An unusual visitor to the farm at Valiyakandam was the king of the Mannan tribe of Kovilmala, Raman Thevan.

They are a group of 30 people from all the four taluks in Idukki district, turning up every Saturday for farming in a field taken on lease. 

Among them are young Prasad and a Catholic priest Thomas Edathotty. There are also retirees from government services, including the police department, among the farm enthusiasts.

Named `Sanikootam', its working has acquired a nature of a well-conceived ritual. The members assemble together and move into the field at nine in the morning.

The community farming venture under them has some great aims and features. One is to protect the endemic and traditional crop varieties. The collective venture also aims to deploy only organic practices for cultivation of vegetables and tubers.

“We, in fact, do not want to sell the crops but to share it within the group. Moreover, we get our tensions released”, says Sujatha Thankappan, a member of the group. She said that she had a natural interest in agriculture and hence became a member of the farming community. She added that the group was a forum for sharing individual experiences on farming, which are valuable to all of us, she said.

Nayan Gopi from the Mannan community from Kozhimala says that tribesmen like him had traditionally taken up farming in forested areas but a lack of availability of land was a problem now. However, he said that many farmers could join in a group and engage in producing food for themselves at least for three or four months in  a year without much physical effort. There is a work schedule and all adhere to it here, he said.

The major crops being taken up by the group include traditional tubers like yam and tapioca; bananas and cabbage.  The main benefit for the members is safe-to-eat produces, free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Students and other young people too come to watch the group’s farming activities, providing them with an incentive and ideas to take up their own cultivation.

Shaji Thundathil, a member of the team, said that the farming activities provide peace of mind. It may be a simple step but such initiatives can make a big impact on the society.

On Saturday (Farmers' day), the community was helped by students of the Government Tribal School here.