One of the challenges of undertaking organic farming is that the inputs for the enrichment of soil fertility are not readily available in good quality or in sufficient quantities. Hence, one of the efforts that were taken up at the field level was the setting up of two kinds of units to produce inputs that served as fertilizers for sustainable agriculture namely – neem seed powder and vermicompost. These are described below.
Neem Seed Powder
Marutham sells neem seed powder through the unit managed by it. It is sold in bags of 1 Kg, 5 Kg, 25 Kg and 50 Kg bags.
Neem cake makes soil more fertile due to an ingredient that blocks soil bacteria from converting nitrogenous compounds into nitrogen gas. It is a nitrification inhibitor and it prolongs the availability of nitrogen to both short duration and long duration crops. Neem cake also prevents the hatching of pests/insect eggs in the soil. So it gained great demand among organic farmers.
If there is one activity that has propelled Marutham forward as a runaway success, it is this. The company buys neem seeds from a number of sources. It processes it using a grinder/pulveriser machine and makes neem seed powder, which is packed and sold in bags.
However, most farmers are habituated to using synthetic fertilizers. The sustainable agricultural practice of adding neem based fertilizer was initially encouraged through subsidies, in the days before the producer company was formed. Gradually, through several farmer interactions, meetings and trainings, the substantial benefits of using neem based natural fertilizers were realised by the farmers. The amount of chemical fertilizers needed has reduced, the quality of the soil was improving, and more importantly, the neem seed powder protected the paddy crops from attack from small rats. The work put in to encourage the use of neem powder through intelligent use of grant subsidies and community engagement has resulted in very good uptake of the activity. It has generated enough demand for the product to be sold by the producer company.
In fact, demand is fast outpacing current supply. And plans are afoot to upscale this activity. This activity has changed the farming habits of the most hardened chemical farmers. Marutham has been able to mainstream this product, and has created a niche for itself. Throughout the region, members and non-members alike think of Marutham first. They enquire about neem powder availability with Marutham stores before exploring other options. It has built that space for itself in the minds of the farmers here. Even before the company started, they were able to install a neem seed processor plant through the project grants. The running costs are well recovered and healthy profits generated.
Procurement and sale of compost
Promoting organic and sustainable farming cannot be done without promoting composting activities. However, in this day and age, it cannot be expected that all farmers have sufficient cattle and also composting is a time and effort consuming process. Thus, there are several members who prepare vermicompost and liquid manures in bulk quantities. The company buys it from them and sells it to other members or even in the open market. This too, is an income generating activity for members who do this as a group. There are whole SHGs who take up preparation of compost as an activity. Here again, the effective popularising of organic practices is increasing the market for such products.