Nammazhvar’s name has become synonymous with organic farming in Tamil Nadu. In the last one decade, he has "converted" about 6,000 farmers—which translates roughly into 20,000 acres—to "poison-free" methods of profitable agriculture. Poison is the only word in Nammazhvar’s organic dictionary for pesticides/herbicides/insecticides and chemicals that Indian farmers have been forced to use in the name of modernisation and mass production.
Ironically, Nammazhvar began his career in the very forums he fights today. Born in an agriculturist family in Thanjavur, Nammazhvar got himself a BSc in agriculture from Annamalai University and joined Kovilpatti’s Regional Research Station for Rainfed Crops in 1960 as research assistant. But this bearded 60-plus man was sceptical about agendas set in laboratories. "For three years, we never visited the fields. All research was in the lab. I suggested to fellow-scientists that we formally record the uselessness of our pursuits," he recalls. His friends said such frankness would spell the closure of their centre, but the agenda would remain. Three years later, Nammazhvar quit to look for more meaningful and sustainable ways of pursuing agriculture.