Meet Sreevidya M and Saifulla P, winners of best young farmers instituted by Kerala Government
While Sreevidya converted a rocky terrain into green patch, Saifulla grows medicinal plants and other crops on leased land
MAKING A GREENHOUSE
Kolathur village of Kasaragod district has a star in Sreevidya M. Six years ago no one would have thought that she would bring home a State award by farming on an undulating and rocky terrain.
On four acres, she grows passion fruit, papaya, banana, paddy, vegetables, coconut and tubers, besides managing a poultry business and an aquaponics farm. “It has been backbreaking. But I am immensely satisfied when I look back at what I have done,” says Sreevidya over the phone.
A commerce graduate, Sreevidya got interested in farming because of her parents. “My 72-year-old father, AK Narayanan Nair, continues to inspire me. I can never beat him when it comes to working on the field!” says the 35-year-old, employed with a travel and tour company for the last 12 years.
It was in 2014-15 that she decided to take up farming with the support of her husband, Radhakrishnan M. By then she had already bought 50 cents of paddy field. “After marriage I moved to Dubai with my husband. I bought the field with my first salary. That was a gratifying moment since my father had to sell off his field for my wedding,” she recollects.
Setbacks were many, like the huge losses she suffered when she reared cows and goats. But, although her husband had to go back to Dubai after a point, she decided to carry on. “Converting the hilly terrain into arable land was an uphill task. We had to blast the rocks in some parts. The barren land was filled with boulders and stones. Water scarcity was another challenge,” she says.
A bumper yield of Red Lady papaya variety and passion fruit turned things in her favour. “People called me crazy when I grew passion fruit. But even when the pandal in front of my home crashed in heavy rain I wasn’t dissuaded. I built a permanent one, much to the surprise of people in the neighbourhood,” she laughs.
She grows rubber and used to make sheets as well. “We planted pineapple in between the trees but couldn’t harvest any because monkeys ate all of it,” she says.
Aquaponics was a successful gamble and she cultivated all kinds of plants, including strawberry. In addition to the pond on one cent, she has biofloc (low-cost fish farming that involves recycling of nutrients and converting toxic materials into feed) and mini aquaponics farms. In addition, she grows over 30 varieties of fruits and cultivation of upland paddy and fodder grass.
Chemical fertilisers are a strict no-no and she uses drip irrigation method. “I mostly supervise everything on my own even though I have a job. I need hands at the time of planting crops and taking the yield. Harvesting paddy is by and large a family affair, more like a festival,” she says.
The latest additions to her farm are azolla cultivation and bee-keeping. “After a day’s hard work, the most relaxing thing is sitting by the aquaponics farm,” she signs off.
ROOTING FOR TECHNOLOGY
Saifulla P is assured of a government job as his name figures in the rank list of the Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC). But he asserts that he can’t think of a life without farming.
The 30-year-old from Kuruva in Malappuram district took to farming as a school boy, inspired by his grandfather and father. In addition to cultivating on one-and-a-half acres near his home where he grows rubber, arecanut and coconut, he does farming on 22 acres of leased land in three different locations. While bananas and vegetables form the major share of the leased land, he grows paddy and medicinal plants at the other two locations.
“It was 10 years ago that I developed an interest in medicinal plants, especially after I realised that Ayurveda had become a way of life for several people. Since there were only few people cultivating these plants I knew that there was a market for them,” he says. Among the plants in his five-acre medicinal plant farm are koduveli (Indian leadwort), neelayamari (Indian Indigo), adalodakam (Malabar nut), turmeric, ginger, chengazhineerkizhangu (Indian crocus), basil, arrowroot and kurunthotti (Bala).
He has entered into an agreement to provide raw materials to Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala. “They require 35,000 kilogram of basil every year. I have to ensure periodic supply of the plant. I have already given 1,000 kilograms. I have nearly two kilogram of seeds with me to grow it,” he explains. He has also supplied koduveli worth ₹5 lakh, which came to around four tonnes, and kurunthotti worth ₹one lakh. Saifulla adds that neelayamari, an ingredient in making hair oil, earns around ₹100 per kilogram.
The banana varieties from his farm is purchased by vendors who supply to supermarket chains. He cultivates paddy on four acres and once it is harvested, he grows different varieties of watermelon. He has also taken up musk melon cultivation on a small patch.
Working as a consultant with a fertiliser company, he advises farmers to be wary of misleading information about farming, especially those uploaded on social media. A postgraduate in Biostatistics and an MPhil holder in Bioinformatics, Saifulla roots for precision farming, which is based on information and technology-based cultivation. “Technology is used to increase productivity. I use scientifically-developed plant nutrients for pests and disease management. I focus on increasing the yield by providing the right inputs for the plants,” he explains. He has also developed an organic pesticide with the aid of the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna-Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied Sector Rejuvenation (RKVY-RAFTAAR) Agri Business Incubator, a scheme of the Central Government.