The riches of the soil are luring people back to agriculture in substantial numbers in Mulanthuruthy, where farming has been the mainstay of life until about two decades ago.

Even with hawkish real estate agents zooming in on cultivable land and rice paddies, people like Sreelatha Santhosh and Paili P.M. are trying to give a new lease of life and a new direction to agriculture in their panchayat.

Ms. Santhosh, a housewife, has joined hands with eight of her friends in the panchayat under the Kudumbasree Mission to lease 2.5 acres for cultivation of vegetables like amaranthus, cucumber, snake gourd, pumpkin and a cluster of banana plants. She said she was encouraged by agriculture officers operating through the Krishi Bhavan and the incentives that were being offered to self-help groups like hers by the department of agriculture.

Rice cultivation is a profitable venture, says Mr. Paili, contradicting arguments that rising input costs and a severe shortage of labour had turned it into a difficult task. “If we can get Rs.1,500 a quintal for paddy and about Rs.3,000 for the hay from an acre of rice cultivation, there is nothing that can keep willing farmers away from paddy cultivation,” he says.

He has been at it for nearly a decade now, adopting the System of Rice Intensification in which rice is planted in rows of single plants. This is more economical because less fertilizer and water inputs are needed when compared to the traditional method of rice cultivation. Mr. Paili gives his word had that he had a yield of up to 2.5 tonnes of paddy from an acre three years ago, though that feat has not been repeated after that. Even with a lesser yield and proper market support, paddy cultivation is an attractive venture, he says.

For K.V. Mathai, who harvested about three tonnes of snake gourd from about 50 cents, agriculture is his sole stay of life. He follows a rotation of crops on two acres of leased land to cultivate a variety of vegetables throughout the year.

Rice cultivation, which was once spread over about 250 hectares in the panchayat, has now shrunk substantially. About 50 hectares are under vegetable cultivation. The department of agriculture is trying to draw more people into cultivating rice with incentives.

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