Six months after floods, Kerala’s farm sector makes a come back
Mini Tejaswi

Six months after floods, Kerala’s farm sector makes a come back
Six months after floods, Kerala’s farm sector makes a come back

Six months after a devastating deluge washed away thousands of hectares of land parcels---under cultivation of all kinds of agriculture crops including paddy and banana, vegetables and plantations crops like coffee, cocoa, coconut, tea, rubber, cardamom, pepper and other spices---that ruined the life and livelihood of thousands of farmers, Kerala’s agriculture sector is now on a road to remarkable  recovery.

The deadly deluge that left a trail of destruction had almost crippled the state’s agriculture production. As per official figures (conservative), 3.14 lakh farmers suffered huge losses of over Rs 2,000 crore as close to 60,000 hectares of cropped area was fully destroyed in the floods during July-August last year.

“The floods brought damage to the agriculture sector was unfathomable. Yet, a speedy recovery was possible only because of our increased focus on organic farming and commitment towards the conservation of indigenous seeds,’’ said Chandu, an organic farmer from Mananthawady of Wynad district.

Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK), a farmer-led moment played an extremely critical role in boosting the fallen morale of the farming community, especially during these tough times.

FTAK was formed a decade ago to give farmers access to global markets, improve their income from farm produce, to fight against falling prices of food grains, spices and agricultural commodities including coconuts and also to save them from growing indebtedness which led to a spate of farmer suicides.

Tomy Mathew Vadakancheril promoter of FTAK said: ``Frade trade means security and predictability in the lives of farmers. They are assured a minimum price irrespective of market fluctuations, so that they know what is coming and they can plan their future. If there is no stable price for commodities, the farmers will end up destroying all other crops and start focusing on one crop that fetches them the best price. However, maintaining biodiversity in farms is so critical for the climate challenge times we live in. FTAK guarantees an organic premium for all their produce and therefore several thousands of farmers are able to sustain themselves in organic and integrated farming.’’

A five-day agro seed fest organised by Fair Trade Alliance Kerala brought together farmers and friends from all over the country and abroad to Wayanad. To celebrate the post floods recovery of the state’s agro sector, this edition of the fest was called: The Seeds of Survival.

Addressing a large audience of farming community, Thomas Kalappura, a farmer also secretary of FTAK said, farmers are often advised by politicians and policy makers to produce at the lowest cost and also sell at the lowest cost. In the process majority of farmers don’t even recover the cost of production. FTAK came as a huge respite to farmers and through its network farmers in the state have access to domestic and global markets.

Cheruvayal Raman,  who is internationally known for protecting and preserving as many as 60 different indigenous and organic agri seeds in Kerala, said, ``In  most developed countries, farmers are a special community and they are respected differently as they are the food creators for the rest. Farmers are also acknowledged for directly contributing to the environment, ecological balance and biodiversity. They are given subsidies, allowances and technical know-how etc. In India, farmers are considered as someone who is the lowest in the value chain. This has to change.’’

Interestingly, in a goodwill gesture global customers---to whom farmers in Kerala sell their produce through FTAK---from Switzerland, UK, Germany, France and USA have contributed close a Rs 1 crore to the farming community to rebuild farms that were destroyed in floods and to revive farming activities.

``It is unfortunate that farming has reduced to a topic of mere profit and loss in India. Farming is critical for the survival of man, animals, birds and the entire ecosystem. I had the privilege to represent India in a recently concluded farmer conference in Brazil which brought together a large number agriculturists from 60 countries,’’ added Raman.

Celin Manuel, a successful organic farmer said, home farming segment has been growing very rapidly in Kerala with each household showing interest in growing their own vegetables and at least some variety of fruits. ``This wave is primarily spearheaded by women and in the recent years a large number of women have entered into mainstream farming in the state,’’ she added.