noun | Tamil
1. Rice before threshing or in the husk
Rice. We knew that it was going to be our first crop the moment we purchased land at the eastern edge of the Western ghats. With abundance of water flowing in the 128 kms long Thamirabarani river, rice is cultivated twice a year.
What we’ve been trying to practice is the least environmentally destructive form of cultivation in our farm. So, in the case of rice, we want to:
- Practise No-tillage: The premise being that all forms of heavy machinery destroy the structure of soil. Overuse of tractors & harvesters have increased soil erosion, water erosion and destroyed micro fauna living in the soil in the long term.
- Choose native varieties of rice: Because they are most suitable to the local climate and conditions, compared to the more recent hybrid varieties.
- Use only organic manures or use nutrient supplying methods such as crop rotation, green manure, cover crops, etc.
- Use only naturally occurring substances for pesticides or use other pest control methods such as having sufficient bio-diversity, avoid mono culture, etc.
- Try out SRI (System of rice intensification): This method uses much lesser seeds and water than the conventional ways to produce more rice per acre.
In attempt #1, we followed steps 3 and 4. Cultivating organically only shocked the farmers around us and Sesaiyya, our only help. Needless to mention, it was difficult for us to convince Sesaiyya and the others, or so we think. Our attempts at organic cultivation also included bringing about a change in mindsets of the people around us and helping them understand that it’s a completely sustainable form of cultivation, even economically, which will be better (and easy) for them in the long term. Personally, Noushy & I would like to achieve all 5 steps in the next attempts.
So, we planted rice in about 1 acre of land. The local term for area of land is ‘Marakkapadu’. 1 acre of land is equivalent to 12 marakkapadus. Although it was a little difficult to grasp the conversion, I did eventually manage to talk with local farmers and people in marakkapadu terms.
The produce expected out of 12 marakkapadus was 24 sacks* of unmilled rice, but we could only manage roughly around 20 sacks of rice. Our assumption is that either a wild boar or a sloth bear must have damaged portions of the rice fields. While peacocks played their parts too, by eating away a certain portion of the produce of the rice matured.
All said and done, this is the first time in several years or even decades that organic cultivation has been practiced in this land. We are only proud to have tried it and been successful, too. With time, we are sure the productivity of the land will only go up. In our opinion, 16% less productivity doesn’t seem like too much of an impact for eating pesticide-free rice all year long.
As a country, our cereal consumption has predominantly become a rice and wheat combination. Before the green revolution brought in higher yielding varieties of rice and wheat, our grandparents and their grandparents were consuming a large portion of millets in their diets. Millets consume lesser water and have a lot of health benefits which we have been missing out on.
Diversity in our diet is extremely essential if we need diversity in our farms and forests
Economics of Cultivation
The cost of cultivation for 1 acre of Amman Ponni rice turned out to be approximately Rs. 30000. Selling it to a local trader would have earned us around Rs. 21000 for 1500 kgs of unmilled rice. We have decided to sell the rice directly to consumers after milling it in a local rice mill. I am hoping to sell the 900 kgs of milled rice at Rs. 55-60 to customers who visit our home.
*1 standard jute sack of rice contains around 75 kgs of unmilled rice.