August 2016

Integrated pest management methods improve yields for cotton farmers in Tamil Nadu

Cotton farmers in Perambalur, Tamil Nadu, discover the secret of integrated pest management to save their fields of white gold and reap better returns

 Integrated pest management has helped cotton farmers in Tamil Nadu to save their crops and generate profits

“Growing cotton is our only source of income,” says Manoharan, a small-time farmer in Vyalapadi in the Perambalur district of Tamil Nadu, India. Cotton flourishes in the region’s black soil because of which 90 percent of the farm population is dependent on this cash crop. The farming community here has to battle with the usual problems that cotton farmers all over Asia have to face – the vagaries of the rainfall, pest-induced diseases, lack of technical knowledge, high production costs, and low incomes.

Cotton is the main source of livelihood for 100 million low-income and small-scale farmers across China, Pakistan, and India, which together account for 60 percent of the cotton harvested globally. In these parts of the world, shortage of adequate resources forces marginal farmers to take loans to meet regular expenses. Statistics show that up to 50 percent of this expenditure is wasteful, largely due to the extensive use of non-recommended chemicals and poor knowledge of best practices. Often, farmers are left in despair, when adversity strikes and they lose their crop.

Manoharan shares his story about a time when crop failure seemed imminent. “My wife and I worked very hard on harvesting cotton and we had a field full of the crop. Suddenly, our entire field withered. We couldn’t understand the reason and didn’t know what to do,” he reflects, talking about a pest-inflicted disease breakout that brought a pall of gloom on farmers like him, two years ago.

A ray of light brightened the bleak scenario when a project supported by the Tata Trusts, sought to ease farmers’ woes by introducing the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of cotton. The project kicked off in 20 villages of the Veppur block in Perambalur.

Aimed at maximising productivity and profits for small and marginal farmers, IPM is a globally adopted knowledge-based strategy that starts from the pre-sowing phase and continues till the post-harvest stage. It trains farmers to follow the recommended ‘Package of Practic’e (PoP) of taking up soil testing, spraying the recommended doses of organic and chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and monitoring their fields for potential outbreaks. The focus is on promoting the use of a combination of economical and environment-friendly biological, cultural, and chemical controls to cultivate cotton.

Implemented by the Tamil Nadu regional centre of the Reviving Green Revolution (RGR) Cell, a Tata Trusts’ programme, the results of the Perambalur project have been encouraging. On an average, participating farmers have earned a net profit of Rs22,000 per acre, compared to non-participating farmers, who earned approximately Rs6,000 per acre and typically applied 40 percent more fertilisers than the farmers who had participated. The Kharif crop of 2014 witnessed a severe prodemia (pest) and a parawilt (disease) outbreak and it was mainly through the RGR Cell’s efforts that farmers could treat both problems simultaneously. Many of them were able to save their entire crop with a single spray of the recommended pesticide at the appropriate time.

“When I was worried about my diseased cotton crop and didn’t know what to do, I was fortunate enough to be educated by the Tata Trusts-RGR cell about the parawilt attack, and arrangements were made to spray Cobalt Chloride to prevent my crop from total destruction,” says a relieved Manoharan. At the cost of a mere Rs2,000, he managed to save his entire crop and earn Rs1.36 lakh from four acres. This initiative not only introduced IPM to Manoharan and gave him the confidence to follow the recommended PoP, but also educated and convinced fellow farmers to adopt IPM practices for increased productivity and profitability. Today, Manoharan is a happy and empowered farmer, educated enough to take adequate precautions to save his fields of ‘white gold’.

Supported by the Trusts, the RGR Cell’s Regional Centre in Tamil Nadu has so far covered 4,000 famers across 20 villages of the Veppur block in Perambalur*. The success of this project establishes the benefits of IPM in cotton farming. It can be used as an alternate agricultural extension mechanism by scores of farmers in the country, dependent on cash crops for a living.

*SRTT Annual Report, 2014-15.