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Organic farming practices revive Indian farmland ruined by 2004 tsunami

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(NaturalNews) Just 15 days before harvest, nearly 24,000 precious acres of farmland was destroyed in Nagapatnam, a coastal district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, by a devastating and unexpected tsunami.

Massive walls of saltwater came crashing down on the coastal district, killing more than 6,000 people, which accounted for more than 85 percent of the state's death toll, according to a report by IPSNews.net.

Farmland was instantly inundated with volumes of saltwater and meter-high piles of sea slush. Instead of receding, the saltwater lingered, killing any remaining crops and contaminating small ponds dug by farmers with the help of government aid. As the saltwater slowly evaporated, the soil began to have a "pickling effect," according to local farmers, and lost all of the beneficial microbes required for future harvests.

Saltwater from Asian tsunami robbed fields of nutrients, leaving behind dead, muddy soil

Robbed of its nutrients, the land was unable to support essential trees, which contributed to "saltpan" looking fields that were filled with miles of dead soil, caked in mud.

The 2004 tsunami affected the livelihoods of more than 10,000 Indian farmers, who had been in the business for generations. Recognizing the region's hardship, the government offered farmers new jobs, trying to "[L]essen the economic burden of the catastrophe."

Despite reports from technical inspections that said soil rehabilitation could take up to 10 years, farmers were reluctant to change occupation, with some of them trying to plant crops within a year of the devastation.

Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain, as not one single seed sprouted.

However, when non-profit organizations stepped in with their organic soil-renewal ideologies, the tables began to turn. The first thing they did was measure the extent of damage, including the depth of saltwater penetration as well as the soil's available organic content.

Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers' Movement (TOFarM,) the first non-profit group to begin sustainable efforts declared the land "completely uncultivable," establishing a unique design aimed at replenishing the soil.

IPS News reports:

Sea mud deposits were removed, bunds were raised and the fields were ploughed. Deep trenches were made in the fields and filled with the trees that had been uprooted by the tsunami. As the trees decomposed the soil received aeration.

Dhaincha seeds, a legume known by the scientific name Sesbania bispinosa, were then sown in the fields.

The saline-flooded soil was in such bad shape, it contained only a fraction of the necessary nutrients.

"The microbial count on a pin head, which should be 4,000 in good soil, dropped down to below 500 in this area," said Dhanapal, a farmer in Kilvelur of Nagapatnam district and head of the Cauvery Delta Farmers' Association.

Farmers planted trees and used "green manure" to revitalize damaged soil in less than one year

Seawater was pumped out of fields, while the government distributed free seeds and saplings. In addition to farmyard manure, the leaves of neem, nochi and Indian beech were used as "green manure," introducing healthy microbes and nutrients back into the soil.

Farmers then planted traditional salt-resistant crop varieties, and within two years witnessed the land's revival, allowing them to resume production of rice and vegetables.

Another farmer dug trenches, filling them with a type of tree that flourishes along the coast before treating the land with bio-fertilizers, a substance containing live microorganisms that help breath life back into the soil.

Farmers learned to make their own "bio-solutions," using the district's cattle-friendly resources, including ghee, milk, cow dung, tender coconut, fish waste, jaggery and buttermilk in varied combinations.

"The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue," said TOFarM's M. Revathi. "But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work... we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming."





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