It's the 85th day of the ragi crop at the Karpagam farm in Zamin Endathoor village, 100 kms from Chennai. It is five days too soon for the 90-day crop, but the farmers believe the time is right for the crops to be harvested. In desperate need of helping hands, the Karpagams have sought the assistance of 10 unskilled labourers — The Weekend Agriculturists (TWA).
Founded a month-and-a-half ago by Harish Srinivasan, the Facebook group of farming enthusiasts is already 160 members strong. “Our primary goal for the moment is to provide free labour to farmers in dire need. I found that labour, let alone cheap labour, is hard to come by and no one seems to be doing much to solve this very basic problem. After I read Moondram Ulaga Por (The Third World War) by Tamil poet Vairamuthu, I was shaken out of inactivity and decided it was time to do something,” explains Srinivasan, who was pleasantly surprised to see the response he received for the initiative. “I didn’t realise I’d get so much help. None of the members of the group were my friends before we connected on Facebook for this particular initiative,” adds the 28-year-old software engineer.
The trip to the Karpagam farm, organised with the help of the Chennai Trekking Club, was TWA’s first event. Arriving at the farm on a Saturday, the 10 volunteers began working only after the sun began to set. “Since we’re unused to working under the harsh sun, it was practical for us to work in the second half of the day. We were given a 15-minute brief before we began plucking the matured ragi from across the seven-acre plot. Brown-crowned crops were easy to spot, but the farmer wanted us to harvest certain semi-mature green crowns too. He followed us around to guide us and answer our questions. But by the next morning, when we worked between 6 am and 12 pm, we were pros,” says Srinivasan. The group stayed with the family — eating meals of homegrown vegetables and bathing under the hand pumps.
The next TWA event, organised on June 29, is in association with the Centre for Culture and Development (CCD). “The centre, which teaches people about organic farming and helps farmers get into organised farming, will help us visit Tirukal Kundram, about 80 kms away from Chennai,” reveals Srinivasan.
Apart from offering their time and services, the group hopes to encourage former farmers to return to their traditional source of income. “We have learnt that the people in the village are no longer willing to take up farming. It is a difficult trade and there is no guarantee of a continuous income. They would much rather take up low-income industrial jobs that ensure stability,” he adds.
With another event lined up for the first weekend of July, the group seems to have its calendar full. Meanwhile, the Karpagams have written a letter of appreciation to TWA. “They have requested that we send five volunteers to help them out every weekend. We’d love to help in any way we can and we’re trying hard to work out logistics in a way that we can send at least three to four people,” says Srinivasan. “But while 160 members seems like a lot, I’ve already come to realise that if we need to make a sizeable difference, we’ll need a much larger workforce,” he concludes.