SV Sujith, Shraddha Sharad Patil and Vijaya Bhaskar are three farmers from Thiruvananthapuram who have won Kerala State Farm awards 2022 for their green fingers. If Sujith won Haritha Mithra award for the best vegetable farm, Shraddha bagged the award for adopting hi-tech farming techniques and Vijaya for her terrace garden. MetroPlus caught up with them to find out how they sowed the seeds of success.
“Failures have made me what I am today,” says SV Sujith. His farm, Naaden Agro, is on a 22-acre leased plot inside St Xavier’s College, Thumba, 13 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram.
Sujith has cultivated on sandy soil by adopting open-precision farming, a method that uses technology and data-oriented tools to improve crop production. Over 40 crops such as amaranthus, brinjal, bitter gourd, snake gourd and long beans are grown here. Yellow and orange marigolds and maize are grown as barrier crops to reduce pest attack.
A post-graduate in management, Sujith, 39, left his well-paying job in Bengaluru to take up farming eight years ago. “A health scare and some other experiences taught me that health is important and that safe food is a must. I had an interest in farming from my childhood. While in Bengaluru, I connected with several farmers. I began farming on a small scale at my home in Karakulam in 2012-13. Instead of becoming a full-fledged famer, I started by procuring vegetables from farmers and selling the produce. Then I tried contract farming and when problems cropped up, I leased land in Parassala block and later in Kollam district,” he says.
The produce, branded Naaden, was sold through outlets in the city and in Kollam. But, there was a slump in business after a while and he faced severe financial crisis. Refusing to quit, Sujith started again by first cultivating on a 15-acre leased plot at Channankara, near Thumba, and then at St Xavier’s. “By then I knew what I should not do. We focus on need-based production so that produce doesn’t go to waste,” he adds.
Cocopeat, cow dung and poultry manure that are needed for manure are locally procured. Vermicompost is made at the inhouse unit or collected from the zoo. A 70,000-litre water tank is also set up at the farm.
Currently he employs 12 labourers. He has signed an MoU with St Xavier’s College under which a paid internship is given to students of the college. “They stay back after college hours to work on the farm and I give them a monthly stipend. Fourteen of them have already finished their internship, I plan to employ some of them in the farm.” He has also entered into an MoU with Mar Baselious College for further development of the farm, especially with regard to technology, fertigation (supplying dissolved fertiliser through irrigation system) and creating a database. He has been getting help from College of Agriculture, Vellayani, and Kadinamkulam Krishi Bhavan.
Shraddha Sharad Patil’s winner is her two-year-old hi-tech nursery, Orchiroids, at Vavarambalam near Pothencode, 20 kilometres from Thiruvananthapuram. The nursery has saplings of over a dozen ornamental plant varieties, including phalaenopsis or moth orchids, agloenema, sanisivieria, philodendron, alocasia, fittonia, fern, ficus, and palms.
Shraddha says that her inspiration has been her parents, Sharad Patil, a Maharashtrian, and her mother, Preethi Sharad Patil, a Malayali. “In Kenya, my father used to run a rose farm. He used to export roses to the Netherlands. We settled in Thiruvananthapuram when I was in Class 7. I did my post-graduation in plant science from the Netherlands. By the time I finished the course in 2021, the infrastructure for the nursery was ready, thanks to my father,” says 26-year-old Shraddha.
So why ornamentals and not flowering plants? “Because once the flowers wither away, we can’t enjoy their beauty. Also, ornamental plants are air purifiers and many are tropical plants that can be grown in our climate,” she says.
The nursery has five climate-controlled greenhouses with shade nets, fans, fogging system, custom-made sliding tables to keep pots etc. “The plants are grown in a soil-less mixture. Also, we have a device that is connected to an app on my phone and it gives updates about humidity and temperature every five minutes. This is important in the case of phalaenopsis varieties, which require extra care,” she says.
At present, the nursery does only wholesale business. “Except for phalaenopsis, all other plants are sold to plant shops in and around the city. Phalaenopsis plants are sent to our nursery in Pune for the flowers to bloom since the city has a cooler climate compared to Thiruvananthapuram. We hope to do that here soon.” The family is setting up another farm at Aryanad as well.
Shraddha is at the farm from 7.30am every day till five or six in the evening to train and supervise her labourers and to tend to her plants. Any favourites? “Not really. I love all of them equally.”
On a high
“I take care of them as if they are my children,” says homemaker Vijaya Bhaskar, referring to the plants in her terrace farm at her home at Aruvikkara. Vijaya and her husband, Bhaskaran Nair, started growing vegetables and greens on this 1,100 sq ft space nine years ago. “Before that I had only flowering plants on our terrace. When we heard about pesticide-laden vegetables flooding the market, we decided to shift to vegetable cultivation,” says 69-year-old Vijaya.
They took guidance from R Raveendran, a city-based expert in terrace farming. “We started with six grow bags and six types of vegetables. When we got a good harvest we decided to expand it and now 800-900 pots are kept on the terrace alone. We haven’t spared an inch of space. Crops are grown around my house as well,” Vijaya says.
Besides commonly grown vegetables, Vijaya has successfully harvested varieties of cabbage, dragon fruit, paddy, lettuce, celery, palak etc. She sells excess produce at the farmers’ market organised every Saturday at Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi, Thycaud. In addition to taking classes for interested farmers and farming groups, she also gives away seeds for free.
“Spend at least two hours in the morning and evening in the garden. But do it daily. They are also living things and it feels nice to see them every day, even chatting with them. That makes them happy. Perhaps, that is why I get good yield,” she says.