Kerala

Technical upgrade, a distant dream

An abandoned polyhouse in Kannur.

An abandoned polyhouse in Kannur.  

‘An outdated technology from Israel, which was in use 25 years ago, is used here’

When Abraham Antony decided to leave his job in Singapore and return to his native Edakkom, he was hopeful of making a career out of farming. After all, the State government had been actively promoting a high-tech technology to grow vegetables. Six years into polyhouse farming, he deeply regrets the decision. The heavy losses forced him to stop farming. Now, he works in Qatar.

Like Mr. Antony, several others in Kannur have wound up polyhouse cultivation, after pumping in huge amounts. Since its inception in 2011-12, 38 people have constructed polyhouses in Kannur. The last person to join the scheme was in 2017-18. Now, fewer than 10 farmers are on the job. Others are on the verge of closure.

“It was a great start, with tomatoes, cucumbers, and long yard beans giving a rich yield,” says Mr. Antony. But, when the crop reached the market, it was much costlier than those brought from other States. He grew tomatoes when the market price was ₹60 a kilogram. When it was time to sell, the price had dipped to ₹6. “The price did not even meet the production cost,” he says.

He tried other vegetables, but the returns never picked up. He invested ₹50 lakh on a polyhouse, got a return of just ₹10 lakh in four years.

The soil factor

M.V. Rajan, a farmer from Karippal, who had a polyhouse in 25 cents of land, could only watch helplessly as the yield reduced over a period of time. With the regular use of fertilizers, the quality of soil plummeted.

Mr. Rajan says the cultivation is high-risk as any disease will spread within few hours and destroy the produce. Moreover, the lack of expertise in the Agriculture Department is a point of concern. “The field officers had no solution to offer when the red spinach I grew was affected by a disease. A large portion of the yield was destroyed,” he says.

An outdated technology from Israel, which was in use 25 years ago, is still being implemented here, claims T.V. John, a farmer who discarded polyhouse farming after incurring debts. He says polyhouses are not suitable for the climatic conditions here. High humidity content affects vegetables. “There is a need to upgrade technology and come up with designs suited for local conditions,” he says.

A few bright spots

However, there were a few exceptions like N.K. Roy at Neeliyara in Taliparamba block, who, despite several failures found a way out by cultivating bush pepper in the polyhouse. He started a polyhouse in 50 cents of land. All efforts at cultivating vegetables failed, mainly due to the climate. Then he switched to pepper cultivation. Today his polyhouse has 10,000 bush pepper plants.

“I could bear the losses, as I am running a coir company too. Not everyone will be able to absorb such losses, primarily caused by the lack of technical know-how in the implementing authority,” he says. “The government officials do try to popularise the concept, but once launched, there is little technical support for the farmers.”

Agriculture Department officials say they are not encouraging farmers to directly take up polyhouse cultivation. Kannur Principal Agriculture Officer Lal T. George admits to the many drawbacks in the system. “Before taking up the project the farmer must understand the pros and cons,” he adds.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 2:31:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/technical-upgrade-a-distant-dream/article30654304.ece

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