When Elango Kallanai proposed his plan to take up organic farming in his native village Narasingampatti six years ago, there was none to encourage his venture. Instead, his fellow farmers branded him crazy and brushed aside his suggestions. Today he is a trendsetter and every farmer in and outside his village looks up to him for viable farm practices.
A research scholar in English, Elango left a lucrative career in IT to turn organic farmer. On 10 acres, he independently developed a profitable organic farming system. “I never romanticised farming. When I took it up, I was aware about the lack of water sources. As a child I had seen 24 water bodies in and around my village but now there are only six. You don’t need an expert to tell the reason.”
In the initial days, his land was in very bad shape. To enrich the soil he did summer ploughing, sowed greens, re-ploughed and closed it. Then, he planted navadanya grains. It took about five to six months and that was the time power cuts were rampant and he could do nothing for the next 18 months. Everybody in the village commented that he was unfit for agriculture.
“But I studied a lot about the market for organic farm produces,” he says.
After the lull, he started with banana plantation. The yield was very low in the first two years. “I was clear I was not producing for the big markets but for the consumers. If you go to open market, they will kill you and decimate your organic interest. So I sent packs of 50 kgs and 100 kgs to my customers in Kochi, Rameswaram and Bangalore charging only retailers’ price and not the organic cost.”
Elango tasted success with the native banana varieties such as Rastali , Naattu Rastali , Naattu pazham , Karpoora Valli and Naattu Poovan and gradually overcame one constraint after the other. In the meantime, he also developed interest in sowing native paddy varieties. “Only when I went in search of native paddy varieties, I came to understand how difficult it was. I had been to several farm festivals in places including Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan and returned impressed. I was thrilled to see Chattisgarh and Orissa preserve native paddy varieties. In Chattisgarh, you can find best rice being served in a roadside eatery. I played it safe and selected Mappillai Samba as its yield is not dictated by external factors,” he says.
But when it comes to organic products, price factor keeps people away. “It is justified. Being price conscious is not crime but at what cost. It is the price one has to pay for drifting away from traditional practices. One kg of organically grown Karuppu Kavuni rice is selling at Rs.200. The price is because of its exclusive nature. Demand is also more. But are we paying reasonable price for the effort put in by a farmer?” he asks.
He sees organic farming as a continuous process. “I have achieved 85 per cent of my target. Now I do nothing on enriching the soil, instead concentrate only on the crop. All my nutrients are directed towards the plant. I try to make farmers self-reliant. But most of them depend on bankers, shopkeepers selling fertilisers and machine makers. You should be in better position to understand your farm and should not allow any other to dictate terms. Once you depend on others, you lose the connection with your land,” he says.
Elango is also a television personality and regularly figures in a talk show for a popular satellite channel. His knowledge on varied subjects from farming and anthropology to Siddha medicine and education has made him a sought after speaker.
He regularly writes for Tamil literary magazine Tamizhini and is at present writing a novel on feminism, which he has planned to release next year. “Even today people ask me why I left the city to settle down in village. Rather getting stuck in a city and being nobody, I preferred to go back to the village and be somebody,” he laughs.
Source : The Hindu