Abandoned agricultural land contaminated with pesticides is revived by organic farming

Re-cultivation of barren land in India

The Karmuhil farm is situated in Tamil Nadu in southern India. In the Tamil language, Karmuhil means "dark rain cloud". The name represents the hope for life-giving water. Here, Dr Rani, a siddha medicine woman, and Father Clement together with 200 smallholders are engaged in biodynamically re-cultivating land that had been exhausted and contaminated with pesticides from decades of monoculture farming. The farmers are trained to diversify the range of crops for subsistence and also grow herbs and other crops from which they extract essential oils for the local and regional markets. The soils that were already re-cultivated earlier are now DEMETER certified.

Because of drought in the last few years, the farmers largely cultivated herbs and medicinal plants for producing essential oils, because these require less water while still yielding a decent return. Palmarosa, for example, an essential oil often used in cosmetics. Now the project will be expanded to other infertile pieces of land. Fertility of the degraded soil is achieved in an intensive re-cultivation process of three years by introducing compost and organic substances. This work is highly labor-intensive, but results in the lasting recovery of soils that had previously been made infertile by decades of monoculture.


Agriculture in the region of Thiramangalam in Tamil Nadu, India is characterized by small-scale subsistence farming and monocultural rice cultivation. The marginalized peasants in this region are trapped in a cycle of under- and malnourishment and poverty. There are few income opportunities, and basic infrastructure and access to education and health care are insufficient. A rigidly structured society and social marginalization exclude smallholders from social participation and capacity building. The key resource for securing a livelihood is the family's plot of land - there are few other alternatives. But the agricultural lands of smallholder farming families are often highly contaminated and exhausted after decades of intensive monocultural agriculture and the soil structure is extremely damaged.

Traditionally, family-owned land is passed from generation to generation, dividing it among the descendants. To ensure an adequate supply of food from small plots of land, there has been extensive deforestation to create new land, resulting in the almost total annihilation of natural woodlands. The requirements of decades of intensive monoculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, in conjunction with more difficult climate conditions (extensive droughts, unpredictable rains) have brought about the degradation and erosion of soils. As a consequence, large parts of the country are barren and what remains is showing steadily declining yields.

The good deed

Dry and barren land contaminated with pesticides in the economically underdeveloped rural areas of Thirumangalam Taluk, southern India, is being made fertile again based on organic farming methods. Through diversified farming techniques and cultivating drought resistant herbs and crops as well as measures for better water management, it has been possible to preserve but also to reclaim natural habitats, and to increase the resilience to more severe droughts and adverse climate phenomena.


The success of re-cultivating barren land and the eventual cultivation and processing of the resulting products is not only dependent on the continuous and labor-intensive implementation of the measures for composting/fertilizing and for improving soil fertility, but also on rainfall to irrigate the fields. In addition to improving the public water supply, natural water reservoirs are created, drought-resistant crops are planted and simple irrigation systems and water storage tanks are built, in order to minimize the risk of a lack of irrigation in case of a long drought.

Countable output

After around 7 months


After around 3 years

Systemic effect

After around 7 years

Re-cultivation of desiccated wastelands, securing livelihoods for smallholders through diversified organic farming.
Re-cultivation through natural compost fertilization, agricultural reorientation (diversifying, planting trees, drought-resistant varieties), irrigation.
The group has started re-cultivating and converting their land, trainings have been completed successfully.
Soil was successfully re-cultivated in an organic and biodynamic way. Agricultural yields are enough to sustain the family all year round.
Generating food security and regular income while preserving or even regaining biodiversity.


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Do you have further questions about the project? Please contact our 24GoodDeeds contact person Julia Feldhausen Julia.Feldhausen@gls-treuhand.de or ask your question on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/24guteTaten
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