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When all trees have been cut down, when all animals have been hunted, when all waters are polluted, when all air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money. - Cree Prophecy

Monday, August 03, 2015

Green Army: an unique project in Kerala thats win-win for farmers and agri labours!

The first time I heard this from our friends and activists of Thanal, kerala, my imagination went wild..
I knew in a passing that this was in response to raising labour costs and lack of labour, inspite of that my imagination went on..
So I dreamt of an army of people being trained in to accomplishing various field works in quick time very efficiently and leave behind a win-win for both land owners (farmers?) and themselves (the green army foot soldiers). I envisaged a model where many of them (mostly landless labours and the rural India’s unemployed or poorly paid folks) being trained in to sustainable practices of agriculture and they would just come and do tasks like ploughing (with bull), sowing, transplanting, weeding, harvesting etc..and all in chemical free organic ways..
As I said, that was a dream..
And some one had to wake me up from that dream..
Kavitha stepped in..and pushed me to go and see what this green army really was!

It was a fantastic model, a win-win model and very workable and profitable! More than what I could dream!

The monsoon had already set and so it was plush green all over and kerala was in its full color! It is fun to move around in kerala just after (or during) monsoon..intermittent rains..beautiful green all around..and everything looked like ‘just now washed and cleaned’ thrissur was no different..but there is more green to come we know..

As we sit in an auto and ask for the autowala to head to kerala agri univ, he asks which campus..
Oops we didn’t know..we only knew the place name- mannuthy..and we didn’t know there were 2 premises and to which campus we had to head..
As we mention the name Prof Jaikumaran, his eyes light up..
‘Oh! Jaikumaran professoro..i know him..he is my friend.. I will take u there..’
I am not very sure that prof can be ‘his’ friend! So goes our evaluating mind..
and he pulls the auto to the side and calls the man..
yes the same Prof. Jaikumar and announces he is bringing a guest from Chennai!

So that’s the beginning! An auto driver thinks and calls an established agri scientist a friend..and casually talks to him too..and we also get to meet him with a short notice!
That’s Prof. jaikumaran. A much regarded agri scientist. Who is so passionate about military and so has the military discipline etched all over. His spik and span office or the way the whole agri research campus is so well planned and with signages all over is just a small indication..
His obsession with military ways does not end there but in planning to the last detail and executing them on time and ensuring success. And there is also this easy access to the boss that is so prevalent.
Yes, that office is a dream that dreams, work in team and delivers..and every one from top to bottom is smiling, always!
This Ashoka fellow is the reason that a govt office and that too an agricultural university stands up tall and delivers. Yes I say this having visited innumerable agri univs and their research centres across India, one cannot see anything like this – dreaming for the betterment of farmers and also thinking of long term and sustainable! Agri univs generally think and work (if at all they do) only for biggies..and it can be very conditional and rare..but here it is so different..the passion runs all over..the urge to achieve and deliver is imprinted everywhere.

This agronomist reels numbers for everything we talk. He wud reel off stats about 55 lakh unemployed, 25 lakh immigrants working in kerala (yes, immigrants in a state that sent its people as immigrants all over except moon! Or is that joke about armstrong true? )  or the fact that 20000 crore being spent on these immigrant employees and the fact that 8.5 lakh hectares of paddy land shrunk to <2 .5="" ha..="" lac="" p="">
So keeping fallow or using it for something else wasn’t a solution..infact he says keeping fallow is first step to ‘converting’!
But there is no agri labour!
But there is a social and emotional question in front of our hero: If my son has to become a doctor or engineer why shud a farmers son/daughter become a farmer? (though his son is in Air force he feels he also doesn’t have the moral right)..
How very true..something that I confront often as a social activist!
So whats the way out? He thinks of a solution where ‘creating a social set up where every one does all work’ and it is attractive in all sense (including financially)..
So he comes out with a model where ‘development’ comes from bottom, from people in rural India and where Farm work will be seen and practiced as divine work!

He also narrates us how a country that wouldn’t produce enough food and milk will mean even Gods will go hungry! He says ‘I come from a tradition where we were asked to pray before starting our food. We had to think of and thank the annadatta before taking the first mouthful’

Jai Jawan, jai Kisan is the slogan of Green Army and ones sees that written all over!
He says he understood there was so much of drudgery in agri labour and there was no charm, respect nor money. So it was service and service charge  that his agri folks were delivering. He just linked all this and came up with a model where there is social security too.
He asks ‘ why shud a coconut climber come if there is no insurance for him/her?’
So a model that includes social security in the form of insurance, PF, etc is born. Thru a welfare fund.
Food Security Army (FSA)
What started in early 90s as a one off experiment when he encountered a 8 row low cost transplanter which could transplant half acre in 1 hour! In a state where there is so much labour shortage and the per hour labour charges is way high,

Training (like the army training, a full fledged thorough one  ending with ‘passing out parade’ and ‘pledge’) is paid for, costing 15k. The best part is that the panchayat pays this in almost all cases or it is thru some other rural fund/scheme. In Kerala such schemes really work bottom up..

There is so much to learn and improvise..and prof Jaikumaran and his team is always up to it.. when they bought (and brought) the coconut climber from TNAU it costed them 7k and was weighing heavier but the professor’s team re-engineered it and reduced the weight and cost by half and now most of their women warriors use it. It was indeed demonstrated by a woman warrior to us!

They have a coconut climbing army now. Which is self reliant and makes its own economical statement!

In the early 90s the Prof happened to see a low cost paddy transplanting machine (from where else but China ) and uses that, then tries to popularise it by offering training. A state where there is acute labour shortage (and so the cost per labour being very high) paddy cultivation was being given up by he not only gave training for the farmers, women and labours but also ave the machine to them for using in the farms..
Yes, an agri scientist not only talks of an useful machine (cost effective at that) but also trains the folks and importantly even gives it to them..thus not taking the route of a machine, report and rotting in their university garage..
Such was his style that many women took to training by paying the training fees!
Till date there are many women who got trained (up to the level of dismantling and servicing the whole machine thread bare!) and use them..
In 190 training sessions till now 2544 men and 1809 women have ‘graduated’!

It is a very viable business option as Latha Ravindran has shown in her “individual” model..
Then there is the cooperative model..and the Green one where it is organic like what Anup Kishore has shown in Vadakanchery..(these 2 stories will follow soon)

Prof Jaikumaran went on to achieve what he set out for..
To infuse dignity and esteem to the agri labour; reducing drudgery; and social security for its members in the from of insurance, PF etc
These groups (mostly women) went on to attain economic security by really earning more by planning and planting more..(and yes, they call it service charges and not wages!!)
What ever the model they adopt, it has been a big hit- financially..and they have indeed made lotsa money..the fact that the panchayat or some service bank sponsors the training and they also buy the transplanting machine (and give it free under various scheme or rent it out to the groups)..thus making it a very unique and successful model!
It is a win-win for both the land owner and these people..
Where 30 women labour are required for the conventional transplanting for an acre a day, 7 labour with this machine can do 2.5-3 acre in a day.
So what could have costed a land owner some 12k to transplant manually will cost 3500 per acre..if u add the seed cost and bed preparation the saving is still around 8k!
Where as these service providers (yes, they aint labour and their charge- service charges!) also gain: around 10k a day split between 7 of them..far higher than a days labour.

This whole thing got  very famous after their big achievement when it successfully overcame the challenge called “Operation ponnamutha 300/5” 5 days they had to transplant 300 acres in the famous wetlands (below sea level)..our man, Prof jaikumaran like the typical army man, got in to action..creating (or deploying?) 24 battalions  that will each complete 2.5 acres a day thus amassing 60 acres each day and thus achieving that 300 acres in 5 days..these 24 battalions were under 9 regiments..each regiment getting 5 lakhs each totally aggregating 45 lakhs for the whole project. There were the mobile repair unit, servicing units, food catering units, monitoring units, etc that was clearly thought out and deployed by this chief..there were the temporary toilets too as there were many women who were in the battalions! So changing rooms, medical kits were all brought in the said time all the 300 acfres were done with nursery raising to transplanting to gap filling being done..

He doesn’t stop here..there are many more like the coconut climber and many other devices that are added to the list..a green cadet corps (like NCC), a national centre of excellence, “jaivam amrutham”- an organic force that will bring all chemical free practices are in the pipeline.

Such people are great hopes and motivation..if one man “army” like this Prof Jaikumaran can make such a big change and bring about smiles in to so many families, from inside the govt agri system..and to see the changes and impact that this man has created, we got to meet a few of the tall achievements..or achievers.. Latha Ravindran and Green Army of Anup Kishore in Vadakanchery.
That’s for another day:-)
Meanwhile if u want to read a very well written piece on the same go to Kavitha’s blog here:
(its with kavitha that I went to see Green Army and FSA)


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