Nimal Raghavan a 33-years old man was visiting his native village in Tamil Nadu from Dubai, where he was working, three years ago, little knowing that a storm brewing over the Bay of Bengal would change his life forever. Or that he would play a role in villagers in the area shifting away from coconut cultivation and toward paddy and sugarcane farming.
Raghavan was relaxing in his village Nadiyam in Peravurani town in Thanjavur district on November 16, 2018, when the powerful Cyclone Gaja hit the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, leaving a trail of destruction.
Hundreds and thousands of houses were destroyed, lakhs of electricity poles were broken, and approximately one crore coconut trees were uprooted in the Delta area, with Pattukkottai, Peravurani, and Orathanadu, in Thanjavur district bearing the high-velocity winds.
The three areas were widely recognized for coconut cultivation, which provided a living for 80 % of the families in the area.
The tipping point
Raghavan quit his job and went into relief work after witnessing the cyclone’s devastation. During these relief efforts, Raghavan realized that the farmers in the area were overly reliant on coconut farming while ignoring high-yielding crops such as paddy and sugarcane.
‘I made the decision to reintroduce rice and sugarcane cultivation to farmers. Water scarcity, on the other hand, was a challenge,’ Raghavan says. As a result, he decided to focus on water management and lake rejuvenation.
He founded the Kadaimadai Area Integrated Farmer’s Association (KAIFA) with his senior in school, Naveen Anandhan, and a few other students to bring sustainable farming to the region.
The team’s first task was to desilt and restored the 565-acre Periyakulam Big Lake in Peravurani. It can now irrigate more than 6,000 acres of cropland.
‘The region’s groundwater level rose from 300-400 feet to 40 feet. I reasoned that if three months of effort could solve a year-long water problem, why not replicate it to other bodies of water in the region?’ Raghavan said.
Rejuvenation of lakes
Today, the KAIFA team is working on its 95th lake rejuvenation project in Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai, and Sivangagai districts. Each project entails preparing the source channel, desilting the water bodies, continuing to increase the depth of the lake, strengthening the boundaries, and constructing a small island of native trees and shrubs in the lake’s center. To date, the KAIFA team has planted 650,000 tree saplings with the help of the local community.
Raghavan attributes this movement to his school seniors Karthikeyan Velsamy and Naveen Anandhan, as well as other friends Prabhakar, Thanga Kannan, and Suresh Arumugam. He also praised corporate donors’ generosity, community participation, and local government support.
‘I learned about his work from a YouTube video. I also spoke with Nimal and other members of the Kaifa team. Their vision appears promising. We intend to collaborate with them in some areas,’ Thanjavur district collector Dinesh Ponraj Oliver stated.