COTTON: Farmers' own success stories from India's cotton fields
When Sudhakar Muley, 40, from the Harthkeda village in Jalna, Maharashtra, switched to organic fertilisers he was amazed to witness that this in turn meant that he could drastically reduce his dependence on chemical pesticides.
“I used only one chemical pesticide, against the mealy bug, and saved a lot of money besides supporting soil health – the chemical sprays tend to kill ‘good’ insects such as earthworms and ladybirds, too,” he points out.
The project trains farmers on how to use more sustainable farming practices to improve their crop production. The aim is to enable farmers to produce quality cotton using organic fertilisers, while also reducing the use of chemical pesticides and water. And by using fewer chemicals, farmers’ health improves.
“The chemical pesticides had severe side effects, but my health problems vanished after I opted for better practices,” adds Sudhakar Muley.
Appasaheb Shere, Muley’s young neighbour, experimented with the conventional flood irrigation technique he had been practicing for years. After installing drip irrigation, he noticed not only that his cotton yield doubled but also that the quality improved significantly. The water usage was effectively reduced, and the cotton produced was fresh, white and free of diseases:
“Earlier, with flood irrigation, I’d get a yield of 25 quintals (2,500 kg) from 4.5 acres of land. But after applying the drip irrigation method, my production doubled to 50 quintals (5,000 kg),” says the happy farmer.
The project develops farmers’ know-how so that they can improve their cotton yields and in turn improve their incomes, while also safeguarding their health and protecting the environment through improved soil management and water conservation.
One important aspect is to improve women’s health by introducing safer pesticides and insecticides, as they are exposed to harmful sprays when they help the men carry, mix and dilute chemical insecticides prior to spraying them in the fields. Also, a special coat, called “Sulabh”, has been developed to help prevent injuries and back problems from the strenuous cotton picking.
Farmer Groups have been set up to give farmers the opportunity to discuss and understand crop developments and to encourage them to adopt new and beneficial practices, for example alternative plant spacing.
“Earlier, I tried spacing plants 4x4 feet and grew 2,700 plants per acre. But here it was demonstrated that a spacing of 4x1 would be more beneficial. I tried this and actually maintained a plant population of 10,000 plants per acre”, says Badri Saheb Muley, 30, also from the Jalna district in Maharashtra.
Average outcomes at the WWF project in Aurangabad in 2010:
• 30% less water use
• 38% less chemical pesticides used
• 32% less chemical fertilisers used
• 31% higher gross margins