Kerala

Farmers see a ‘slaughterhouse of plants’

Johny Pattani in his dilapidated polyhouse at Kalpetta in Wayanad.

Johny Pattani in his dilapidated polyhouse at Kalpetta in Wayanad.  

To quell heat, misting is used. Excess moisture results, causing fungi to multiply. There is no respite

It was in 2013 that Johny Pattani, a progressive farmer at Kalpetta in Wayanad, took up polyhouse cultivation, an emerging commercial activity.

The farmer borrowed ₹12 lakh from a bank to set up the biggest polyhouse in the district. However, he gave up precision farming this year, after suffering huge losses for seven years. Mr. Pattani had started the venture upon being told by officials about the advantages of hi-tech polyhouse farming — high productivity, minimum water requirement, longer shelf life for produce, and low pest attacks. He also felt encouraged by the positive experiences of a few farmers who had taken up the innovative farming technique. Today, he feels let down.

“I had organically cultivated capsicum in the polyhouse made of polyethylene. But the first harvest itself flopped, mainly owing to the dearth of marketing facility for organic vegetables in the district,” he said.

“I could not compete with the low-priced vegetables brought from Karnataka and was forced to sell the produce at a throwaway price,” Johny said. He cultivated bitter gourd, cow pea and French beans the next year, but the result was no different.

Pest attack

Gradually the yield from the polyhouse declined and attacks of fungus, mealybug and other insects increased. Finally, he realised that farming is not possible inside a polyhouse without applying highly toxic chemicals to keep pathogens at bay. Always a stickler for organic farming, he was averse to applying toxic pesticides on plants. He stopped farming this year. He is yet to close the loan.

Where are the experts?

The plight of more than 150 other farmers who had put up polyhouses under various such schemes in the district is almost similar. K. Saseendran, a farmer at Thekkumthara in the district, had borrowed ₹5.50 lakh from a bank and received ₹2.70 lakh as subsidy from the Agriculture Department when he set out in 2013 on the uncharted territory of precision farming.

He is yet to get any profit from the venture, and blames for it the dearth of a marketing system and absence of experts to provide feedback and tips on new technologies.

Many a time, excessive heat can make the polyhouse a slaughterhouse for plants, farmers say. They resort to misting to bring the heat down. But excessive misting can lead to excess moisture and finally it makes a polyhouse the breeding ground of fungi. Mr. Saseendran is now trying to convert his polyhouse into a naturally ventilated one.

An alternative

K. Ajithkumar, Associate Director of Research, Regional Agricultural Research station, Ambalavayal, says polyhouses are not suitable for subtropical or tropical regions. Rain shelter farming with insect proof-net is suitable for such regions. The high temperature with high humidity inside a polyhouse helps pathogens, including fungus and insects, multiply. Naturally, input cost would go up. The research station is planning a study on the reasons for the failure of polyhouses in the district and ways to renovate them, in the wake of Wayanad being declared a ‘special agriculture zone’ for floriculture.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 7:36:01 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/farmers-see-a-slaughterhouse-of-plants/article30654290.ece

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