Among the abandoned homes and lands in the Mawathapuram area in Tilippalai in the Jaffna district, Shashi Kumar (43) is tending to his plot of aloe vera planted land early in the morning. The air is still cool with a gentle breeze blowing and he is keen to get his work done before the sun starts beating down in all its fury on this hot, humid land.
Shashi Kumar is one of the few who have returned to his old home in area which he and many others were forced to abandon in 1990 as the war between government forces and the LTTE intensified. His old house remains in crumbles, but the one acre of land that makes up his garden is slowly coming to life as he has taken to organic farming to make a supplementary income to a regular clerical job in an office in town.
'I started with 30 plants and now I have 15000 plants. I use cow dung and compost as fertilizer for these plants. I have two cows and the dung I collect from them is used as fertilizer,” Shashi Kumar says.
His weekly produce is around 15 -20 kilos and he sells it for around Rs 80 a kilo. Along with this and other supplementary crops he plants such as plantains and papaya, he makes around Rs 30,000 a month.”
Shashi Kumar and many others like him get assistance from the regional Agriculture Department by way of seeds and plants while several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO)s and the UNDP also help him out.
Dr. Anjanadevi Sriranjan of the Jaffna Agricultural Department which trains farmers and unemployed people introducing them to organic farming says that in the last one year there are around 55 farmers in Jaffna district who have shown interest in the method.
“They cultivate their own plots of land. Each have around quarter to half an acre of land in which they grow the crops. The farmers have come together in solidarity to form a society - the Jaffna District Organic Produces Society.
The Society gathers once a month under the leadership of an agricultural instructor from the Department and discuss problems encountered during their farming activities,” she says.
The farmers share their experiences and difficulties during these meetings and thus gain knowledge and expertise in organic farming methods.
The society insists strict rules and ethics in organic farming, encouraging its members to visit each other’s cultivation ensuring farmers do not deviate from the learned organic methods. Members are encouraged to use organic fertilizer (compost) and liquid pesticide called the 3G solution, a mixture of garlic , ginger, and green chillies.
The harvest obtained using organic methods are generally 20% lesser in quantity than that obtained from popular farming methods using chemical fertilizer and pesticide, she says but their produce fetch higher prices as organic vegetables and fruits are sparsely available and increasingly sought after.
The traders sell a variety of vegetables and fruits including brinjals , okra , long beans, tomatoes, chillies, carrots, capsicum, banana, and papaya.
They gather at a sales outlet provided by the Department at Thirunelveli every Friday to sell their produce. There is no shortage of buyers although the prices are higher.
Enterprising traders sell their produce in mobile carts stationed on roadside, on other days. Mostly persons who are aware of the value of organic food are the ones who seek out such produce, Dr.Sriranjan says.