Life of an Indian farmer and his quest for sustenance

Leslin K Seemon
Jul 19
Three generations of farmers in India. Chinna Thambi (to the left ) with his son and father.


The story unfolds in a distant valley nestled between the Kalvarayan and Sitteri hills. Pristine in its way of living, the Sittilingi valley is inhabited by tribal people who eke out sustenance based on agriculture & forest resources. The nearest town is Salem, a meek exit for fulfilling their modest needs.

Within the lush green valley, lives a farmer named ‘Chinna Thambi’. The meaning of which translates to ‘little brother’ in the Tamil language. His demeanour is as humble as his name suggests. And he wore a sanguine smile each time he spoke.

Chinna Thambi is an experienced farmer. He holds three acres of land, a few livestock and has learned his way to sustainability. His father and son both have a hand at farming.

In the beginning, he used to practice the conventional way of farming. It included the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, selling to unregulated markets etc. But he was not someone who took farming for the sake of it, he was willing to learn the art, wanting to find his feet.

Mangoes from Chinna Thambi’s field.

With the help of the Sittilingi organic farmers association (SOFA) he took up organic turmeric farming. SOFA, an initiative to promote organic farming among the local tribal farmers provides the necessary know-how on organic farming.

Chinna Thambi underwent numerous training camps organised by SOFA in Sathyamangalam. He learned how to make vermicompost, bio-fertilizers & pesticides and improved the yield of his product. Cutting down entirely on chemicals and learning a new way of farming added a new edge to his farming practices.

He is now a distinguished, NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production) certified organic farmer for over eight years now. SOFA had enabled farmers like Chinna Thambi to upgrade the value of their products. SOFA has its own manufacturing unit for value-added products under the banner name SVAD. This provides a holistic ecosystem for farmers to thrive.

Every farmer has their own foreboding. An unforeseen crisis and the perils become intolerable. Chinna Thambi has tried his best to keep his income diversified to secure his family from the ambiguities of life.

He cultivates paddy mainly ragi, bajra or millets in a major portion of his farm to ensure the food security of his family. On a small patch, he grows turmeric, a cash crop that gives him additional income.

For growing turmeric, he needs to prepare the soil first unlike other crops. This process is called mulching. He uses biomass from the forest to mulch his soil. Mulching increases soil fertility and aids a better yield. Once the turmeric is cultivated, he grows brinjal or tomato subsequently.

But cultivating multiple crops does not guarantee sustainability unless a reasonable and fair price is paid for it. As Chinna Thambi recalls, in his early days he used to travel to Salem to sell turmeric. The traders there exploited the weight and price. But with the intervention of SOFA, he is able to explore a larger market and get a fair price for his harvest.

Farmers under the SOFA framework have been able to try out various livelihood activities. Organic turmeric farmers have been assured a guaranteed market with around 10% higher price than the market price.

Turmeric saplings grown in a small patch of land.

As the life of a farmer is entirely dependent on the price of his harvest. A fair amount ensures he can repay the loans to begin the new season and manage family expenses.

But the markets can’t guarantee fair prices when there is a pandemic. That’s where affordable credit comes into the picture. It eases the burden on the farmers and helps them tide through the crisis.

Chinna Thambi himself shared “ I used to sell 10 boxes of tomatoes which weighed close to 250 kgs at Rs 10000. In the pandemic, all I was offered for the same quantity was Rs 1000.”

Low-interest credit plays a crucial role here. It prevents farmers from selling in distress and making huge losses. Last year, Rang De Social Investors helped 100 organic turmeric farmers in Sittilingi through interest-free loans and it made all the difference.

The other alternative for loans, as shared by Chinna Thambi are money lenders and banks. An exorbitant 3.5% per month is levied as interest by money lenders. Banks refrain from lending, they only do when the farmers pawn their gold. But the process of getting a loan is cumbersome and travelling is time-consuming.

To ensure his sustainability in the longer run, Chinna Thambi indulges in various activities like beekeeping and cow rearing to ensure a steady flow of income.

Chinna Thambi has three cows that give four litres of milk every day. He sells the milk in the dairy and is paid every 10 days. A quick source of income. Rang De loans support women in the Sittilingi area by helping them with funds to buy cows for rearing.

Bee-keeping is something new for Chinna Thambi. He has been doing it for the past six months. SOFA arranged training camps and procured essentials for the same. He bought 4 boxes and made around Rs1000 per litre of honey. He wishes to harvest at least 20-25 boxes in the future.

Chinna Thambi and his family have been living this life for decades now. Upon being asked what was the most challenging experience in his life he replied “ the pandemic”.

Not scanty rainfalls, prolonged droughts, failed crops or debts but the pandemic has outright been the most difficult time for the Indian farmers. They have been pushed back to the brink of subsistence and we can help them persevere.

Chinna Thambi’s story is a live testament of what investing in people can lead to.

Join your social investing journey today at rangde.in!

(All images are accredited to SOFA2021)



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