Feeling The Pulse

Father of the Green Revolution, Prof MS Swaminathan, has begun a campaign to drive India to self-sufficiency in pulses and to ensure that the common man has more protein rich diet at affordable prices. K Bhavani goes to ground zero and tells a story of a miracle

Three years ago farmers in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, one of the driest areas of the state, congregated at Edayampati village to take a pledge – to grow pulses – at the instance of the father of Green Revolution Dr MS Swaminathan.

Whether it is 53 year old P Lakshmi from Kathavampatti village of Illupur Taluk or S Ramanathan, 52 from Illupur and countless others, they thank their stars and “Swaminathan Sir” for forcing them to take to farming pulses and adopting modern agricultural practices that use drip irrigation and other techniques perfected by the research foundation that he created.

What began as a small meeting of farmers three years ago has become a movement of sorts with a manyfold increase in the pulses cultivation area and most importantly, a doubling of farm incomes of the farmers.

Which is why, Lakshmi swears by the Doctor and his team, as do countless others from the area, now numbering some 10,000 farmers all organized into small farmer companies that are run by the farmers themselves with guidance from the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation based in Chennai.

The first of such farmer companies – comprising farmers from five villages, together cultivating 50 acres of black gram – was the Illupur Agriculture Producer Company Limited. All decisions regarding what to grow, which seeds to purchase, irrigation systems and purchasing, leasing and hiring of farm equipment are taken by the company board comprising farmers only. They also do the processing of the pulses and then market them under own brand name, thus eliminating the middlemen.

This of course gives them more income and slowly the brand is getting more and more over the last four years.

Lakshmi, has just four acres of land of which just one acre is irrigated. The other three are for rain fed cultivation. Her husband had to take up odd jobs in cities to run the family. In 2015, Lakshmi took up 0.75 acre for black gram cultivation with the suggested sprinkler irrigation system.

What began as a small meeting in 2013 has today spread across to many more villages and 1000 farmers have become part of the Pulse Panchayat that Swaminathan has established with an aim to make India self-sufficient in pulses.

Lakshmi says she remembers the day – 22nd April 2013 – when Swaminathan administered the oath to all farmers attending the Pulse Panchayat to intensively work on improving pulse production in the Panchayat.

What happened on that day is historic and memorable for the farmers.

After the declaration of Pulse Panchayat and resolution passed by the Edayapatti Panchayat board, there were intensive training conducted on improved technologies on pulse cultivation, seed selection processes, varietal selection trials, and organizing the farmers into agriculture producer groups (which now total 71). An agriculture service centre was also placed at the Panchayat to provide information, knowledge, implements and inputs.

The farmers were exposed to innovations and given training in critical practices, said Thalaitchamy. “Summer ploughing to avoid the pest attach from the soil, best performing seed varieties selection to ensure good germination and good yield, seed treatment with bio-fertilizers to restrict fungal disease spread, application of enriched farm yard manure, line sowing through using manual seed drill machine, introducing trap crop like castor to control pest attacks, foliar spray of panchakavya (bio growth promoter made out of products from cow), spraying of herbal decoction to control pest attack were some of the new things that the farmers were encouraged to take up,” he says.

How the company works:

The 7th of every month sees the Illuppur Agriculture Producer Company Ltd’s Board of Directors’ meeting. There are 24 executive committee members who participate; 14 director seats are reserved for women. The board is the supreme authority to take all policy decisions on the company’s activities. The board is facilitated by the Chief Executive Officer to undertake appropriate discussions and decisions related to all aspects of the company – training, work, credit, purchase and sales etc. To maintain transparency, every month there is a multitude of reports that are submitted to the board members for review. Once the Board meeting gets over, major decisions and financial statements of the completed month are circulated to all the agriculture producer groups. This practice ensures accountability and transparency and also generates considerable confidence among the farmers about the company.

Pulse Panchayat results:

The total production of pulse in the last year (2015) was 120 tons by the farmers belongs to 5 Panchayats. Of this 120 tons, about 15 tones pulses was procured by the company as a part of a pilot trial to establish systems and procedures for networking buyers. Based on the experience, this year there is a plan to procure 100 tons of pulses for value addition and marketing. The pulses produced by the Pulse Panchayats are procured by the company with a 10% premium price and processed as Dal through the mini Dal mill established at Illuppur by the company.

Branding and marketing:

The procured pulses are processed (cleaned,graded, de-skinned and split) as Dal, packed as 1kg and half kg packets with brand labels, aka with the brand name of “Patikaadu”, and sold to retailers and bulk buyers in different cities like Chennai, Coimbatore, Trichy, Madurai and Pudukkottai. At present the marketing is done through word of mouth; there is an impending plan to go for large advertisements in the future.

In terms of area under pulse cultivation, the same increased from 40 acres in 2013 to 400 acres in 2016.

But overall in India, there still exists a shortage of pulses on account of a fall in production due to drought and deficient rainfall in several parts of the country.

As per Prof Swaminathan, imports to meet shortages are important to overcome domestic shortage. “But we have to look at long term solutions to improve productivity and profitability of pulse crops in our country in the interest of nutrition and income security,” he said, adding that the import of pulses is increasing and now exceeds 3.6 million tonnes. Pulses grown without irrigation and under low soil fertility conditions have average yields of about 500 kg/hectare. However crops like arhar (pigeon pea) grown in Australia from seeds obtained from India yield over 4 tonnes per hectare.

The MSSRF-initiated concept of Pulse Panchayats ensures all farmers in the Panchayat cooperate in rain water harvesting and efficient use, crop health management and safe storage and value addition to primary products.

“After the success of Edaiyappatti village of Tamil Nadu. I hope such Panchayats will result in the origin and growth of pulse revolution symphonies, just as Seed Villages and National Demonstration did in the case of wheat fifty years ago. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses. Every crisis provides opportunity for overcoming the problem which led to the crisis. I hope 2016 marks the beginning of a Pulse Revolution,” Prof Swaminathan added.

The shortages have also meant that pulses have become out of reach for the common man, with prices of different pulses ranging from Rs 150 to Rs 200 per kg.

RS Shanthakumar Hopper, Director, Ecotechnology Centre, MSSRF, shares with TSI, “Not only has the cost of production come down, the gross income per acre has also shot up over the three years. The yield has more than doubled and the gross income has more than trebled due to innovative farming practices and in-house procurement and marketing, all done under one roof.” Once the farmers have tasted success, the same has a demonstrative reactive effect on the neighbouring communities, says Dr Shanthakumar, “There are demands from other village Panchayats to implement the schemes there as well.”

“It is a project that can be replicated elsewhere and scaled up,” he says, adding, “It is the aim of Dr Swaminthan to make India self-sufficient in pulses and make agriculture profitable again.” If what the small and marginal farmers have achieved – doubling of income in three years – in Pudukottai can be replicated elsewhere, then we have something good going here, affirms K Thachinamurthy.

The Pulse Panchayat infrastructure is now being digitized using remote sensing tools and strategic plans developed for pulses production. It also has a village knowledge centre and custom hired farm equipment for the farmers. And for technical help, assistance is on hand from National Pulse Research Station, Vanbam, Government Agricultural Department and MSSRF.

Before the Pulse Panchayat interventions, the farmers’ average productivity was about 194 kgs/acre in rain-fed conditions. The total value was about Rs. 15520 (considering the 2015 price of Rs.80/kg). After the intervention and adapting the improved technologies propagated by MSSRF, the farmers received yield ranges between 230 kgs to 510 kgs.

In other words, many farmers gained double yield. The average yield increase recorded in 2015 was 286 kgs, which is a 47% increased yield for the farmers, those who adapted the improved practices. Subbaiah is a good example for this case; he received 482 kgs / acre in 2015. The average income realisation from pulses for him is Rs. 26,776 / acre (considering Rs 80 + Rs 5 premium), which includes the premium price of Rs.5/kg given by the production company. Also, the farmers gained an additional income through trap crop yield of Rs. 530. In short, the total income from pulses earlier was Rs. 15520/acre and the cumulative income through various aspects at present is Rs. 27,306 (yield + premium + other crops yield).

Clearly, what is going on needs to be popularised through media, because the potential that this effort holds is limitless, even given the success from the relatively smaller set of farming communities. This Dr. Swaminathan-led movement proves that collective effort and coordinated will can transform the economies of scope and economies of scale to an extremely profitable position. And what better way to do it than by involving the very communities that were being affected by lack of productivity. Due to this intelligent move of involving farmers as stakeholders, the intent to act and to be successful is spreading from farmer to farmer, village to village, family to family. Once again, hats of Dr. Swaminathan.