AuroAnnam - research & demonstration farm
Organic Cashew Nut Cultivation
The original motivation for this project was Lucas' insight - as medical doctor practicing at the Auroville Health Centre - into ill-effects of farming practices on human health. Local farmers have been carting mixed municipal waste from Pondicherry to their lands to let it become compost. While this practice might have been appropriate a few decades ago, it has, with changes in consumerism and in waste production over the last twenty years, become a source of litter and of flies and diseases. Further, local farmers use chemical pesticides indiscriminately and without any personal protection, expose themselves and their neighbours to the toxic effects of pesticides and create a growing burden on the ecology of soil and water.
These were the reasons why Lucas started AuroAnnam Farm in 1998. While he is the land steward of the farm, Mawite is, since August 2003, the actual farm manager.
State of affairs as per December 2003
The total area of the farm is 13.5 acres, of which 4 acres have been under cashew for the past 35 years. There are about 70 coconut palms. Previously some of the land had been used for irrigated cultivation of soya, peanuts, gram and cow fodder, but this had become economically unsustainable. In the course of the last five years, an additional six acres were put under cashew (totally about 700 trees). Flood irrigation has been drastically reduced with the help of heavy mulching around the coconut palms and the use of cover crops like Stylosantes hamata (short: Stylo) A few cows have been introduced to achieve an optimum ratio between acreage and cattle, to eliminate the need to purchase organic manure from outside, and to have cow urine for the preparation of bio-pesticides. In the open fields, fodder crops - e.g. elephant grass, guinea grass and Centrosema pubescens - and vegetables and tubers have been grown.
Learning organic farming (OF)
Visitors and students to AuroAnnam Farm gain insight into general practices of organic farming such as, for example, polyculture, green manuring, mulching, the use of companion plants and trap plants, and of plant-based pest repellents etc., and into farming with Effective Microorganisms (EM) into biodynamic (BD) farming, and various other techniques and inputs. AuroAnnam Farm has practiced vermicomposting and vermitechnology, rock dust applications, agnihotra, and intends to experiment with additional other approaches. Every year students from different universities in the USA, France, Holland and Germany have their internships at AuroAnnam Farm, and learn about biodynamic farming, EM technology, and basic techniques of mulching, pruning, the use of tree bark paste etc.
Lucas is regularly involved as a teacher of BD farming in courses of the Biodynamic Association of India, and gives guidance and consultancy in EM farming and EM technology.
Package of practices
It is our objective to develop a well-tested package of OF practices for cashew nut cultivation which uses any of the following technologies or a combination of some or all of them. During the past five years we have used the following practices at AuroAnnam, practices which are under scrutiny and will undergo further changes so as to achieve optimal ecological and economical benefit:
BD preparations, some of them self-made, some of them purchased; BD compost and BD liquid fertilizers, BD "cow pat pit"; BD practices in respect of lunar constellation; vermicompost and vermiwash; EM in all liquid modes (extended solution, EM5, EM-fermented plant extract) and as EM bokashi; EM-soaked charcoal, EM-soaked mulch and EM compost; agnihotra, rock dust; homeodynamic preparations; plant-derived and other organic pest control preparations and measures.
Besides the above-said inputs and techniques we use extensive green manuring and compost, nowadays made exclusively from AuroAnnam cattle manure and biomass.
We have applied tree bark paste based on BD directions and we observe lunar rhythms for the pruning of trees. Pruning is always combined with a protective coating of bark paste over the cut wounds. This prevents attacks from root and stem borer, and gives additional nutrition to the tree. Cashew nuts are ideally harvested when they fall from the trees; only then the kernel can be expected to be fully matured, with a smooth surface.
In general we cultivate under rain-fed conditions so as to keep our practice
comparable with the practices of the surrounding cashew farmers. On some
trees, we have experimented with the following technique: during the dry
season (on the Coromandel Coast normally between December and July) we dug
two pits per tree of about one cubic foot and filled them with EM-drenched
charcoal and EM bokashi. We have seen that charcoal retained moisture for
many weeks throughout the dry season, and thus is able to provide the
environment for microbial soil life. It seems to contribute well to the
health of the trees.
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