Tomato is the major cash crop in Kottur, Seeriampatti and Eachampallam villages in Dharmapuri district. Being a highly labour intensive crop, tomato cultivation is also a source of employment in these villages. Farmers in these villages have been practicing tomato cultivation, largely depending on expensive external inputs. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are being used indiscriminately, resulting in high production costs. To enable these farmers to switch over to eco-friendly ways of farming in general, and reduce the production costs in particular, it was necessary to empower them in alternative farming practices. Farmer Field School (FFS), a discovery learning system was found most appropriate for this purpose.
ProcessesAgro Eco System Analysis (AESA)
A practice plot of size 0.64 acres was used as the learning and experiencing ground for the participants. Experiments were laid out for Farmer practice, Standard, Long Term Experiments and IPM alternatives. Intercrops like cowpea and border crops like maize, marigold and bajra, were introduced for pest management and as a source of additional income.
Weekly AESA observations in the plots were basis for discussion in sub groups, enabling sharing of experiences and better decision making. Short studies on nutrient management, insect zoo, mulching and leaf compensation, were taken up to enable participants gain hands on experience.Group Dynamics
Group dynamics exercises formed a part of the FFS process for developing team building and problem solving skills. Sharing of experiences FFS participants proactively attended other group meetings in the villages and shared on FFS learnings. A field day was organised at the conclusion of FFS wherein the participants shared their experiences with other tomato growers from five neighbouring villages.
Raising tomato seedlings in nurseries, particularly through the raised bed method enabled farmers to understand its benefits in combating the soil borne pathogens and producing healthy seedlings. Line sowing in the nurseries helps in proper weeding.Use of barrier crops and trap crops
Tomato was always being grown as a sole crop. Prior to FFS, farmers were of the opinion that intercrops competed with tomato crop and attracted pests. Participating in the FFS, participants for the first time, understood the importance of other crops in tomato, clearing their wrong notions. Border crops like maize and bajra served as a barrier to whitefly movement. Marigold as a trap crop attracted fruit borer adults for egg laying, and the cowpea served as a source of food for the predators.Mulching yields multiple benefits
Understanding the benefits of mulching was one of the important learnings. Farm residues like sugarcane trash, unusable paddy straw and coconut leaves, were used as mulch in the tomato field. Farmers observed that the mulching practice resulted in maintaining soil moisture levels resulting in –
Several IPM methods such as use of yellow sticky trap, pheromone trap, pitfall trap, release of Trichogramma egg parasitoids, Chrysoperla predators, spraying of chilli-garlic extract, Lantana leaf extract, Panchagavya, NPV, Pseudomonas fluorescens were the other new learnings in plant protection.Yellow sticky trap
Farmers learnt about trapping sucking pests using yellow sticky traps. Farmers discovered that the colour and the height of the trap were important factors in influencing insect trapping, by experimenting with various colors and adjusting the height of the traps periodically.
Major OutcomesCost Reduction
The production cost reduced by Rs. 13,000 per acre substantially owing to reduced use of certain external inputs. Raising tomato seedlings on their own helped farmers in reducing the seedlings cost by about 68%. Costs on fertilisers and pesticides were reduced by a whopping 75% as compared to the farmers earlier practice. In the absence of weeding on the FFS plot, labour costs reduced by 16%. The total reduction in cost was to the tune of registering 29% drop in the production costs.IPM decisions - Women are making a difference
Decisions on farming, particularly those related to pest management was always a man’s domain in Kottur. But this time, the women participants with their newly gained knowledge through FFS, have followed alternative practices on their field reaping benefits like reduced incidence of red spider mite, which was otherwise damaging the tomato crop extensively. Having seen such benefits, men in the household, though skeptical in the beginning, have started accepting women’s decisions on IPM in tomato cultivation. On the other hand, they are also glad that they could save on expensive chemicals. Men are encouraging women to attend the sessions regularly. Now, women are happy that FFS has enabled them to make positive contribution to farm production through increased knowledge levels. And, men are recognising this.
Comparative costs and returns (per acre)
fertilisers & pesticides)
Farmers realised additional net returns to the tune of Rs. 5315 per acre due to reduced production costs and unusually high farm gate price received during that season. The 3% increase was despite a fall in the yield by 620 kg per acre, in the very first year of transition from chemical farming to LEISA practices.Farmer Innovation - A local alternative to yellow sticky trap
The participants innovated an alternative to the yellow sticky trap. Coconut shell and rachis were collected, painted yellow and were smeared outside with castor oil to trap insects. Smearing of castor oil was repeated every 3-4 days to effectively trap the pests.Igniting young minds on ecosystem conservation
This was an unique experience in helping children understand the relationships within an ecosystems. Children, during their free time, were involved in certain FFS activities. They participated enthusiastically in activities like field observation, preparation of charts and their presenting. With their new understanding on crops, pests and their relationship, these young children, in turn, shared their knowledge with their school teachers and other students.
The programme was done by AME Foundation during 2005 in association with MYRADA
Source : AME Foundation