On 16 November 2018, Cyclone Gaja which ravaged parts of the Tamil Nadu coast also wreaked havoc in several districts of Tamil Nadu. At the time of landfall of the cyclone, heavy winds of about 100-120 kmph speed were experienced in several parts of Tamil Nadu. The highest wind gust speeds were recorded Adhirampattinam at 162 kmph and Muthupet recorded 160 kmph. Regions of Karaikal and Nagapattinam also experienced 100 kmph winds. The affected areas were the districts of Nagappattinam, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai, Karaikal, Cuddalore, Trichy and Ramanathapuram. Cyclone destroyed about 10 million coconuts trees (about 80 percent of all coconut trees in the region), 100,000 electric poles, 1,000 transformers, 201 electricity substations and 5,000 boats were destroyed by the cyclone Several thousands of cattle, birds died while 63 people died mostly in the districts of Thiruvarur, Thanjavur and Pudukottai. About 42,000 hectares of long-standing trees were damaged and mostly uprooted (of which 18,000 hectares were coconut trees). Totally 56,000 hectares of crops and trees were destroyed due to the cyclone. In all of Tamil Nadu alone, the total value of destruction is estimated to be around Rs. 15,000 crores (or about US$ 2 billion).
“Kolunji” is a 45-acre model organic farm operated by the NGO Kudumbam. It was established in the late-1980s by late Dr G Nammalwar (a social activist and advocate of organic and sustainable farming methods) and others. Over 30 years, 120 different kinds of economically valuable and ecologically sound trees were planted at the farm and the importance of tree cultivation, community forestry and small-scale fisheries in dry and semi-arid areas was demonstrated. Efforts were made to improve soil fertility and water conservation and shift to horticulture intercropped with minor millets with participation from the local community. Income-generating units like livestock, bio inputs, vegetable cultivation and tree and herbal nurseries were also established. The farm thus served as a model for rain-fed resource poor farmers of the region and a learning centre for local farmers and NGOs. It has contributed to changing the mindset of more than 50,000 farmers towards ecological agriculture practices and training more than 15,000 NGO field workers who are now employed as farm managers and eco farm designers in several organic farms in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Puducherry and Orissa. At present, close to 750 farmers groups are active members of Kudumbam’s organic and ecological farming network in South India.
However, in a mere two hours, Gaja undid much of nearly three decades’ worth of community-driven work at Kolunji demonstration farm and training Centre. More than 3,000 trees (that included 19 different rare species) were uprooted and buildings, nursery plots, bio-input preparation plots, thatched cattle sheds and training halls were damaged. Falling trees brought down electrical poles, ruptured water pipelines on the farm and wrenched out electrical wires, disrupting power supply, which were restored only a month later. (Please see the pictures for the extent of damage and destruction caused by the cyclone) The economic value of the loss incurred as a result of Cyclone Gaja has been calculated at Rs 100,00,000 (about US$ 140,000).
The cancellation of scheduled training programs and the destruction of crops and trees will continue to affect the farm’s revenue for at least another year. Rebuilding and restoration efforts are likely to take another 2-3 years. Kudumbam’s plan was to reach out to 20,000 marginal and small farmers by 2025 to promote ecological farming. By reconstructing the Kolunji farm, ongoing training and farmer support activities in dry and semi-arid areas can be resumed with greater vigour. However, to continue our work within the community and to rebuild the ecological farm for the benefit of small and marginal farmers, we urgently need your help. The estimated cost of clearing fallen trees, repairing buildings, restoring electricity, repairing water supply lines, strengthening bunds and canals, reviving the nursery, repairing fences, and to jump start training and farmers’ and community-level outreach programs and demonstration sessions is estimated to be Rs 80 lakh (Rs. 80,00,000 or about USD 115,000). To help us get back on our feet and continue to establish sustainable alternatives for our rural and farming communities, we urge you to support us generously.Appeal!