On the face of it, the quiet and nondescript Illedu village in Chengalpattu district, about 110 km from Chennai, does not appear to be different from numerous other villages of Tamil Nadu. But it is indeed distinct from the rest as it is home to a laboratory that provides watershed-level weather forecasting.
Called Climate Lab, the facility captures the real-time data from different automatic weather stations established by the National Agro Foundation (NAF), a public charitable trust founded by C. Subramaniam, former Union Minister and a key architect of the Green Revolution, and disseminates the message to farmers through short messaging service (SMS) in Tamil. It also correlates real-time data with historical weather data before issuing agro weather advisory and crop advisory. While weather forecasting is being given twice a week (Tuesday and Friday), the crop advisory is provided to farmers for a crop of their choice.
“In our interactions with farmers and other stakeholders during the implementation of various watershed programmes in different districts of the State, we got the feedback that in some districts, clusters of villages received heavy rain, whereas block headquarters did not get any. This made us ponder over the need to develop watershed-based forecast modelling,” explains M.R. Ramasubramaniyan, executive director of the Foundation. Such variations in rainfall, especially during flowering and harvesting, often affects farming.
Automatic weather stations are being set up as an integral component of watersheds for developing watershed-specific forecasting and crop advisory as a strategy for climate resilient farming. Pointing out that the Foundation began experimenting with this model in 2018, Dr. Ramasubramaniyan clarifies the forecasting model is in the development stage and likely to be improved with the availability of more data. “We follow the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model,” he adds. The outcome of the forecast has been very encouraging as, on an average, the accuracy level is in the range of 80% to 85%.
The watershed-specific weather forecasting is only one of the functions that the Foundation has been performing. Given the Foundation’s focus on agriculture, the welfare of small and marginal farmers and inclusive growth in rural parts of the country, it has been promoting the concept of judicious and efficient utilisation of water in general and for farming in particular. Agriculture, agri-business and watershed development are among the Foundation’s thrust areas. As community mobilisation and financial inclusion are important, the Foundation has a division for social development. There are other units such as training and capacity-building, research and development and laboratory services. The climate laboratory itself is a part of the NAF Centre for Rural Development at Illedu.
Many of the Foundation’s projects are being supported by different institutions such as the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Tamilnadu Small Farmer Agribusiness Consortium under the aegis of the State government’s Department of Agri Marketing and Agri Business, Tata Capital Housing Finance Limited and the Bank of New York Mellon. The Foundation has undertaken activities in seven other States, including Karnataka, Maharashtra and Haryana.
Kanniyammal Balakrishnan, president, Nallur Village Panchayat in Thirukazhukundram block of Chengalpattu district, is a happy person these days, as the Foundation, along with its partner, has rehabilitated several water structures, including a couple of lakes and a checkdam. “For years, the Sitheri (Thangal) lake remained neglected. Now, it has been renovated,” she says. A threshing yard has been set up. “It is a matter of time that we will have, on a full-fledged basis, a direct purchase centre for paddy,” she says.
As part of the Jal Aadhar – Water Conservation for Sustainable Livelihood Project, nine neglected villages of Chengalpattu and Tiruvannamalai districts have been covered. Gopal, a 62-year-old farmer of Eiypakkam village of Vandavasi block in Tiruvannamalai district, explains with a sense of pride how he raised one of the traditional varieties, Seeraga Samba, on one acre following the system of rice intensification (SRI) and measures suggested to him as part of the project. Eventually, he got 16 bags of paddy, for which he spent ₹6,000. He sold them at a rate of ₹ 2,200 a bag. In the conventional method, he would have spent ₹15,000 and earned ₹1,000 a bag.
Uthiramerur, famous for a Chola-era inscription on elective village democracy, appears to be a shining example of a successful farmers’ producers organisation (FPO), if the activity of a local FPO is any indication. Having enrolled 1,000 farmer-members as shareholders from 47 nearby villages, decentralised the operations of the company and ensured the sale of 2,000 litres of edible oil, M. Ezhumalai, chairman of the Uthiramerur FPO, has a number of other plans. “Our seed processing unit has just commenced its operations with about 20 tonnes of paddy seeds being ready. The idea is to increase the sales to 50 tonnes,” he points out.
“Our thrust in future will be on consolidation of small farms into larger land parcels, cultivation using advanced machinery, including programmed application of nutrients, use of digital technologies in terms of forward and backward linkages, market research and price forecasting,” points out S.S.Rajsekar, managing trustee of the NAF and the son of the founder.