Trivandrum Youth Farmers’ Sangham, a collective of farmers in Thiruvananthapuram district, shares its success story

Greenery stretches as far as the eyes can see. A few kilometres from Venjaramoodu, we take the uneven, steep road from the main road. It leads us to neatly cultivated fields of vegetables and plantain.

As we navigate, with much difficulty, the small canals cutting through the fields, Pirappancode Chandran says: “These bananas will be ready for Onam. In those raised platforms (thattu, in his words) we have planted yellow cucumber (‘vellari’). A seed of lady’s finger too has been put in each pit. It is a new experiment, but I’m sure we won’t fail.” (see box)

After all, this Onam is going to be special for Chandran and scores of other farmers in and around Thiruvananthapuram district who are part of the collective, Trivandrum Youth Farmers’ Sangham.

“We’ve been working together for the last one year or so, but became a registered body only four months ago. The fact that we are all working together boosts our confidence,” says Chandran, president of the Sangham, which has a seven-member governing body and 162 members as of now.

While some members have land of their own, the majority have taken land on lease for cultivation.

“At present the governing body members alone are cultivating on nearly 30 acres of land. We cultivate banana, vegetables such as cucumber, lady’s finger, long beans, snake gourd, bitter gourd, ivy gourd, different varieties of yam, pumpkin, chillies and the like,” says Chandran, who has been a farmer for the last 15 years or so.

We then move to another field owned by the Sangham where some of the members of the collective join us for a chat.

“The idea to form a Sangham was born after we came in touch with the activities of Agrifriends Krishi Samskarika Vedi. The interactions we have always inspire us to learn new farming methods. As they say, unity is strength. We’ve got encouragement from the government as well. In fact, the State Horticulture Mission is taking two of our members to Delhi and then Haryana to learn about hi-tech farming methods,” says Anilkumar Nellanad, secretary of the Sangham who has cultivated plantain on his land at Nellanad.

Arun S.S., the treasurer of the Sangham, grows plantain, long beans, ivy gourd and many varieties of yam on his fields in Nellanad. Ramesh R., another member, has his plantain cultivation at Palode. Ratheesh P., Babu, Bhaskaran Nair, Binu S. and Surendran are fully into farming in the Pullambara-Kulappuram area.

Some of the members are juggling their jobs with farming. While Anil has a shop, Arun runs a tutorial and is a scriptwriter for serials; Ramesh works as a clerk in a government school.

All the vegetables are organically grown and are sold at the world market at Nedumangad. “This Onam we are planning to put up a vegetable stall in the city,” says Chandran, who is also the coordinator of the world market.

Problems are aplenty for the group.

“We take great pains to grow the vegetables organically, but never get the profit. There is no control over the rates when the produce reaches the market. Also, pests are posing constant problems for us. Even as we harp on organic cultivation, little is being done to manufacture organic pesticides,” they point out.

They also warn that Kerala can’t always rely on neighbouring states for vegetables.

“Many states are focussing on international markets. They prefer countries such as Iran, Iraq and in the Gulf,” says Anil. Arun seconds, saying: “And we have no clue about how safe it is to eat the vegetables that flow into our State.”

The group is planning to seek assistance from the Agriculture Department to put up stakes and cross wires for growing plantain and vegetables.

“We use bamboo stakes to support climbers and creepers. They don’t last long, especially when the weather is bad. So we have requested subsidy to put up stakes. Recently we were taken to Theni where we saw the technology by which the farmers store the bananas for up to two months when the prices fall. We would like to emulate that method,” Chandran says.

All said and done, they are looking forward to the festival season, as they get set to reap the fruits of their labour.

Dual advantage

Seeds of the cucumber are put into a small lump of flattened cowdung. It is rolled into a ball and thrown into a pit. In this way, two kinds of vegetables can be grown in the same place. Chandran has also reaped a rich harvest by planting two varieties of plantain (nenthran) in a single pit.