14 July 2016, Banglapadigai: A group of 39 organic farmers from Dindigul visited two farms in Banglapadigai and Samaigodal on 8 July. Brought together by CIRHEP (Centre for Improved Rural Health and Environment Protection), these farmers are interested in forming a PGS (Participatory Guarantee Systems) group along the lines of the farmers in Banglapadigai and Samaigodal. The two-day workshop included one day at the Keystone campus where the process of PGS along with responsibilities and compliance of the group members were discussed. Having received an overview of the PGS system, the group spent the second day in an exposure trip where they met with two sets of farmers working within PGS groups and visited an Aadhimalai Resource Centre.
On the second day, the group travelled to Banglapadigai where they interacted with two farmers, Gujjan and Nanjan, who had devoted 1.5 acres of land to coffee cultivation. The farmers showed the group around the plantation with obvious pride pointing out the arabica and robusta coffee plants and the other perennials like lime, orange and pepper. They patiently answered a flood of questions regarding why and how the group was formed, what benefits have resulted from being part of a PGS group, the process of reviewing and evaluating a peer, maintaining meticulous records of farm activities, etc.
Later, the group visited the Banglapadigai Women’s Resource Centre nearby to interact with the workers and observe processing and storage techniques for farm and wild produce. The group, especially the women, had extensive conversations with the workers present who were working to produce silk cotton stuffed cushions. The questions ranged from the obvious questions related to income augmentation and ease of work to the more sensitive ones relating to changed quality of life for oneself and the family. The group then left for Samaigodal where Khettiamma had planted millets about six weeks earlier. About an acre had been planted with two varieties of millets, maize, pumpkin, beans and other food crops. The group walked barefeet across the fields as millet fields are considered sacred until the millets have been harvested. The group had an animated discussion with Khettiamma regarding different varieties of grain she had planted and the support that the PGS group and Keystone had provided. She explained how she had taken the seed grain from Samaigodal Seed Bank and upon harvest, would be returning twice the quantity to the bank.
The next stop for the group was the Samaigodal Seed Bank which is being supported by The Swallows, one of Keystone’s oldest partners. The seed bank is a small room about 15 by 20 feet in size, remarkably clean and airy, housing about 40-50 earthenware pots lined up along the walls in stacks of twos and threes. Each pot contains seeds of a specific variety. Besides varieties of millets, there were many varieties of beans, vegetables, and pulse seeds. The seed bank maintains an average of 80 varieties of seeds. The seeds showed no signs of rodent or insect attack despite being stored comparatively simply. In reply Shivraj, Subect Manager – Livelihoods, who was also accompanying the group said that the seeds were treated with a paste of lime leaves and ginger and dried before storing. This repelled any insect attack. To deal with rodents, the Seed Bank Managing Committee had installed wire mesh on the windows. The skylights, roof and door were also constantly checked for any gaps that might allow rodents to enter. Besides this, the room was kept scrupulously clean and contained only the seed pots; no other kind of equipment was ever stored there.
When asked about the group’s response to the exposure trip, the representative from CIRHEP remarked that the group had been impressed by the simplicity and effectiveness of PGS system and the benefits that became immediately available to the participants of a group. He hoped that farmers would soon be able to form a PGS group of their own.