Promoting precision farming techniques among marginalised farmer groups in Tamil Nadu
Periyakalakkadi is a village in Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu, situated very close to the Chennai highways and the East Coast Road (ECR). Land in Periyakalakkadi was allotted to rural landless and poor labourers during the Bhoomidhan (Bhoodan) movement through an NGO, ASSEFA . But for the last 25 years, these lands had been lying fallow due to a variety of reasons such as reduced income, cultivation of rainfed crops and cultivation of water-guzzling crops like paddy. Under the TN-IAMWARM (Tamil Nadu-Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management) project, Bhoomidhan lands were under micro-irrigation for the first time in Periyakalakadi village. Lands were kept barren and underutilized due to crop failures, leading to reduced income. The area lacked technological integration. From August 2013 onwards, a project to integrate technological intervention and precision farming with the already established micro-irrigation system was taken up by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).
TNAU developed and implemented the project. The farmers of the region actively participated and cooperated with on-farm demonstrations, they also participated in collective farm operations with common accounting and profit-sharing. This initiative was funded by World Bank through TN-IAMWARM Project.
APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
The project encouraged group farming to share work and create unity, coping with deteriorating land and water quality by using scientific techniques, building self-confidence by increasing income, and overall retention of farmers in agriculture through precision farming and collective, community-driven farming. These goals shaped the following objectives for the project:
• To create awareness on collective farming of vegetables under drip irrigation. These techniques included precision farming components such as cultivation of market-driven vegetable crops and hybrids, soil mulching, use of biological consortia for pest and disease management and training on grading, packaging, and marketing.
• To establish market tie-ups and a quality-based pricing system to maximize profitability
• To study socio-economic dynamics by opening up a group account and sharing profits among members.
The intervention followed these steps:
• Door-to-door meetings with individuals, particularly women to brief them on the project and the scope for income generation from the fallow land;
• Creating awareness groups, conducting participatory rural appraisal and formulation of cropping programme;
• Exposure visits and training for skill development in vegetable farming;
• The mobilization of inputs such as seeds, seedlings, fertilizers and mulching sheet, as well as frequent agro-advisories;
• The revival of the drip system with assistance from TNAU scientists;
• Diagnosis of pest and disease problem, and providing advice on integrated pest and disease management;
• Creating marketing channels after conducting grading;
• Creating a common bank account, depositing daily income which was then shared at the end of the season.