This time to address the issues of pepper farmers
After scripting a success story in precision farming, Digol Thomas, a progressive farmer in Wayanad, has launched an innovative project with the financial assistance of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the technical support of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Agriculture Department.
The State government had selected Digol Thomas as the best ‘young farmer’ in 2012. This time Mr. Digol Thomas, an engineering graduate at Arattuthara near Mananthavady in the district, is trying to address the issues of pepper farmers. Dearth of supporting trees after the destruction of the Erithrina Indica, in local parlance Murikku, due to a wasp attack, low productivity, various diseases affecting pepper vines, and paucity of workers are some of the factors affecting the farmers.
Addressing these issues, Mr. Digol has indigenously developed an innovative method of pepper cultivation after consulting agriculture scientists and visiting the farms of progressive pepper farmers for the past two years. As a part of it, he developed a honeycomb structure with bricks measuring two square feet width and seven feet height, to plant pepper vines.
As many as 72 such standards have been constructed on his one-acre rubber plantation for the purpose and each structure cost nearly Rs.4,000. The distance between plant-to-plant and row-to-row is two metres. According to Mr. Digol, fertigation is applied through venturi with the technology of open type precision farming and it will ensure that the fertilizers will get only to the pepper plant evenly.
It is expected that the productivity of pepper can be at least doubled in this method, Mr. Digol says. The traditional farmers usually plant two to three pepper saplings to a supporting tree. But in this method, they can plant up to eight saplings at a time. It will also help to minimise the labour cost during harvest and recurring expenditure to maintain the supporting pole, he says.
Mr. Digol uses top shoots of pepper vines instead of the traditional lateral vines as planting material for an early harvest.
As the pathogens of major diseases affect the pepper vines, he has mulched the treated soil with a plastic film and planted the saplings on it. He planted 12 varieties of pepper vines, including 10 varieties of high yielding and two local varieties. ‘‘We are optimistic of the project and we are anticipating that it will help to set a new methodology for the pepper farming community in the State,’’ N.S. Sajikumar, District Development Manager, NABARD, said.