Madurai, India: Rainfed farming system

1. Why?

2. Community Representation & Who

Farming communities from eight villages participated in the Resilience Self Assessment. In total 24 persons (three per village) participated from village climate change adaptation committees. The participants  represent small-holder farmers, shepherds, and women farmers having experience in farming ranging from 25 to 60 years in rainfed farming. An elder (75 years old) contributed with knowledge of about 60 years in the agriculture.

The process was facilitated by the DHAN Foundation – DHAN Foundation has a long term project in climate change adaptation in the rainfed farming area of T.Kallupatti block of Madurai district in Tamil Nadu province of India.

3. Narrative

The meaning of resilience in vernacular language was discussed and the communities themselves defined the meaning for resilience with different examples. The following definition was discussed at length and agreed upon by all participants:

resilience is like a weed in our farming; the weed can survive in any climatic change like excess or deficit rainfall, it is resistant to pests and diseases and it completes its life to produce seed for the next generation with its own adaptations to expected and unexpected change. Like this, in farming with different combinations of activities and using knowledge gained over the years to harvest successful crops , we can meet even extreme events faced by the region with adaptive capacity.

Crop diversity mapping in T. Kapllupati block, Madurai India (Photo: Dhan Foundation)

The communities drew farm diversity map and visited fields to explain and exchange best practices within their region. Farmers cultivate six to eight types of crops on the same piece of land with different characteristic plants to survive in heavy rainfall and drought. It ensures at least a few crops from which farmers receive income and food security, and are able to maintain cash flow for six to seven months because of the difference in the crop life cycle. The farmers cultivate Cotton, Pigeon pea, Black gram, Green Gram, Cow pea, garden bean, Pearl millet, castor, Ladies finger and Ridge gourd are getting good return on their investment. Black gram and Green gram come to harvest within 80 to 85 days and help the soil to get nitrogen through fixing by its roots. After the harvest, the plant density is reduced and cotton crop growth enhanced. The other crops are cultivated in different rows and harvested separately according to maturity. This cycle provides regular cash flow for the farmers and minimises the risk of a pest attack (castor acts as a trap crop).

Also the communities discussed a lot on cropping season and its change over last few years and how the communities adapt to the change of season, which they call pattam mattram.  Change in rainfall months and distribution of rainfall in the season has negatively impacted the pattam (agriculture season). Due to change in rainfall, farmers have not been able to cultivate groundnut for the past 30 years and Samai, Varaghu (kodo millet) and Thinai (Fox tail millet). Many local indigenous types of millet seeds have been lost from the area. Due to the change of pattam farmers changed their crops to Maize and improved cotton varieties. However, they found that each season attracts more pests and diseases and these new crops are less able to deal with drought. They also recorded high levels of topsoil erosion due to intensive agriculture which effects the crop yield and increases the cost of cultivation. Shifting to Maize is seen by villagers as a mal-adaptation. It is a high risk crop with high cost of cultivation (hybrid seed) with inorganic fertilizer application which negatively impacts the soil as well. It affects the indigenous food security hence this crop not cultivated like the existing mixed crop method.

Mapping seasonal change (Photo by Dhan Foundation)

4. Attributes

Following this, attributes for resilience in rainfed farming  were identified by the communities.

  • Mostly the farmers use own traditional seeds helps to adapt the changes in climate
  • Application of tank silt (nutritive soil excavated from common water bodies) to increse the soil moisture holding capacity and nutrition
  • Goat/sheep penning in the farm filed to increase soil fertility
  • Being a part of self-help groups (SHG) or farmers association to access timely financial support and othr services
  • Marketting the produces directly by the farmers and value addition of the produce helps them to increase the farm income
  • Knowledge on predicting climate and selection of crop as per season
  • Practising crop farming with goat/sheep rearing as sustainable agriculture

5. Next steps

The CSAR process has given a shared understanding for eight villages and it acted as a platform to change best practices among the rainfed farming communities. It further united the villagers to strengthen their knowledge and document the existing practices to improve resilience in the farming.

DHAN Foundation will look to use the CSAR methodology across their programming areas and also for the organisations own comparatively capability.



Adhinarayanan  R email:

6. Resources to share

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