At a time when farmer suicides put a blot on the agrarian sector of the State two years ago, Digol Thomas, an engineering graduate, started scripting a different farm story — one marked by hard work, perseverance, and fine imagination.
Avani farm, a high-tech precision farm at Arattuthara village, near Mananthavadi, in the district, has set a model for the State to emulate.
The State government selected Digol Thomas as the best ‘young farmer’ in 2012.
Digol Thomas was at the crossroads after leaving his interior designer job in Abu Dhabi when he visited some precision farms there which functioned there profitably and in adverse climatic conditions. “Perhaps, my frequent visits to those farms gave me the confidence to set up such a farm here,” he says.
He thought of the positives such as fertile soil and good climate. His father, Thomas of Aryapallil, a traditional farmer, also inspired Digol Thomas to go ahead.
When the State Horticulture Mission also came forward to offer technical help and financial support, he set up Avani farm on 25 cents of land. He spent Rs.12 lakh, including Rs.4.75 lakh as subsidy from the mission and Rs.4.lakh as agriculture loan from the Mananthavadi branch of Federal Bank.
Salad cucumber or English cucumber, which was not widely grown by traditional farmers then, was Digol Thomas’s first crop. He could also convince local people of the benefits of precision farming. He then grew vegetables which grew in cold climes.
“Now, many young men are ready to start such a venture,” he says.
He formed a collective of 50 young farmers christened ‘Innovative farmers club of Wayanad.’ The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation is providing technical and marketing support to them.
“Crops can be raised irrespective of external factors such as climate. This is the main advantage of the method,” Dogol Thomas says adding productivity and quality of produce would increase under scientifically created conditions.
“Dearth of workers is a major issue. A certain number of workers are required even if the farming is undertaken in polyhouse units,” Digol Thomas says. (Polyhouse is a tunnel-like structure made of polyethylene used in precision farming).
The Agriculture Department s taking steps to promote precision farming in the district. The department will set up a demonstration unit each on 500 sq m at the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Ambalavayal and the Rural Agriculture Wholesale Market, Sulthan Bathery, Alex C. Mathew, Deputy Director, Horticulture Mission, says.
The mission will also take the initiative to set up three naturally ventilated polyhouses in select panchayats in the district. A structure will cost Rs.4 lakh and 75 per cent of the cost will be borne by the department and the rest by the farmers, Mr. Alex says.
This part, the setting up of 13 high-tech polyhouses will be taken up this fiscal.