Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Monday, May 30, 2016

Our avian neighbours

remember our post on birds of pR back in 2011? well, the willing bird lover arrived in the form of our friend Sridhar with a brand new dslr! we set out at day break and dusk on couple of days and came home with these. 
1) Painted stork
2) golden oriole

3) little green bee eater

3) little green bee eater - eating dragonfly

4) loten's sunbird - female

5) orphean warbler or plain prinia?  not sure please help!

6) Jerdon's bushlark

7) ashy prinia
7) ashy prinia - singing

8) Pied bushchat - male

8) pied bushchat - female

9) pied crested cuckoo

10) plaintive cuckoo

10) plaintive cuckoo - another view

11) red headed falcon

6) Jerdon's bushlark

6) Jerdon's Bushlark
12) paddyfield pipit
13) small green billed malkhoa

14) spotted dove

15) spotted owlet

16) white browed bulbul

17) silverbill or white throated munia

18) white breasted kingfisher

19) red vented bulbul

20) magpie robin
21) cattle egret - female - breeding

22) indian robin - male

23) Common Iora - male and female

23) Common Iora - female

23) Common Iora - male & female

24) koel - female

25) lesser goldenbacked woodpecker

26) crimson breaster barbet aka coppersmith

27) crow pheasant or greater coucal

28) black drongo

29) forest wagtail

30) baya weaver - female

31) indian roller or blue jay

32) brahminy mynah

32) brahminy mynah

33) hoopoe

Thanks again to sridhar for taking these fantastic pictures and to siddharth for quick spotting.

Here are a few more species spotted by us regularly but not captured in camera. we will update this post as and when sridhar visits us again and shoots a few more pictures.  A couple in (?) are the ones that only one of us have spotted. They will be confirmed with more sightings.

34) common babbler
35) blue rock pigeon
36) yellow wattled lapwing
37) red wattled lapwing
38) white breasted water hen
39) watercock aka kora (?)
40) indian peafowl
41) grey francolin
42) black shouldered kite
43) shikra
44) montague/pale harrier
45) white browed wagtail
46) common mynah
47) jungle crow
48) palm swift
49) ashy woodswallow
50) roufus tree pie
51) brain fever bird
52) pond heron
53) little egret
54) black headed munia
55) white rumped munia  (?)
56) purple sunbird
57) purple rumped sunbird
58) rose ringed parakeet
59) eurasian collared dove

Saturday, May 28, 2016

paddy production - an indicator

in the previous 2 posts - ruin after rain - part 1 and part 2 i had indicated a surge in paddy production.
here is some evidence to back this.
the state govt (parallel to the center (via the food corp of india)) procures paddy for the public distribution via ration shops (PDS), aanganwadis (ICDS), mid-day meal scheme in government schools and the amma canteens.

the surge in production has meant a surge in procurement and thus what you see below.

in this location, the supervisor indicated a total inventory of around 8000 tons of paddy.
from the time of taking these photos additional rows had been added. there is certainly one more such location in the vicinity and may be more in the overall district.
this is apparently a common sight in thanjavur - the main rice growing area of tamilnadu. and the entire crew is from there.
the stacking is highly artistic and the rain protection is superb. each sack is 40 kgs and each stack has 2992 sacks -> each stack has around 120 tons of  paddy. phew...

to answer a common query - this production surge is not likely to see any impact in the price of rice in retail. these economics are beyond us for now!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

watermelon - watch ur melon

as briefly touched in previous post, watermelon (WM) has been a money spinner to farmers this year.
one of the obvious reasons has been the relentless heat right from Jan 2016 onwards, keeping the demand high through this year's 3 odd months.

it is also a fact that WM has not been this big a hit since 2011.  so it could just be an one-in-five year blip.

WM growing and economics - circa 2009 - from the TamilNadu Agriculture University (tnau) website, gives a complete breakdown of growing/chemicals used/yields/revenue-expenses-profit calculations.
careful reading of the above, clearly shows the regularity and intensity of use of chemicals over the 65-75 day growing period.
and the costs of these chemicals is approx Rs. 25000 out of a total of Rs 45000.
the farmer misses out on seed cost which is pretty high.
this year farmers in our area have made a profit of around Rs.50000-75000/acre. these kind of figures are impossible with regular-joe crops like grains/millets/oilseeds.

WM growing fields used to be a classic ridge-furrow system with flood-watering in the furrows once a week or so.
since the advent and growing popularity of drip irrigation and plastic sheet mulching, most WM growing is now by this system.
just image search for "watermelon sheet mulch" to get a sense of how WM field looks like.
and the drip irrigation ensures that all the growth-promoting chemicals are delivered right at the root zone of the plant.

this type of mulching lasts for 2 crops (i.e., 5 months) on an average and then is gathered and burnt and the process is repeated the next season.
hence there is a slow but steady influx of plastic particles into the soil.

that the final WM fruit is riddled with multiple chemicals is a undeniable fact. it is also true that the WM farmers barely eat their own output. even the local villagers are now wise to the fact of these WMs ill effects. it is not uncommon to see fields strewn with "off-spec" WM (misshapen, too small, etc.) and no takers for them, not even cattle.

we avoid WM unless we grow them.
readers are advised to be careful, very careful when it comes to eating this fruit.

regular readers may recall - watermelon bonanza from 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

ruin after the rain - part II

it was forecast to be a poor farming season early march.

looking at predictions vs actuals:
Pr: "it is only around 90 days since the rains stopped and already the well levels have dropped alarmingly. the lakes/tanks of the area will barely be able to cover one cropping season (till april end or so)."
Act: tanks dried up early april itself. wells were brought into service and those without that facility had to pay for it.

Pr: "paddy crop seems relatively less affected but due to oversupply offtake prices are likely to be depressed for paddy." as if this was not adequate misery, the farm lease rates and the daily agri labour rates had also gone up by 25-50%.

Act: last year paddy price was Rs 1000-925 (max-min) for 80 kgs. this year it was Rs 900-700. in fact as of today, there are no buyers even for rock bottom rates.
had last year's rates held, the farmer would have made Rs 5000/acre profit (best case - maybe 2% of the farmers) but at the prevailing off take prices now the average farmer would have  made a loss of Rs 5000/acre. a farmer who took a nearby 2.5 acre farm on lease took home a loss of 20k for his work from dec to march! makes us wonder why farmers bother to grow paddy at all.
a high level local trader was lamenting that his stock levels was not moving to the next stage (rice mills) and was likely to make serious losses!!

another statement: "in our 6 years, we have never seen pesticide sprays on groundnut crop (no. 1 cash crop of this area). already farmers (with cash) have resorted to 3 sprayings, and everyone at least 1. and this has barely had any effect."
Act: groundnut prices are better than last year. before you rejoice, the yields have dropped dramatically - by almost 50% on an average. and so is the case with pigeon pea, black gram and green gram. almost certainly entirely attributable to the pest attack.
so again the farmer gets rogered.

wait. some farmers did have it good this season. the watermelon growers. it was not just good, it was a bonanza for them. with scorching heat right from early march and no rain in the season, there was no shortage of demand. prices and yields were good throughout. average profits were almost Rs 1 lac/acre. more about this in another post.

net result: the season has been an unmitigated disaster. taking a crop holiday and earning as agri labour would have been the best option.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

sign of the times

Dec to april every year is the best growing season for this part of the world for apparent reasons – cooler weather and abundant water. Most lands are under cultivation with either paddy or groundnut or more recently water melons. With deficient rainfall over the last couple of years the area under cultivation had dropped.

Over the last six years we have noticed that there has been no addition into the agriculture labour force year on year. Young women from the rural areas are being employed in 'companies' in the SEZs and most young men either become drivers or go into catering. Quite understandably these are preferred over hard labour in the sun on the fields.

This year due to unprecedented rains, 100% of the area has been cropped uniformly post the monsoon thus increasing the requirement for farm labour. MGNREGA also was in full swing in order to fulfill the year's quota before the close of financial year. With relatively easy work and good pay under MGNREGA, more and more labour are choosing not to work in the fields (rightly so for why would anyone labour in the hard sun if not out of necessity). Unfortunately we chose this year to hand harvest our paddy and ended up doing most of the work ourselves due to lack of labour. We had to put in over 6 hours a day at a stretch for over 25 days to complete an acre and a half of paddy. It was a frustrating experience expecting promised labour to show up and continue working alone due to no-show. Tempers ran high and we thought people were delibrately giving our work a miss. But we noticed most fields in the neighbouring areas were being laboured on by lone woman or couple due to lack of helping hands. It pushed people to their edge what with Jan and Feb being quite hot!

This also happens to be the marathon season...

16000 runners – chennai marathon – jan 2016
40000 runners – mumbai marathon – jan 2016
4000 runners – auroville marathon – feb 2016

our village is roughly inbetween chennai and auroville....assuming everyone ran (expended work) for atleast 50 hours over two months including training, thats a whopping 20,000X50 = 10,00,000/5hrs = 200,000 person days - not to include all the gym times people put in. Imagine utlilising this level of energy for agriculture. Cannot see how this is not a win-win!

Wendell Berry's nails it in his essay titled 'Sanitation and the small farm',

“...physical exertion for any useful purpose is looked down upon; it is permissible to work hard for “sport” or “recreation”, but to make any practical use of the body is considered beneath dignity.”

and the man also said..'eating is an agricultural act'!

the ruin after the rain

the deluge in november 2015 and the floods of dec 2015 seem to be a distant memory now.

with this excess water, cropping area nearly tripled and the farming community looked for a prosperous and bountiful farming year.

but alas.....
it is only around 90 days since the rains stopped and already the well levels have dropped alarmingly. the lakes/tanks of the area will barely be able to cover one cropping season (till april end or so).

added to this misery, the pest levels are at astronomical levels. we have lost over 100s tomato/cauliflower/chilly plants, amongst losses of over 25% (estimated) in field crops of legumes/oil seeds.
in our 6 years, we have never seen pesticide sprays on groundnut crop (no. 1 cash crop of this area). already farmers (with cash) have resorted to 3 sprayings, and everyone at least 1. and this has barely had any effect.

paddy crop seems relatively less affected but due to oversupply offtake prices are likely to be depressed for paddy. 

as if this was not adequate misery, the farm lease rates and the daily agri labour rates had also gone up by 25-50%.

but agricultural labour never had it so good. employment was plentiful and labour rates were high. being election year mnrega allocation was in full swing and 'occupied' the time of most agri labour for better part of everyday. with mnrega taking away the 'need' for anyone to work for a living few were willing to work on agri fields. with lesser hands and hours for agri work, labour rates shot up and a lot of argi work (like field prep and de-weeding) were either not done or done very poorly with very stretched few hands.

sight from here is not pretty. pest and grass ridden fields with lone woman here and there fighting a losing battle against weeds and pests.

so in net result, it is scary to think what the farmer will be able to take home for all their efforts from this 'best growing season' of the year.

Friday, January 01, 2016

recommending Raibar - a monthly magazine

SIDH is a wonderful bunch of experimentalists based out of Tehri Garhwal.

they have a monthly magazine called Raibar - a delightful read, for people interested in 'real' stories.

i highly recommend it.

for subsciption, please contact
raibar.sidh AT gmail DOT com
+91 - 9760049414/9767408270

Saturday, December 05, 2015

2015 North East monsoon - rain data at farm

expanding on the earlier brief post, here is the rain data in our area since oct 1, 2015.

period                     rain (mm)             cumulative (mm)
oct I week                65                           65
oct IV week              20                           85
nov I week                125                         210
nov II week               310                         520
nov III week              250                        770
nov IV week              270                         1040
nov 30, dec 1           530 (30 hrs)           1570

the last item was replicated in chennai metro area and its hinterlands and caused the massive flooding.

but in our area, there was no flooding, the nearby villages were barely affected, excess water drained in less than 24 hours, power restored in 36 hours and the net access resumed from today morning.

after 4 years of continued dry spell, we watched this cascade with fascination and thirsty eyes.

some images from nov 

zamin endathur big eri (lake) from hill top

zamin endathur sitheri (small lake) from hill top

zamin endathur sitheri (small lake) with hill top in the background

zamin endathur sitheri overflow weir
view from our home (netrambakkam eri)

the topography of the area came alive. fields drained from one to another and streams and canals revealed themselves. water flowed along the least resistant path. our land is upsteam to an eri and we watched the eri fill up with awe and a prayer of thanks.