"Korangadu" [pronounced ko-run-gaa-doo] is a traditional pastureland farming system that exists in semi-arid tracts of Tamil Nadu state in southern India, namely, the Dharapuram, Kangayam, Palladam, Moolanur and Kallimanthayam and Karur areas. Situated in the rain shadow of the Western Ghats, the region receives an annual rainfall of 600-675mm, and the red laterite or gravel type of soil does not allow water stagnation regardless of the amount of rainfall. The majority of the rural population consists of settled agropastoralists who depend upon livestock.
Individual farmers privately own Korangadu pasturelands and it is estimated that there are over 50,000 individuals with their own paddocks of about 1-2ha size. Approximately 50,000 ha of Korangadu pastureland is evident in 500 villages in Erode, Karur, Dindigul and Coimbatore Districts of Tamil Nadu State in southern India. The size of individual paddocks of Korangadu land ranges from 1.5 ha to 10 ha depending upon the wealth status or ownership pattern. Farmers or landless livestock keepers maintain sheep, cattle and buffalo, and Korangadu provides a pasture for their animals and a livelihood for their owners.
History of the Korangadu system
A literal translation of the term Korangadu from the local Tamil language is "left out uncultivated land that allows natural vegetation".
Several centuries ago, farmers in Kangayam and Dharapuram areas ploughed the land and sowed dryland crops. Due to various reasons, some portion of the land that was not farmed was left fallow to enable natural regeneration. Such uncultivated lands (still owned by farmers) had spontaneous growth of natural plant species after the rains, and the predominant plant species was Kolukattai grass (Cenchrus sp.). The farmers permitted their livestock into the uncultivated zones but not in the cropped area. Later they realized the utility of uncultivated land for effective grazing of their own animals, and this practice probably encouraged them to restrict animals of other farmers or individuals by fencing off the natural pasture with Mullu Kiluvai, a thorny plant species.
Korangadu are typical paddocks fenced with a live hedge and a small bamboo gate through which the animals enter. The grassland is ploughed once in 2-3 years in order to break the clod and to enhance aeration and moisture conservation. Hardy legumes like Naripayaru (Phaseolus trilobus), Kollu (Dolichos biflorus) are sown in order to enrich the nutritional status of the grassland. If the stand of grass is poor due to continuous drought over 2-3 years, then resowing of Kolukattai grass seeds is practised by the farmers.
In the Korangadu land, natural vegetation of Velvel (Acacia leucophloea) is common in the tract where rainfall is minimal. The thorny tree escapes browsing by animals and dried pods obtained from mature trees (after 7 - 8 years) are relished by the livestock. Farmers in their wisdom arrived at an optimum number of 30 - 40 trees/ha which may not hinder the growth of grass species. In a few areas other trees like Usilai (Albizia amara) is also grown which is also a fodder tree. Over the years, Korangadu has evolved into a well-structured system with sound management practices, a code to select species, and maintenance adopted to suit soil, climate and rainfall conditions of that area; indeed it is a system which is recognized by any villager.
Description of the Korangadu system
The system is described in the following sections:
- Establishing a Korangadu
- Plant species in a Korangadu
- Livestock species
- Tenancy system
- Grazing system
1. Establishing a Korangadu
During the summer season, the land to be developed into Korangadu has to be ploughed. Sowing of Kolukattai grass has to be undertaken during the period of "Purattasi-Iypassi" of the Tamil calendar (corresponding to September-October of the Julian calendar).
In order to cover 1 acre about 15 kg of Kolukattai seed will be sufficient and the seeds used are those harvested from established pastureland. Harvesting of seeds will be in the period of Thai (corresponding to January-February). Kolukattai grass can also be mixed with Naripayaru seeds (Phaseolus trilobus) and Kollu (Dolichos biflorus) seeds at the rate of about 10 kg each for 1 acre. For one year after sowing, no grazing is permitted but it is allowed in the second year of establishment.
Live fencing is undertaken by planting cuttings of Mullu Kiluvai (Commiphora berryii). Stumps measuring 4 feet in length and 3 centimetres in thickness of Mullu Kiluvai, a thorny weed plant found in wastelands / jungles, are planted at 1 foot depth by digging the soil with a crowbar. Two rows of such cuttings are planted during the period of Ani-Adi (corresponding to July-August). The survival and establishment of planted stumps is ensured with the onset of monsoon during Purattasi-Iyppasi (corresponding to September-October). About 30 workers are required to plant Mullu Kiluvai cuttings in 1 acre land to establish live fencing.
Every year the established fence has to be maintained by filling gaps with fresh cuttings of Mullu Kiluvai and such planting is performed only in the month of Ani-Adi (corresponding to June-July). Sometimes other plant species like Minnamaram (Premna serratifolia) also grow naturally. Farmers cut the branches of Minnamaram and utilize them for constructing sheep pen locally called Attupatti.
In the Korangadu pastureland, the Velvel maram tree grows naturally. Cattle and sheep relish the pods of this tree, and the seeds are passed undigested and dispersed through the dung. Farmers usually maintain an optimum population of around 20 Velvel trees in one acre or 60-70 trees in 2 ha land of Korangadu.
A mature tree will bear fruits in 6-7 years and yield 40-50 kg of pods every year. These pods fall to the ground during February-April. Excess pods are collected from the field and stored. During summer, when the growth of the grass is poor or almost non-existent, the pods of the Velvel tree provide good fodder for animals.
Surplus parts will be collected from the field and stored. The pods are also mixed with sorghum grain to feed the young ones of sheep. Each lamb will be fed about half kilogram of such mixture in the morning time.
2. Plant species in a Korangadu
Korangadu typically consists of a mixture of grass, legumes and tree species including annual and perennials. It has predominantly three major species of flora which are spatially in three tiers. The lower tier of Kolukattai grass (Cenchrus sp.), an upper tier of tree species including Acacia leucophloea that is locally called Velvel, and a live fence comprised of a thorny shrub locally called as Mullu Kiluvai (Commiphora berryii) makes up the middle tier.
During the documentation study by SEVA in the period 2004-2005, farmers mentioned local names of plants which were later taxonomically identified at the Madras Christian College, Chennai, India. An earlier study on various grass species was conducted by D. Pattabiraman, Director of Animal Husbandry, Chennai, India. Recently, scientists from Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi, India, recorded various types of fodder species in the Korangadu pasture land.
3. Livestock species
The Korangadu pastureland exists in more than 500 villages in a compact or contiguous area (4,000 sq km) and the total grassland area is about 50,000 ha. This grassland area is known as the breeding tract of Kangayam cattle, and also for its indigenous cattle which supply good quality plough and draught bullocks, its buffaloes and native breeds of sheep of the Mayilambadi and Mecheri breed.
During earlier times, this Kangayam breed was used for draught purpose to draw water from open wells and for ploughing drylands. Presently they are used for ploughing and transporting agricultural produce through bullock cart. The population of the Kangayam cattle is now decreasing at an alarming rate due to introduction of tractors in these areas. The population size of true to type of Kangayam cattle breeding bulls is about 60. This is just 2 percent of the original population of 2,000 bulls during the 1950s. These bulls are maintained in Nathakadayur village by Pattayagar families. The total Kangayam cattle population is estimated to be about 4,70,000.
Still, the Korangadu pastureland is well utilized for maintaining sheep and dairy animals. The animals which graze on Korangadu pastureland are healthy in appearance and growth rate. Farmers report that the dairy animals do not usually suffer from infertility as seen in other areas where stall feeding of animals is predominant. There are many natural fodder species that provide good nutrition for the animals. The seeds of the fodder species are resown naturally through cow dung as manure is left as such in the field itself. Therefore Korangadu pastureland is rich in biodiversity with different species of flora. Korangadu is maintained naturally without any artificial fertilizer except dung of the animal left in the field while grazing. This semi-arid tract is also a natural rainwater catchment area which helps to conserve ground water in the entire tract of Korangadu pastureland.
4. Tenancy System
Farmers and agricultural labourers who keep cattle, buffalo, sheep and goat depend upon Korangadu pastureland for daily grazing of animals. This area is a typical dryland with rainfall less than 700 mm. The erratic rainfall forces the farmers to solely depend upon animal husbandry for their livelihood, and leave agriculture which is highly dependent on the monsoon. Consequently, there is good scope for developing pastureland that is an insurance against recurrent drought.
Farmers who have many paddocks but own few or no livestock lease the land to landless livestock keepers who in turn pay an annual lease fee of Rs.5000 for 2ha of paddock. Sometimes Korangadu land is given for long term lease basis called Othi to livestock keepers for Rs.50,000 whenever the livestock keeper wants to close his grazing contract.
The tenure system of Korangadu grazing land is also practiced between owners and tenants when a landless tenant keeps livestock like sheep, for instance, a tenant family pays Rupees 50,000/- (approximately US$ 1,120) for keeping 2ha of paddock and this money is refunded without interest after a period of 2-5 years depending upon the contract. Wealthy farmers who are leaving or reducing the cultivated area and settling in cities lease their lands to livestock keepers on tenancy basis.
On an average, a farmer in Korangadu region owns about 2-3 cattle, 1 buffalo and 12 to 15 sheep per landholding of 8 acres of pastureland. Approximately 2ha of pastureland will support 25 sheep together with 2 cattle. The farmers derive income by selling milk and also selling male sheep. Rearing sheep is the major source of income as each ewe yields 3 lambs in 2 years. Male calves of Kangayam cattle breed are grown with special care and sold as young bullocks. They fetch a premium price in annual cattle fairs/village shandies like Kannapuram, Tirupur, Avinashi, Anthiyur villages in Tamil Nadu State.
5. Grazing system
The growth of the grass is evident immediately after the rainfall that occurs during three distinct seasons in this region. About one month is allowed after the rains for the grass to germinate and attain required height and after that animals are taken into the paddock for grazing.
Animals can graze on the Korangadu pasture for at least five months in a year. Besides, different local fodder species grow in such a manner that the pasture is likely to support the partial grazing of animals for at least during 8-10 months in a year. Four hectares of Korangadu pastureland is sufficient to maintain 2 adult cows and 4 calves, or 40 sheep, or 6 buffaloes or 20 goats.
Farmers divide their lands into paddocks, and animals are allowed in rotation. Grazing is permitted from morning till evening. Drinking water fetched from the village and transported by bicycle or bullock cart is available in the stone / cement troughs placed within the paddock. During December-January, if there is good growth of Kolukattai grass a few farmers harvest and store it as hay for feeding the animals during off-season. During summer, the animals are allowed to feed on the pods of Velvel trees.
The Korangadu pasturelands provide opportunities to the livestock for free grazing during October to January continuously due to growth of grass on the receipt of the north east monsoon. During March to June, when there is no grass in the pasture the cattle feed upon the pods of Acacia leucophloea. Whenever summer rains or unseasonal rains occur the vegetation regenerates and this serves as a fodder source for livestock.