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Thursday, Jun 06, 2002

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Eco-savvy women's self-help groups

S. Gopikrishna Warrier

A member of the Poomani self-help group rearing Trichogramma insects, a natural pest controller, at Kannivadi near Dindigul.


THE waste from banana plantations in Dindigul district has a new use. They are being pulped into making hand-made paper.

The enterprise, however, is not being run by an urban businessman, but by a group of rural womenlandless agricultural labourers, who have come together to set up the self-help group (SHG) at Severnakarainapatti village.

Calling their group Jhansi Rani SHG, the rural women raised financial resources for setting up the paper mill, and are now aiming at making eco-friendly paper and board stationery for national and international conferences.

According to Dr K. Balasubramanian, Director of the JRD Tata Ecotechnology Centre at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), the initial corpus funding of Rs 1.5 lakh as loan was made by the foundation to the SHG.

Using this money the SHG leveraged loans and grants available under the schemes of the District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) and public sector banks.

The plant, which is run by the SHG members, can handle around two tonnes of pulp per day.

The aim is to create niche eco-friendly products from the paper and board, which can be marketed for the environment conferences. With help from MSSRF, the SHG would try to reach the products for the high-profile international environmental conferences scheduled for this year.

Even before getting into full-scale production in the last six months, the SHG has generated around Rs 50,000 in business, he said.

In the nearby village of Kannivadi, the Poomani Womens' SHG has another eco-enterprise going with the help of MSSRF. They grow trichogramma insects, which in turn destroy other insects that are harmful to cotton, sugarcane and vegetable plants.

"There is nothing new in this technology," said Dr Balasubramanian. "What we did is to demystify it so that it can be used by the members of the SHG, who were earlier agricultural labourers, for generating an income for themselves".

According to Ms Geeta Rani of Poomani SHG, trichogramma is an effective, natural pest controller, since it is a parasatoid. It does not lay its own eggs but lays eggs inside the eggs of other insects. Thus, when the eggs hatch it is trichogramma larvae that come out rather than the larvae of the pest, American Bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera).

The idea of the enterprise is to develop trichogramma eggs as a cottage industry. These eggs are then pasted on card paper strips and hung in the fields. The eggs hatch in the fields.

To get trichogramma eggs under lab conditions (in this case a hut in the village), the insect's eggs are inoculated into eggs of corcyra insect, according to Ms Vijaya, a member of the SHG.

These eggs hatch in the field and to propagate the next generation adult trichogramma search and find the eggs of the American bollworm.

The SHG sells cards with one cubic centimetre of eggs at Rs 15, while the production cost for it is around Rs 6, she said.

According to Dr Balasubramanian, around Kannivadi village 1,000 acres of crops are under trichogramma protection. Approximately five cc of trichogramma eggs are required per acre.

Hanging the cards in the fields has shown to reduce the cost for insecticides by 30 per cent. In a year the SHG generates around 4,000 cc of trichogramma eggs, which in turn gives the members an income of Rs 60,000.

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