries have also helped Munijanaki immensely. I have visited this farm regularly. We have supported Munijanaki in all possible ways. More importantly, the Digital Green approach of using a short video on each practice helped to transfer appropriate information to beneficiaries in a timely manner. Munijanakis farm is among the best NPM fields in our district, says G.Muniratnam, District Project Manager, SERP-CMSA.
Munijanaki adds Since we are growing vegetables using the NPM methods, we have become popular in and around my village. Everybody – doctors, teachers, and government employees come to our field to purchase vegetables. We even get orders for vegetables for local functions.A doctor in our neighbouring village recommends his patients to buy vegetables from our farms because he himself buys from us. He says generic ailments like diabetes and muscle pains can be prevented by consuming fresh vegetables and fresh food, she adds with pride.
Munijanakis success did not come in a day. We learnt about NPM practices step-by-step by watching Digital Green videos. Each video has a lot of relevant information. We discussed the NPM practices during our video screening sessions and started practising them in our field. It has now started giving us positive results, she added.
Though Soora Munijanakis success might look small in nature, it is, in fact, a bright spot on a larger landscape of small subsistence farmers in rural India. One that we hope will fill up the landscape to shine the light of organic NPM practices in the rest of the country and the world.
(The author of this story wishes to acknowledge support from G.Venkat Goud, Program Manager, Digital Green and G.Muniratnam, District Project Manager, SERP-CMSA.)