Kochi: More than 3,000 small and marginal farmers in Kerala have turned to organic farming and are growing coconuts, bananas and intercrops such as pepper, nutmeg and arecanut, assured of a ready market.
Organic farming does not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, instead it relies on crop rotation, green manure, biological pest control and genetically modified seeds.
Eco-friendly: Creepers are grown on coir geotextiles called eco-fences, which are stretched and fixed on posts.
Sevashram, a voluntary organization that has helped convert more than 500 acres of land at Angamaly near the Kochi international airport to organic farming, buys the produce that the farmers want to sell. It often pays more than the market price.
“It involves the whole cycle, from production to consumption, so every village involved can be self-sufficient,” said K. Mampilly, a priest who started Sevashram. “All the money is generated by farmers and the benefits are shared among them,” he said.
Sevashram now plans to popularize the concept in neighbouring Thrissur, Kottayam and Alappuzha districts, where it has set up 10 groups, each involving 150 farmers.
“We have a cluster system and each cluster has about 300 farmers managing coconut centres called kera kendras, which are essentially agri clinics-cum-business centres,” Mampilly said. Each centre, in turn, serves several self-help support groups.
The farmers, who are members of the support groups, learn to grow farm products organically and sell whatever surplus they have after consumption to consumers in neighbouring districts. To train farmers and also help them sell, Sevashram engages retired officials and experts from the agriculture department, as well as certification agencies such as Indocert to inspect the produce.
M. Ousephachan, a farmer in Angamaly who has been involved in the project for the past seven years, said Sevashram buys coconuts grown on his four-acre plot at prices above market rates.
Sevashram even supplies him manure and sells the produce it buys from him at stores called ‘eco-parlours’.
“I have been getting better yield (since converting to organic farming),” he added.
“About 200 families that have one to two acres of land have come together as a self-help group and we have stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” said Bindu Paul, a farmer in Moolapura village who joined the scheme two months ago.
After 13 years in the field, last year, Sevashram promoted a public limited company, Swasraya Organic Products Ltd. The company is in early talks with a South Korean firm to sell sulphur-free coconut oil, under the brand ‘Kerasyam’. Sevashram has also promoted the concept of ‘eco-fence’ where coir-based textiles are stretched and creeper plants are grown on them to form a thick fence.