Course corrections to make it more acceptable to farmers

The government has undertaken a State-wide evaluation of the greenhouse technology for protected cultivation of vegetables, under plans to identify and address the problems faced by pioneering farmers who had adopted hi-tech farming methods.

The State Horticulture Mission - Kerala (SHM-K) has joined hands with Kerala Agricultural University and the State Remote Sensing Agency to carry out the evaluation. A special software supplied by the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad, has been deployed to map the geographic location of each polyhouse and record data on crops, sowing, and harvesting.

“Our field officials have been provided with Android phones equipped with the software. They visit each polyhouse, record the details and advise the farmers on soil nutrient management and pest and disease control methods. The data generated through the exercise will be used to evaluate the hi-tech method of farming. At a later stage, this baseline information can be used for effective market intervention,” says K. Prathapan, Director, SHM-K.

“With as many as 575 polyhouses constructed across the State, mainly in Palakkad, Thrissur, Wayanad, Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram, the time has come to evaluate the technology and make course corrections to make it more acceptable to farmers,” Director of Agriculture R. Ajithkumar told The Hindu. He said farmers had been demanding an increase in the standard size of a polyhouse to accommodate more plants.

Pollination

One of the drawbacks of the polyhouse method of cultivation is that only non-pollinated varieties can be grown because the plants are insulated from insects. “This effectively confines the utility of the greenhouse to the production of certain high value crops like tomato, salad cucumber, capsicum, and cowpea which have limited market demand,” says V.M. Abdul Hakkim, Head of the Precision Farming Development Centre (PFDC) under Kerala Agricultural University (KAU).

Dr. Prathapan said efforts were on to use honeybees to grow pollinated varieties of vegetables in polyhouses, a technique popular in the Netherlands. “Our experiments reveal that the high humidity inside a polyhouse is an inhibiting factor.” The SHM-K is also experimenting with electric bees to induce artificial pollination inside polyhouses.

Dr. Hakkim, however, sees the need to promote the rainshelter method of protected cultivation as a low- cost alternative to the polyhouse. Trials conducted by the PFDC had demonstrated significant increase in the off- season yield of vegetables like tomato, bhindi, capsicum, salad cucumber, China aster and gerbera when cultivated in rainshelters as compared to open field farming.

Low-cost alternative

Dr. Hakkim feels that the rainshelter method would be more acceptable for small and marginal farmers. However, the absence of subsidy support has stymied efforts to promote the rainshelter technique as a viable alternative. A rainshelter is estimated to cost less than half of a polyhouse.

Experts feel that a reorientation of the subsidy system would be needed to promote the rainshelter technique.

P.Rajasekharan, Chief (Agriculture), Kerala State Planning Board, said it would be advisable to have a mix of polyhouse, rainshelter and open field cultivation of vegetables.

He said hi-tech and precision farming methods were being encouraged under a multiple strategy to promote entrepreneurship in agriculture.

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