IRTC's agronomy team recently had a very unique achievement. They have successfully cultivated 22 acres of paddy with the involvement of local farmers, without using toxic chemical pesticides or manures. They have not only created a model for non toxic cultivation but also evolved a sustainable farming practice that has been drawing the attention of people from all over the State. A conversation with IRTCs agronomist Sri. I. A. Chako (Retired Dpty. Director of Agriculture Department - Kerala, Former managing director of KSBCDC and Board member of National Backward classes financial development corporation.) who lead the venture to success.
The paddy farmers in Palakkad is using chemical pesticides widely and is quiet obsessed with that habit these days.
In this context how do you arrive at this thinking of producing toxin free rice or organic rice that too with the support of the farmers?
In Kerala there are so many farmers who cultivate paddy as their prime product, and we malayalis are using rice as our major food component. But the area of rice cultivation in Kerala is decreasing every year. We are more used to purchasing it from other states. The rice coming from outside state, and even form our state itself is highly toxicated with chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
The state health sector is now facing serious threats. Fatal diseases are so very common in our areas. We all have at least one cancer patient in our family and neighboring. And the reason is the toxins in our food. We are all aware of it now. Now we are thinking about using toxin free rice as our food. So many farmers are searching for ethnic variety of seeds and consumers are now thinking about where they will get this toxin free rice. Not just rice but all food products. That is why we thought about producing this toxin free rice.
So you think that there is a high demand in Kerala for organic food products?
Actually there is a high demand in Kerala for organic substances but the cost is not affordable to ordinary people. Our present problem is instead of chemicals we have to use so many other things like organic pesticide and manure which is very costly and will increase the price of rice eventually. Challenge before us is to reduce the production cost and changing the farming culture in to organic practices.
How long have you been thinking of forming a farmer producing company in Palakkad?
What was the first step towards making a company like susthira?
It was a tough job to create awareness among farmers about the chemical fertilisers and manures usage. Initially we held a number of meetings and debates with the farmers around IRTC. There is 22 acres of paddy field in Valekkad which is very close to IRTC and there are 17 farmers there who were regularly doing paddy cultivation over the years, we gathered them and we communicated this idea with them. Initially they were not at all happy with our plan and with repeated meetings and communication they agreed to cultivate organic paddy on a trial basis. We got organic manures from Thachanattukara Farmer Producers Company near Mannarkkad. Along with it we used the variety of paddy called Uma, a variety popular in Palakkadan Matta. We adopted mechanised transplanting system. For pest and disease control we used Pseudomonas, and Trypo Grimma cards. Trypo Grimma is insect eggs which is pasted on cards and is planted in between the paddy. When the eggs are hatched these insects will attack the pest insects. The trial was very effective; to our surprise no pests and disease affected our paddy. At the time of growth it was heavy wind season in Palakkad which also helped in keeping the pests away. We saw in September, transplanted in October, the growth season was November and December and the harvest was in February. In Palakkad there are so many farmer producing companies. But here we are thinking about organising paddy farmers. Not exclusively, but concentrating mainly on paddy. Later on we have a plan to spread it into other crops too.
We do this for a social cause. In Kerala the prime food product is rice and simply because of that reason we must focus more on quality rice production. Not just for us, for our children`s children, for our soil and for our environment we are bound to do this.
Obviously, I completely agree with you. And what about the yield? Is it satisfactory? Do you have a multiple cropping pattern?
The overall yield per acre was 2000kg normally. That is with the use of chemical pesticides. So comparing with that result I think the farmers are not so happy for now. Because this year the yield is 1600kg per acre. But, they have understood the value and demand for their product. The demand for it is far ahead of our production. The price they get from it is also reasonably good. And the most important thing is that we are using zero chemical pesticides and manures. I am sure that next year we will get a much better yield. This year it was only a pilot project. The farmers are thinking of increasing the land area of cultivation, which sound very promising. Things will be better in the coming years. The situation needs toxin free products.
Next year onwards we will be trying multiple cropping patterns. The plan is two paddy season and one pulses. This year also after this second crop paddy season (which we are not cultivating this year) we will sow black gram in our field. That is for the improvement of the soil quality and to enrich it in minerals so that we will get good yield.
Where do IRTC stand as an institution in this movement? Is the scientific and monitory supports are provided by IRTC itself?
NABARD is the organisation which entrusted IRTC to act as a Producer Organisation Promote Institution. Financial support is from NABARD. The scientific and other technical support is completely provided by IRTC. We have a system of keeping an account of the farmers input. Like the amount for manure manpower and everything. The agriculture department have also supported in their own way by giving subsidy for transplanting. The subsidy will be going directly to the bank account of farmers. Apart from that IRTC is acting as an intermediately between the farmers and agriculture office, it’s more like a social advocacy.
Is there any plan in developing this program to other parts of Kerala?
Now the farmers from other districts are requesting IRTC to give technical support and are willing to replicate our patter in their fields. The main problem here is inputs like organic manure is very difficult to get. Production of organic manure is far beyond to meet demand. Presently IRTC is trying to concentrate in Palakkad district, but of course our aim is to spread this practice to other districts too. And we believe that this could make radical changes in the food production.
Do IRTC have any plan to develop technologies to produce cost effective manures in organic way?
Actually we have the technology now, but it is only confined within a lab setting. We can produce, certainly, but we need to invest considerable sum of amount in to it. As for now IRTC is not capable of such a huge monitory input in to production. We are a research institute and our job is to make technologies, the production of organic manure on a large scale is an industrial activity. But if some government agencies help us, then I believe we can. We would very much appreciate such an initiative from the state.
What about the produced rice? is IRTC buying it back from the framers or they sell it directly to the market. Could you please share the strategy in marketing and the prices?
Well, our aim is to strengthen the farmers to market their products through value addition. Presently IRTC has provided some kind of support to them. The farmers are not very rich so they need to get some money immediately. This year IRTC have procured paddy from them at the rate of Rs.22.50/kg. That is higher than the government fixed market price. Now the whole paddy has been processed to rice. The rice which is rich in bran by 40%. Avil is also being made of this rice which is good in quality. IRTC have a sales outlet in the national highway near Mundur. Mainly we are selling the products through our own emporium. Along with that we are selling through the 14 district offices of Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad. That means we have sales outlets in all 14 districts of Kerala. This is a program ensuring the system like “from farmer to consumer”. No middlemen exploitations. IRTC is not even taking any kind of profit from it. We are distributing rice in 5kg 10kg bags at the rate of Rs.55/ kg. As for organic toxin free rice, our price is low. For organic rice it costs around 60-65rupees per kilogram in the open market. Our efforts will be to produce organic toxin free rice in a much better price so that the common people can afford to buy and use it. There is a high demand from all over the state. The problem is to deliver it. We are yet to develop a supply chain.
Interested in Susthira Rice?