A fodder substitute in drought-hit Gudibande

Azolla: A farm decision

A farm of ferns: Farmers of Nicchanabandahalli and Medimakalahalli have grown animal feed from the moss, Azolla as part of organic  farming. DH photos

Needless to say, Gudibande taluk, of late, has earned the notorious tag of being permanently listed among the drought-prone areas of the State. The place,once-upon-a-time popular for its textile industry, has now lost its popularity to the notorious drought which has pushed its pride only for records sake.

Over a period of time, if it is anything that the farmers of Gudibande fear is drought. Being the worst victims of nature’s fury, the farm animals which are dependent on them are also their co-sufferers.

Hundreds of farmers in the taluk have migrated to far-off places fearing worst consequences of drought. In the course of time, farmers who were able to sustain the harshness of nature’s fury and who stood the test of time, have successfully learnt to tide over the situation.

Rising from the adverse situations, Azolla has come to the farmer’s aid as a good friend. This is Gudibande’s reply to the adversaries. In order to meet the fodder scarcity in the taluk, they have resorted to cultivating Azolla.

Azolla cultivation can be best stated as an amalgamation of traditional form of agriculture implemented with modern technology in the footsteps of organic farming.

The Nichchanabandahalli and Medimakalahalli villages of Gudibande taluk are the best examples of organic farming. The villages have won the tag of being converted into completely organic.

Now being identified as the progressive farmers of Kolar district, they have created a record of sorts by cultivating Azolla on a large scale. Their venture has become so popular that farmers from the neighbouring states visit Gudibande taluk to get first hand information and demonstration from the farmers on Azolla cultivation.

What is Azolla?

Azolla, also known as mosquito fern, duckweed fern, fairy moss or water fern, is a genus of seven species of aquatic ferns. They are extremely reduced in form and look nothing like conventional ferns. They form a symbiotic relationship with the cyanobacterium Anabaena azollae, which fixes atmospheric nitrogen, giving the plant access to the essential nutrient. It is being dubbed a ‘super-plant’, as it can readily colonise areas of freshwater, and grow at great speed.

Azolla has nutritional values and an easily be cultivated at places where there is a scarcity of water. It can be even grown at places where there is unnecessary flow of water and all that it additionally requires is shadow. Azolla has 12 important nutrients which contribute to the growth of animals. The farmers are trained to cultivate the fern which has been an excellent device to aid the farmers economically.

The DPG and Vahini organisations promote organic farming in Kolar district. They also train farmers in the cultivation of Azolla. The officials of these two organisations have explained in detail to the farmers the importance and benefits of Azolla to the farmers of Medimakalahalli, Jangalahalli, Nichchanabandahalli, who now completely into organic farming. Progressive farmers like Ashok, Gopala Reddy, Avalappa, Ramesh, Ramakrishnappa and farmer women Neelamma, Venkateshamma, Thayamma, are promoters of organic farming.

How to cultivate?

The farmers should construct an eight-feet height, five feet wide and one feet deep tank. The bottom of the tank should be covered with a layer of mud and cow dung and water should be filled to the brim. A mixture of Azolla should be dropped in the tank.

Measures should be taken to ensure that the water does not evaporate. Within a period of 15 days, the fodder is seen growing. It should be cultivated in the shadow and direct sunlight should not fall on it. The tank can also covered be with a thin layer of cloth to ensure that mosquitoes do not sit on them or the water dies not gather dust, according to agriculture expert from Vahini, Suresh.

Organic farming has been greatly popularised in Gudibande, thanks to the farmers’ initiative in taking up challenges. It is good to know that more and more farmers are opting for it. The Government has declared Nichchanabandahalli, a backward area into an organic farming village.

People of Gudibande are also into dairy farming, another income-generating activity in the district. Since most of the farmers are dependent on dry farming system, due to lack of fodder, the taluk has taken a backseat in farm development.

Now that most of them are into cultivating Azolla, this has proved to be a boon in guise, according to taluk Agriculture Department Assistant Director Narasaraju and Agriculture Officer Chinnappa Reddy.

Atleast for the farm women, this is a blessing. Earlier, they had to collect fodder from far-off lands and forests, fighting winds, rain and sun, for the farm animals. This fodder substitute can be fed to all kinds of farm animals including buffaloes, cows, oxens, sheep and goats. When mixed with animal food, it aids digestion capacity of the animals and also help increase milk production.

According to the Chairman of DPG Muktar Saloman, who has been a pioneer in introducing Azolla to the farmers of the taluk, the taluk had gained notoriety for its drought, has sought solution in Azolla cultivation. This is an important fern cultivated on a large scale in Punjab, Haryana and other northern States. During a spell of drought, distributing truck-loads of fodder was a big challenge to Revenue Department officials here. The distribution used to be marked with scuffles and rows at times. Also, several irregularities in fodder distribution became the order of the day, he added.

Instead, Azolla cultivation has been a wise decision of the farmers here, says organic farming propagator from Gudibande Abdul Waheed.

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