Low investment, maximum returns.

The farmer Mr. Arunachalam in his banana field.

Fertile soil and adequate water resources, though important, cannot alone ensure a good yield. Inputs such as fertilizers and manures are essential.

“Today chemical fertilizers cost a lot, and a sudden shortage in their availability makes a small farmer desperate for an alternative,” says Dr. G. Namalwar, organic scientist.

In addition to buying these chemicals at a high cost, and applying them, a farmer cannot be assured of good yield. “Constant application of these chemical salts makes even a fertile land barren over time and it takes several years to reclaim the land,” he explains.

“The only alternative to this,” according to Namalwar, is “sustainable agriculture or natural farming, which has proved that it is capable of not only increasing crop yields but also safeguards the soil, water, and climate. It protects those who use and consume it.”

Low cost

Natural or sustainable agriculture is low budget, easy to manufacture, effective against pests and infestations, and more important, is safe, according to Mr. Arunachalam, inventor of Aatootam and an organic farmer at Gobichettipalayam, Erode district, Tamil Nadu.

“Take my own case as an example. Our family had purchased three acres nearly eight years back at a very low price as the soil was highly alkaline and was considered a liability.

People were telling us that no crops can be grown in such a soil. Using chemicals was out of question as we were against it.

On advice from Dr. Namalwar we first did multi-seed sowing (with various minor legumes and grains) in the land and after a month the germinated seeds were mulched back into the soil. And since then we have never looked back,” Mr. Arunachalam says.

Income from paddy

They raised some traditional paddy varieties in the same land and earned about Rs. 1,90,000 from selling the paddy. Later about 1,800 banana tubers were grown in the same field.

The crop is into its 11th cycle and the fruits are harvested once in eight months. Each banana bunch is sold at between Rs.100 to Rs.190, and has fetched a sum of nearly Rs.1,80,000.

Banana mulch

The banana mulch that remains each time after the harvest has piled on to about a feet above the original soil level.

“There is no weeding, no inputs, and no costs as it is a continuous self managed cycle that only requires harvesting,” adds Mr. Arunachalam.

Vegetables such as ladies finger, brinjal, chilli, ridge gourd and pumpkin, papaya, green gram and black gram are grown as intercrops in the banana field and have fetched nearly Rs. 10,000.

Timber and fodder value trees are grown as fence and border crops along the field bunds. Two Kangayam (native variety) bullocks were bought at Rs. 8,500 each, when they were one year of age.

Within six months, they were sold at Rs.50,000 in the annual local cattle fair. By the time they are sold, the animals are well trained to be efficient load carriers.

The dung of the bullocks and about 15 Thalacherry goats are mixed with the water used for irrigating the fields. This acts as good manure for the soil. The wastes of the goats are also used for making Aattootam.

Additional revenue

“The sale of the Aatootam fetches me about Rs. 1,00,000 a year. In addition the income from selling the goats brings an additional Rs. 60,000.

Papaya fruits and seeds are used to feed my ten cocks. They are trained as fighter cocks and are sold for Rs. 1,000. In a year I get Rs. 10,000 from selling these birds,” says Mr. Arunachalam.

None of these traditional animal breeds (be it bullocks, goats or cocks) is vulnerable to any disease and there is no cost incurred in getting them market-ready.

“If I can earn rupees six lakhs from my three acres in 365 days, without spending much on inputs, why not other farmers?” he asks.


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