Marginal farmers of Tamil Nadu reap training rewards

By Indo Asian News Service | Monday, September 04, 2006 | 8:41:45 AM IST (+05:30 GMT) Comment 0 Comment

Illedu (Tamil Nadu), Sep 4 (IANS) Many thriving farms in rural Tamil Nadu owe their prosperity to an NGO that trains them in water and land management, prawn cultivation, embroidery, modernising agricultural practices and soil testing.

Illedu (Tamil Nadu), Sep 4 (IANS) Many thriving farms in rural Tamil Nadu owe their prosperity to an NGO that trains them in water and land management, prawn cultivation, embroidery, modernising agricultural practices and soil testing.

The National Agro Foundation (NAF) provides technical support to 13,000 farmer families in 27 villages in Kancheepuram district and 20 villages in Thiruvallur district.

The NAF was set up by C. Subramaniam, who as agriculture minister in the 1960s spearheaded India's first green revolution.

Subramaniam, who was awarded Bharat Ratna - the country's highest civilian honour - in 1998, died in his armchair in 2000, holding fast the concept papers for the NGO that he had set up at the age of 90.

Six years on, supported by C. Laxmanan and the California Agricultural Consultancy Services, the Anna University's biotechnology department and a host of supporters, the NAF's Centre for Rural Development (CFRD) was set up on 10 acres of donated land in Kancheepuram district.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who is scheduled to meet 20 NAF farmers Monday, was one of the first supporters of this training project.

'The model we have created can be replicated across the country,' S.S. Rajsekar, Subramaniam's son and the NGO's managing trustee, told IANS.

In Illedu village alone, CFRD has set up 450 demonstration farms to improve the yield.

The NAF's first demo farm was in engineer R. Madhavan's low-yielding plot. After NAF intervention, the land - where the yield had been 780 kg - produced 2,000 kg of maize.

'It is not only technique, marginal farmers struggle with bank loans. Even bankers need to be taught when the farmer needs the loan most, when he wants money to buy fertiliser, pay for power or water or buy a calf, when is the right time to disburse the loan,' said Rajsekar, a chemical engineer by training.

This is where farmers get technology training and bankers get information.

'NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) has promised to help with training agriculture bankers, a specialised job that most banks have discontinued,' he added.

The NGO has now developed 196 training courses for various kinds of farming.

'What is okay for bitter gourd grown in Tamil Nadu may not be suitable for squash grown in Manipur,' said M.R. Ramasubramaniyan, NAF's agriculture development and technology manager.

The NAF teams go to each farmer and take about half an acre of his land to first demonstrate the best practices. It then helps the farmer to upgrade his farm. The first lesson usually is chiselling of the top soil and getting at the better soil below.

The demo farms have shown 116 percent improvement in watermelon crop per acre of land and a 40 percent increase in sugarcane yield. The CFRD has assisted nearly 6,000 artificial inseminations and in the second generation milk yield has increased 300 percent, up to eight litres per day.

The NAF's R&D facility is housed at the Anna University's Taramani campus in Chennai where food safety labs, tissue culture and soil testing labs provide inputs that change the ordinary brinjals, capsicums and Hungarian pepper to supermarket-quality products and provide fodder grass security for every f

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