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Diversification of Crops, and Horticulture

Mono-cropping was the main practice followed till the 90s, each farmer relying on one or two traditional water-thirsty crops. Over time, reliance on crops like groundnut in dry lands, and paddy in wetlands, meant that above ground reserves were increasingly over-exploited.

Knowledge of sustainable practices of water-conservation was also low, which meant farmers knew no alternative cropping options. Mono-cropping came with a set of problems that got aggravated with sustained practice:

  • Incidence of root diseases in crops
  • Faster depletion of water reserves and soil-nutrients when solely depending on water-thirsty traditional crops.

With technical inputs from experts via RDT, farmers were made aware of mixed cropping, and its optimising effect on the water reserves, and they were introduced to the idea of trying out horticulture instead of traditional water-intensive cropping. In parallel, farmers were also sensitised about restoring the water table and a knowledge base was laid for practicing water conservation as well as optimal cropping.

For dry lands, crops like bajra, jowar, millets, horse gram, pulses, and maize were introduced. Whereas for wet land or irrigated lands, commercial crops like vegetables and flowers were grown.

One of the key challenges faced when mixed cropping was suggested in wet/irrigated lands via fruit plantation, was that most fruit plants would take approximately 5 years before there would be any yields. So in order to reassure and insulate people from lengthy harvest cycles, they were advised to plant three different crops – vegetables, fruits and traditional crops, all on the same piece of land.

“RDT brought hopes and growth to our region, with the new crops helping improve the overalleconomy. Today we are all engaged in further development of the region rather worrying about our situations.”

Drought-resistant crops were explored and experimented with, and were divided into short-term yield crops – 2-3 months, e.g. watermelon, tomato; medium-term yield crops – up to 1 year, e.g. banana, papaya, chilli, onions; and long-term yield crops – up to 5 years, e.g. mango, sapota, guava. Horticulture in particular caught on well among villagers.

During 1996-1997, RDT promoted awareness of using tissue-culture bananas as a viable inter-crop. Until then, bananas were largely unavailable in Ananthapuram and saplings were brought from the neighbouring Kadappa districts. Kuderu was the first place where tissue-cultured plantains were experimented with. Despite the fact that bananas are water intensive they were promoted for two reasons:

  • They could yield produce for 3 consecutive years starting from the first year meaning farmers had access to interim income while intercropping with other longer yield-interval crops.
  • There was a scarcity of bananas in the district

In the 90s, the state and Indian central government were also conducting a horticulture programme- NHM (National Horticulture Mission), and both efforts worked in concert to drive awareness about and increase the footprint of horticulture, among rural farmers in Ananthapuram. In Sept 2014, RDT distributed a total of

  • 78,22,620 saplings of various species of fruit plants
  • 269 units of vermi-compost kits for organic farming at the subsidised rate of Rs.35,000 for both the shed built and the worms

Kitchen gardens/backyard horticulture was promoted as they put waste water to good use. In addition to this, they added to farmers revenues as well. More than 69,000 sets of kitchen-garden/ back yard horticulture kits were distributed. The kits composed of seeds and saplings of useful plants and trees like chilli, brinjal, tomato, papaya, drumsticks, spinach, cluster beans, curry leaves, coconut and others. A new culture of plenty has evolved in this previously fallow district, where farmers barely had enough, now go confidently outside to other neighbouring districts and even to Karnataka to sell crops like potatoes, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage – crops that were unheard of as this area’s produce. What’s more, the practice of keeping nurseries has also been inculcated and taken hold and today prosperous farmers run greenhouses on their plots.

HIGHLIGHTS
 
STAFF SPEAK
 

It was a sad state of affairs in Ananthapuram and surrounding regions in terms of agriculture and its impact on the people. From the late 1980s, RDT supplied rain-fed crops and slowly evolved to the system of horticulture, which gave the farmers a sense of hope to grow and have self-sustained life. For us also, it was great work towards maintaining the ecological biosphere for a longer term.

M.Priyanka, M.Sc.(Hort.),
SMS(Hort.)

SUCCESS STORY
 

Mr. R. Oomla Naik, 32, belongs to Beluguppa Thanda village, and grew groundnut on his lands, just as his ancestors did. Crop yields of groundnut were not able to sustain his family members and his debts increased year by year and reached up to Rs. 70,000/-. In this situation, he requested RDT’s Ecology staff for their help. RDT officials inspected his land and suggested that he plant banana under the ‘Diversified Horticulture Programme’.

He was provided seedlings for 9 varieties of banana, and was assisted in setting up drip-irrigation systems by RDT and received fertilizers and pesticides from Government under the ‘Tribal Welfare Programme’. With further information inputs on cultivation, water management, and pest and disease management from the officials of RDT, Mr. Naik got nearly 47 tonnes of banana yield with a gross income of Rs. 5,17,000/-and a net income of Rs. 2,87,000/- within a span of one year.

“I never expected this much of amount in my life. Without the technical and financial help from RDT, I could not have achieved this much progress”

Mr. R. Oomla Naik,
farmer

PARADIGM SHIFT
 

Now, there is a general sense in the villagers, that change is the name of the game. Armed with the acquired knowledge of diversification, they are now always willing to learn more and evolve. This has enabled them to take risk and try new crops and succeed.

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