India: food sovereignty in the Tamil Nadu state

** This page is not updated anymore. Siemenpuu's regional programmes were in use until the end of 2017. Tamil Nadu programme ended in 2016 **

Already two thousand years before the Common Era, the ancient Tamil people warned that without proper care of the mountains and forests Tamil Nadu will end up a desert. Now their predictions are rapidly proving correct. One indication of this is the disappearance of mangrove forests from a 1100-kilometre strip on the coast. Another one is the scarcity of water on the inland plains, which has resulted from the cultivation of cash crops.

The rapidly increased industrial shrimp farming ruins coastal mangrove forests and small local fishing communities. The so-called Blue Revolution introduced industrial-scale fishing based on large hauls of fish instead of tending to the spawning grounds of fish and the ecosystems protecting the coast.

The fishing industry has turned to the exploiting and polluting of natural resources. Moreover, several development projects, such as heating plants and harbours, and waste from cities and chemical plants cause erosion or have significantly ruined the natural environment in the region.

Farmers in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu have traditionally grown little millet by rainfed farming for their own use. With electricity enabling the use of drilled well pumps, the cultivation of water-intensive cash crops such as sugar cane, cotton and plantain began. Rice became the local main crop.

Gradually, the cultivation of cash crops became dependent on chemical fertilisers. The current agriculture policy in the state emphasises business-oriented farming methods that result in profitable exports. The situation of small farmers has become unbearable; due to the high cost of seeds, chemical fertilisers and herbicides, the farmers' debt has mounted rapidly to the level of their entire assets.


As a result of governmental policy, the traditional communal water management system in Tamil Nadu has collapsed. The water supply has become a commodity for which corporations compete. Rainfall has decreased, too, possibly because of climate change and logging.

The Siemenpuu Foundation supports Tamil Nadu farmer communities, NGOs and their networks in their efforts for environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture. The projects focus on promoting traditional drought-resistant crops, developing organic farming and agroforestry techniques, conserving water supplies, enhancing the efficiency of bioenergy such as charcoal, and engaging in ecovillage activities. The programme funding is channelled to the Joint Action for Sustainable Livelihood (JASuL) network, Low External Impact Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) network, and to a few other NGOs working among local communities.

The programme advocates environmental protection and the rights of communities located at the coastal strips of Tamil Nadu through community networking, research, communication and capacity building. The Siemenpuu cooperation programme is implemented in partnership with two networks: Tamilnadu Rural Reconstruction Movement (TRRM) and Tamil Nadu Environmental Council (TNEC).


Read an article by Siemenpuu's partner ODAM in LEISA India magazine on how biochar applications are increasing soil fertility (pdf, 466 KB)


Watch a video by Tamil Nadu Environment Councilin (TNEC) on the coastal erosion caused by Chennai harbour construction (in Tamil).


Watch a video by Rural Education and Action for Liberation (REAL) on the agro-forestry exepriences in Tamil Nadu's Dindigul District



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