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Promoting Azolla cultivation among small and tribal landless farmers and developing a business model between Azolla growers and end users to assure sustainable income
Agro Climate Research Centre, Directorate of Crop Management, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore
Project name
Promoting Azolla cultivation among small and tribal landless farmers and developing a business model between Azolla growers and end users to assure sustainable income
Grant operationalised
February 2011
2 years
Grant amount sanctioned
Rs2.78 million

Activities within the grant and impact:
The present two-year project with Agro Climate Research Centre, Directorate of Crop Management, TNAU, would scale up the Phase I project to promote Azolla cultivation among small and tribal landless farmers as well as develop a business model between Azolla growers and end-users to assure sustainable income. Hence, the emphasis in Phase II is on developing effective market linkages between women and tribal “Azolla growers” and nearby commercial poultry units and milk producers union in selling Azolla fern at the best possible price. In the project area, cultivators and agricultural labourers constitute more than 65 per cent of the population and a majority of them are from scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST). A preliminary survey was carried out to assess the demand for Azolla as cattle feed, which showed that the area has a good population of poultry birds and livestock, in addition to more than 25 commercial poultry units. The project villages are covered by the milk route under the state 'Dairy Scheme' and hence, the demand for Azolla as a cattle feed supplement is high. Phase II aims to provide alternate livelihood to approximately 1,500 rural families distributed in 25 villages and tribal areas in 3 districts i.e., Coimbatore, Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli through Azolla cultivation. The latter two districts are potential rice growing tracts where Azolla can be cultivated as a dual crop in rice. Technology will be developed to address the need for dry and pellet formulation of Azolla as per market requirement to boost its commercial value in the poultry sector, in addition to promoting low-cost organic pest and disease management practices to overcome fungal diseases and pest infestation. Finally, impact of Azolla cultivation in generating sustainable income to rural women and tribal population in the project sites will be assessed and the success theory extended from high-impact areas to other locations.

The project aims to link the Azolla growers who will be trained under this proposed scheme to nearby commercial poultry and dairy units for developing an effective marketing network. As this project is not only aimed to promote a low-cost technology, but also planned to develop marketing facilities to the producers, sustainable income to the rural women and tribal population is sufficiently ensured. Moreover, cultivation problems pertaining to fungal disease and pest incidence will also be looked at under Phase II and suitable low-cost organic pest and disease management practices will be developed. Even though Azolla is used as wet formulation, certain end-users like poultry growers require it in dry formulation. Hence efforts will be given to develop suitable dry and pellet formulation using Azolla so as to boost its commercial value.

The project would reach 1,500 households ie, approximately 9,000 individuals, providing them with a minimum additional income of Rs2,000 per month (ie, Rs24,000 per annum) which translates into generating a cumulative additional income of Rs36 million through Azolla cultivation. Being spearheaded by women self-help groups (SHGs), it will have a significant impact on empowering women who will be in control of both production and marketing of value-added produce. It will also enhance their ability to respond to market demands through preparation of dry Azolla, which fetches five times (Rs50/kg) the monetary returns as compared to wet Azolla (Rs10/kg). Further, the women SHGs will be able to sustain both the source of income as well as ensure continuous supply of Azolla inoculum through the formalised market linkages developed with local poultry / cattle units and the “Azolla” villages developed. Secondly, farmers who intercrop Azolla with rice will be able to reap the additional benefit of Azolla acting as bio-fertilisers, which results in improved grain quality. Being intercropped, its growth does not require a separate facility and it can be continuously harvested as and when required, providing an additional source of income during the entire period from sowing to harvesting of paddy. Thirdly, through Phase I, an increase in protein content of egg (when poultry is fed on Azolla) has been scientifically validated and hence, local consumption of eggs will indirectly improve the nutritional status of families in the 25 project villages. Finally, to achieve widespread adoption and replication of this model to other districts / villages (ie, apart from the 25 project villages) linkages with the Department of Agriculture, Tamil Nadu, will be developed through closely involving them in project activities especially training and capacity building.