Agrifriends Krishi Samskarika Vedi, the brainchild of three individuals, has unleashed an eco-friendly green revolution across Kerala

By teaching school students to befriend the soil, members of Agrifriends Krishi Samskarika Vedi are sowing the seeds of a new eco-friendly green revolution in Kerala. Their innovative activities are getting school students to familiarise themselves with our agrarian roots. Behind the venture is three individuals – D.R. Jose, A.R. Baiju and S. Jayakumar. When MetroPlus caught up with the unassuming trio, they were sweating it out for the fourth edition of the Children’s Farm Science Congress, to be held in the capital city, on Museum premises, on January 24 and 25.

Agrifriends, which has been around since 2005 (though it was officially registered in 2007), was formed because, “the young generation was moving away from agriculture,” says Jayakumar, programme coordinator of Agrifriends and an employee of the Farm Information Bureau. Jayakumar, also the state coordinator of Krishipadam, the flagship initiative of Agrifriends under which it carries out various activities in schools, adds: “Now, almost seven lakh students in the state are part of the activities. Among our members are government employees, farmers, retired hands, teachers, students and mediapersons.”

At a time when there is growing awareness about the need to be self-sufficient in agricultural produce, Agrifriends has reaped a rich harvest. “The Krishipadam programmes paved the way for the Farm Science Congress, which is getting bigger with each edition in spite of paucity of funds and man power. Sometimes we have to pay from our pockets. But from 262 students in the first edition, it grew to 368 and 450 in the following editions. This time, in fact, we’re restricting the entries to 500, since we can’t afford accommodation for more students,” says Baiju, general secretary of Agrifriends, an agricultural assistant of Krishi Bhavan at Kanjikkuzhy in Alappuzha district.

Talking about the success of the programme, Jayakumar explains: “We were able to strike a rapport with the children. They had knowledge and skill, but it was about creating the right attitude. They had to be taught that agriculture is a part of our culture. The best part was that we had the support of teachers and parents.”

While the Krishipadam programmes have already reached out to a number of schools in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Kannur and Thrissur districts, the members guide many others schools over the phone.

The classes cover almost everything related to agriculture, ranging from vegetable cultivation, homestead farming and organic farming to adopting traditional farming methods and rainwater harvesting.

It all started with a paddy cultivation programme at V.V. Dayani Government UPS, Tholicode, in Thiruvananthapuram district led by Jayakumar and a group of friends.

That was before the three had come together. When Krishipadam programmes got extended to other schools and new project study reports came out, people started taking notice of the novel venture. By then Baiju had joined Jayakumar and they made it a point to publicise their activities through the media in order to make themselves heard and seen. An organic farming programme in S.N. UP School, Chullimanoor, put them in touch with Jose who was working there. Jose, who is now president of Agrifriends, is, at present, a teacher in St. Mary’s HSS, Kamukincode, Neyyatinkara. “Agri Friends was born out of that camaraderie we shared,” they say.

The USP of Agrifriends is that each time they bring in novel programmes, that too well-researched ones. The teaching method incorporates music, games and acting with lessons in agriculture.

Agrifriends often takes students to the villages to understand traditional farming methods and that is how students of seven schools met Gowri Kani, an 87-year-old tribal woman, who showed them how she cultivated her land inside the forest and also sang folk songs for them.

As a result of the recognition and encouragement from the government, Agrifriends is often chosen to implement many programmes. “Agriculture Minister K.P.Mohanan is our well-wisher and as per his wish we took Vithuvandi, a mobile unit to distribute seeds in schools across the state, to Koothuparambu where we took classes and distributed seeds in 159 schools,” Jayakumar says.

Meanwhile, Agrifriends is hoping for a day when it would have coordinators in all the districts in Kerala so that their grren message reaches workers at the grass-root.

Contact Agrifriends at 9495200255.

Meet the young farmers

The fourth Farm Science Congress is based on the theme ‘Krishi – Nattarivum Shastravum’. It focusses on four areas – research in agriculture, farm models in schools, ‘Ente Krishi, Ente Shastram’ (My Farm, My Science) and ‘Karshaka Shastram’ (Science from farmers). Each school can send a team of five students. There is a mega exhibition organised by the students. Also, for the first time, short videos made by students on their farming initiatives will be screened and the best video will get a cash prize and trophy. There are awards for the best child farm scientist and the best school as well.

“The Congress is not about presenting papers or holding seminars. The creativity, the interest and the dedication of each participant is evaluated,” says Jose.

The Farm Science Congress has the support of many government departments and various institutions. A lot of programmes have already been held in the run-up to the Congress, the recent one being a visit to Kallana in Peringamala panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram district to meet centenarian Mathi who shared her farming experience with a group comprising students and members of Agrifriends.

The beginning

Jayakumar and a group of friends kick-started the initiative at V.V. Dayani Government UPS, Tholicode, in Thiruvananthapuram district. “We took them through the story of paddy and its place in Kerala’s culture, society, history and environment. This was done through 25 info cards and not books. They were then taught to grow paddy in tins,” says Jayakumar, who was working with Tholicode Krishi Bhavan then.

Highlights

‘Vayalvilakku’ was carried out in over 20 schools, including Holy Angels’ School in the city. The students were taught to cultivate paddy in the limited space available. They were taught songs and folklore associated with farming and harvest.

‘Nellutsavam’ at Kuttikad UPS, Kollam, had students planting and harvesting paddy in a festival atmosphere, on Makam day in the Malayalam month of Kanni (considered the birthday of paddy).

‘Nellunamaskaram’ at Vinobha UPS, Tholicode. Students of various schools came together to learn about paddy cultivation.

‘Onappoovu’ at St Thomas Schools, Mukkolakkal. Seeds of flowers that are used to make pookkalams were distributed.