Kerala’s ambitious polyhouse farming programme, aimed at increasing vegetable production in the State, is going through teething troubles though the State Horticulture Mission is optimistic about a robust future .

Two years young, as director of the Horticulture Mission K. Prathapan describes it, the new farming programme has it flaws. “But we are not sitting idle or waiting for farmers to come to us,” he said about the proactive role being played by the Mission in addressing issues that crop up time and again with the new, sophisticated farming programme.

Polyhouse farming, made popular by The Netherlands and Israel — two countries which face extreme weather and soil conditions — involves cultivation of vegetables in a controlled atmosphere, under ultraviolet film roofing and nets to keep pests out. Polyhouses also deploy water soluble fertilizers and micro-managed irrigation, helping save on water, labour, fertilizers and pesticides.

Dr. Prathapan said the programme faces trouble in identifying a proper team to erect the polyhouse and quality materials etc. But the potential is high. He said the farming saves 60 to 70 per cent of labour cost compared to open field cultivation and the yield can be five to eight times more than in the conventional cultivation.

Polyhouse farming also promises to extent the harvest life of vegetables like cowpea by one to one-and-a-half months.

Capsicum, salad cucumber, tomatoes, bitter gourds and cowpeas have been great success in the polyhouses in Kerala, and the number is expected to go up to more than a 1,000 this financial year.

Dr. Prathapan said the Horticulture Mission had received nearly 400 applications for subsidies this financial year, the last date for submitting the applications being July 31. The Central and state governments offer a combined subsidy of 75 per cent of the expenditure in erecting a 1,000 sq. metre polyhouse.

Three hundred farms were up and running in the State and 212 more are coming, he said. The government spent nearly Rs. 10 crore on polyhouse subsidies last year and an equal amount was expected to be disbursed this year too, he added.

However, veteran farmer and political leader K. Krishnankutty, who was the chairman of the committee that put out a draft agricultural development policy for the State early this month, said there was no research going on into what was suited best to Kerala. He said there were three major technologies available in the world. The Israeli technology could be best for us despite the fact that Kerala gets more rains.

Polyhouse farming’s posterboy Digaul Thomas in Mananthavady, Wayanad, agrees that Kerala needs to finetune the technology that is best suited to the State’s conditions. However, he has made it big as a farmer, thanks largely to the 1,000 sq. metres of polyhouse cultivation he has developed over the last three years.

He was selected as the best farmer in the State by the government of Kerala in 2012, his polyhouse farm being a major factor in winning the award.

. He is optimistic about the future of polyhouse farming. It is possible even with the imperfect practices to make a living out of polyhouse farming, he told The Hindu on Thursday from Wayanad.

He said that he harvested 3.5 tonnes of bittergourds and three tonnes of vegetable cowpea from his polyhouse farm last season. At 33, he was an interior designer, but then turned to agriculture because he loved it so much, he said.

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