Rural ventures

A slew of elementary schemes aim to alleviate poverty

By Rama
Published: Sunday 15 June 2003

Rural ventures

Banana waste turns into paper< The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (mssrf) is promoting rural entrepreneurship as a solution to alleviating poverty. The organisation's J R D Tata Ecotechnology Centre located in the village of Kannivadi, in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, conceives and implements many innovative projects in the region.

The centre's coordinator, S Bose, informs, "We have initiated a lot of environment-friendly initiatives in this area -- seed village module, information village module, pulse village module, ornamental fish culture unit, a biomanure production unit and a banana waste-based paper unit. mssrf has made possible the transfer of technologies from laboratories to the villages. Our objective is to make viable business opportunities for the villagers and promote eco-entrepreneurs, without disturbing the environment."

The Reddiarchataram Seed Growers Association (rsga) is a non-governmental organisation promoted by the centre for farmers who used to grow seeds for corporates. But since these companies delayed payments, the farmers have now started growing and marketing seeds themselves. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University provides the farmers with input on seeds while training on hybridisation techniques is given by mssrf.

The centre's information village module comprises four villages -- Kannivadi, Pudupatti, Samiyarpatti and Thonimalai. A computer network connects these villages. Significantly, Thonimalai is a remote mountain village inaccessible by motor transport. The information centres are run by self-help groups (shgs), who are given basic training in computers and web page designing. The centre also provides technical guidance and supervision.

Basic information required by the villagers is collected from government departments and other sources. The data includes schemes for women, loans, subsidies, agricultural tips and more. The information is made available in Tamil at village information boards and is also uploaded on the local network. The information centre also brings out a bi-monthly newsletter.

Kannivadi is a well-known vegetable growing region. Its nearest market is located at Oddanchatharam, about 17 kilometres away. rsga volunteers collect information from the 180 shops in the market and pass it on to the information centre. The prices at the two other major markets, Dindigul (vegetables and flowers) and Nilakottai (flowers), are also made available. This information helps farmers make important decisions such as when to harvest and when to transport produce to the market.

The village of Samiyarpatti depends to a great extent on pulse cultivation. The centre helps local farmers make more profits by using the Variable Rate Application technology. This method tests the soil in different parts of a field and analyses the rate of fertiliser absorption. By adding only the required amount of compost, local farmers have managed to reduce fertiliser application by 40 per cent, while increasing yield by 25 per cent. The centre has also set up a mini dhal (pulse) mill unit to process the pulses.

The ecotechnology centre also initiated a project to breed ornamental fish in three villages. But the scheme failed as cement tanks were used to house the fish, which stunted their growth. The centre therefore changed its strategy and is now promoting pits in the ground. Two shgs have taken up this project. One of them made a profit of Rs 28,000 in just 60 days.

Biomanure production from banana waste is taking place in two villages. Since the local market is not promising, plans are afoot to explore nearby tea estates (for use in the cultivation of organic tea). Around 2000-3000 hectares of land is under banana cultivation in the Dindigul area, with around 4000-5000 tonnes of waste generated. Earlier, the farmers used to pay labour charges to get this waste removed from their fields. Now, the villagers remove the waste free of cost to make biomanure and banana waste-based handmade paper.

Another of the centre's successful projects is the development of low cost greenhouses. This technology makes possible the growth of upto 100 kilogrammes of brinjal in a space of about 1.4 square metres. Greenhouses have been installed in seven households to grow vegetables at home.

Currently, many of the projects initiated by the centre are facing operational problems due to paucity of water. The villagers are praying for copious rainfall to enable them to sustain these projects profitably.

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