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Tamil Nadu

The economy of the Southern state of Tamil Nadu still relies strongly on smallholder agriculture. Productivity is hindered by growing water scarcity and poor soils, especially in the Western drylands. New drought-tolerant groundnut cultivars, community watershed management and crop farming system modelling are some examples of our research for impact in Tamil Nadu. 

70% - Share of Tamil Nadu's population engaged in agriculture

6.3 million ha - Extent of cropped land in Tamil Nadu (48% of the territory)

750 m3 - Per capita water availability in Tamil Nadu (all-India average: 2,200 m3)

12.8% - Share of Tamil Nadu’s groundnut production in India

2,154 kg/ha - Average groundnut yield in Tamil Nadu (1st among Indian states) 


General context

Tamil Nadu is the southernmost state of the Indian Peninsula, surrounded by Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This very entrepreneurial Dravidian State, with its own distinctive Tamil culture, has made remarkable social progress in recent years, reducing malnutrition and poverty. Even though 44% of the population live in urban areas (highest rate among large states), agriculture continues to be the most predominant sector of the state economy, as 70% of the population are engaged in agriculture for their livelihood.

The climate ranges from dry sub-humid to semi-arid in central Tamil Nadu. The state  is dependent on monsoons and could be prone to droughts. There are three distinctive periods of rainfall -- the Southwest monsoon between June and September (32% total rainfall); the Northeast monsoon in October-December (48% total rainfall) and the dry season between January to May. Tamil Nadu's agriculture sector is characterized by the scarcity of cultivable land and water resources, soil nutrient deficiency in the cultivable area, low productivity, and predominance of small and marginal farmers (92%) practising rainfed farming. However, farmers are increasingly becoming  receptive to changing technologies and market forces.

The Tamil Nadu government is investing in schemes to boost farm productivity and incomes, from promoting better practices like integrated pest management to micro-irrigation and better soil fertility. 

ICRISAT research in Tamil Nadu

ICRISAT has a very active and varied collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and other research partners, with specific focus on community water management and groundnut production. Tamil Nadu is one of the top groundnut producing states with 1.17 million tonnes produced in 2013 (12.79% of the national production) and ranks first in productivity (2,154 kg/ha). Yet, in the driest districts like Namakkal, farmers are in need of better climate-adapted cultivars.

Improved groundnut variety TNAU Co-7 has recently been released in Tamil Nadu, after a series of farmer variety selection trials. Drought-tolerant, resistant to rust and leaf spot disease, it has between 15 to 30% more pod yield than local varieties. TNAU-CO-6 is another recent success of participatory research into practice.

The way small farmers manage their farming system is changing with better access to information and markets. However, new risks may emerge; so it is crucial to provide the right information to them for safe and sustainable growth. APSIM crop modeling, for instance, showed that farmers are better off sowing peanut mid-December for greater pod yield. Researchers study the drivers of adoption of improved cultivars and other agricultural innovations to improve research impact on the smallholder farm.

Water availability is a major constraint to the farming sector with 750 m3/capita compared to the all-India average of 2,200 m3. Research is testing low-cost strategies for farming communities to better manage scarce water in the pilot watershed in Dindigul district.

With climate change, agriculture has to become more climate-smart. Growing more water-efficient crops is becoming crucial as a bio-economic model of Bhavani basin shows. A scenario where water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane are replaced by crops with lower water needs like finger millet and pulses, helps cope with the water deficit at the same time as increasing incomes by 34%.

Despite their nutrition value and ecological relevance, consumption of traditional, climate-resilient crops like pearl millet and finger millet has declined sharply in recent years due to market forces. Initiatives to promote these climate and nutrition smart foods are to be encouraged if Tamil Nadu wants a more sustainable food sector.  

IPH 732, the first pigeonpea hybrid released in Tamil Nadu with 940 kg/ha yield, maturing in 115 days, is suitable for rainfed conditions. 
Though the consumption of climate-resilient pearl millet has sharply declined, the crop is used for animal feed. A review of pearl millet crop research impact in Tamil Nadu shows a high payoff.  
Ammainaickanur Model watershed in Dindigul district receives about 780 mm annual rainfall on average. Farm equipment, crop productivity trials and construction of water harvesting structures are among the activities initiated in the model watershed program.