Nesli S is excited about the mini polyhouse being set up on her land at Pallikkal panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram. The 50-year-old homemaker and farmer already grows vegetables and mushrooms, and runs a plant nursery on 40 cents of leased land in the panchayat.
The mini polyhouse [polyhouse is a type of greenhouse] is coming under ‘Krishikarna’ project, a joint initiative of State Agri Horticultural Society (SAHS), Sustainable Foundation and Qore3 Innovations. While SAHS, the government-accredited cooperative society, is involved in promoting agri-horticultural practices, Sustainable Foundation, a Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO, promotes sustainable development. Qore3 Innovations is a start-up that claims to provide ‘end-to-end support for farms’.
Nesli is among the 10 farmers in the panchayat who have signed up for the project. “I want to try my hand at hi-tech farming so that I can cultivate new crops such as salad cucumber, capsicum and leafy greens. That is why I became part of Krishikarna,” says Nesli. Work has started on her land and the seeds will be sown in a few weeks’ time.
Sajith Kumar T is another farmer from the panchayat who has joined the project. “I am into plantain cultivation and have been growing vegetables such as long beans, bittergourd and snake gourd. I came down with COVID-19 and after that I have been facing health issues. So it is difficult for me to work on the field. I became a part of Krishikarna, as it involves less physical labour. Also, I will be able to cultivate vegetables that I have never attempted before,” Sajith says.
Nesli and Sajith are members of Karshaka Sahayi, a WhatsApp group started by farmers in the panchayat in 2019 to ensure fair price for farm produce grown in and around Pallikkal and neighbouring panchayats. The farmers were introduced to the project through a seminar and workshop, after which 10 of them came forward to start it on their land. “We have been exploring the possibility of setting up hi-tech farms in our panchayat and that is when we came across Krishikarna. The produce harvested from the mini polyhouses will be sold through our WhatsApp group,” says Aneesh B, the group admin.
The group, which started with a few farmers in the panchayat, now has farmers from neighbouring districts of Kollam and Pathamthitta as well. “Karshaka Sahayi now has three WhatsApp groups as the number of members is going up. The produce is collected at a shop from where they are delivered as per the orders. In addition to vegetables and banana, we collect coconut, rambutan and mangosteen. Not all members are full-time farmers. Some of them give their produce if they have it in excess at home. For example, a homemaker in the group earned ₹7,200 by selling Agathi poo (Humming bird flower or Sesbania grandiflora). She has two plants at home and did not know what to do with the flowers,” says Aneesh.
Under Krishikarna, a mini polyhouse will be set up on 2.5 cents of land. Total estimated cost per polyhouse is ₹2.35 lakh. Aneesh N Raj, recipient of Kerala State award for the best hi-tech farmer (2017-18) and agronomist with Qore3 Innovations, which is implementing Krishikarna, says: “Unprecedented weather changes have had a negative impact on agriculture in Kerala. It is in these context that we took up promotion of hi-tech farming practices where farmers can cultivate crops all through the year. Qore3 has already set up over 30 successful hi-tech farming projects across Kerala.”
The plan is to cultivate long beans, tomato, salad cucumber, capsicum, chillies and leafy vegetables at the mini polyhouses. Krishikarna covers polyhouses, aquaponics, hydroponics and hi-tech mushroom cultivation,” he says.
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