FarmVille, an innovative online game, is the latest craze among city dwellers. The youth are amused by the concept of rearing virtual cattle and growing a variety of crops on their ‘farms’. But there are youngsters who find real farming more interesting than virtual farming. “I stopped playing FarmVille. I have a real farm in my home now and am out of the virtual world,” says Kashyap, an engineering student.
This farm or kitchen garden being referred to by Kashyap has been made possible by Egamparam, the son of a farmer from Senji village in Tamil Nadu.
Like many other farmers, Egamparam’s father too was unable to cope with mounting farm loans coupled with a poor yield. After his father’s death, Egamparam took it upon himself to find a way to stop the incidence of farmer suicides.
“I realized that farmer suicides were rampant because most of the farmers harvested only one crop. Often, this one crop failed to yield enough to keep the farmer financially afloat. In addition, constant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides made fertile lands barren. And reclaiming these lands to increase fertility was too long a process,” observes Egamparam.
Egamparam’s mentor, Dr. G. Nammalwar, suggested that sustainable agriculture through integrated and organic farming method was the answer to the problem of farmer suicides. Egamparam then worked with organizations engaged in agricultural research to learn about the technical aspects of agriculture.
With the knowledge of farming and a mission to popularize integrated and organic farming, Egamparam started the Earth Watch Foundation in 2005. Promoting crop diversity, developing farm ponds, native seed planting, breeding milch cattle and planting trees are some of the activities of the foundation.
Considerable effort went into convincing farmers to move away from their conventional farming ways and adopt organic farming. “The farmers have now understood that organic farming not only increases the crop yield but also helps in retaining the nutrients and water in the soil. Although the yield for the first two years is less, organic farming aims at sustainability of the farmland.”
Seeing the positive response from farmers, Egamparam has expanded his operations from Pudukottai to include other villages like Panampatti, Melur, Manikampatti, Oorapatti and Muthudayarpatti, all situated in the Madurai district of Tamil Nadu.
These being predominantly dry areas, there was tremendous resistance to farming. But with practices like rainwater harvesting, these farmlands soon became fertile.
The Center for Social Initiative and Management (CSIM) honed the entrepreneurial skills in Egamparam. Through the CSIM network, he is now working on bringing the producers and the consumers together. Egamparam urges urban folks to shift from investing in the share market to investing in agriculture. “My plan is simple. The investor gives a two-year loan to an organic farmer at 25% interest. This money is then used as ‘seed capital’ to buy seeds and other inputs. The interesting feature of this plan is that the farmer will repay the loan along with a weekly supply of farm fresh organic vegetables. These vegetables will be supplied from the fourth month onwards.” He adds with a smile, “Apart from interest money, the investor is assured of good health and less frequent visits to the doctor.”
At the end of the second year, this capital-endowed farmer will train five other farmers about organic farming and provide seed capital to one such farmer. By doing so, the plan aims at promoting the concept of organic farming.
By setting up kitchen and terrace gardens, Egamparam has now taken the concept of farming to the homes of Chennai. With little exposure to farms, city-bred children are amazed at the carrots and tomatoes growing on their rooftops. Till the garden is ready to yield, Egamparam visits them once a week to manure and prune the vegetables. In each of these homes, a compost pit has been set up to convert the kitchen waste to manure.
To spread the idea of organic farming, Egamparam plans on taking the help of the Government to make organic farming compulsory for all farmers.
“A certain rule says that in the committee that prepares schemes for the agriculture industry, 10% of the participation should be from farmers. Sadly, this rule is not being implemented. In the long run, I want farmers to involve themselves from the planning stage itself. This seems difficult, but it is achievable.”
“Agriculture sustains this country. It is unfortunate however, that for their own sustenance, farmers have to turn to others with begging bowls. To change this is my dream.”