Two Retired Scientists using Coconuts & Mushrooms to Increase Farmer's Income

Team : GOLDEN DULCE (B.Voc - Agriculture- First year /Group 2)

Two agriculture scientists from Kerala - Dr Rohini Iyer and Dr R D retired from their respective jobs more than ten years ago. Dr Rohini had experience in integrated control of fungicide on ginger and coconut while Dr R D had built his career on botanical genetics.

The couple though had left their jobs but their zeal to improve the agricultural sector still burned bright.

After working in different parts of the country, they decided to make the Thazhava village in Kollam (Kerala) their home & work for the betterment of farmers there.

Dr. Rohini had inherited a piece of land from her mother in this part of Kerala where the two built a small house. As their daughters had already built their careers so they decided to focus only on their ‘second-innings.’

They established an NGO ‘NavaSakti Trust, with the aim to empower a number of farmers with new and latest agricultural techniques & value-added initiatives that could bring in good income.

Dr RD said, “The costs of farming have increased in the last few years so, it is the small farmers, who depend on their family members for labour & cannot afford to employ farm labourers, who suffer the most. I and Rohini wanted to help them secure higher profits in their fields, so that their upcoming generations preserve the legacy & continue farming, instead of moving abroad”.

Agriculture constitutes 13% of Kerala’s GDP where rice plays an important part. Though the state cultivates about 600 varieties of rice, it experiences stable growth in the price of the staple. And this is not because its growers are profiting from the increased prices but because around 91% of the rice in Kerala has to be imported from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. And while the imports and exports game in states and from India to other nations keeps advancing, it is the ordinary cultivator who suffers through it all.

Investing the whole of his field to the variety of crop that gives him only a little profit, the grower in Kerala gets more impoverished by the year. Hence the duo’s efforts are directed to change this trend in Thazhava district whose population stands at a little more than 23,000.

Through NavaSakti, the two reached out to local cultivators and started giving them classes. They explained them about intercropping so that they could reap the benefits. This move proved to be highly useful. In certain cases, the income of few farmers grew by over 10%.

Apart from intercropping, they also advertised another crop that needs least resources to grow and is very beneficial.

Indeed, this highly profitable fungus - the edible mushroom, requires very less resources to grow and is highly valuable to the growers’ family as a nutrition supplement.

Kerala food features lots of fish-based items. Blessed with long-lasting coastline, fresh fish is enjoyed in the state in many forms & flavours. But, buying fish has become costly. The growing prices are not only taking away a staple food item, but also a good source of protein from a Keralites plate.

Dr. Rohini said mushrooms can pay off in this regard adding that milky and oyster mushrooms are cheap to grow and are also nutritious. They started classes for mushroom farming on a national level. Growers who want to scale the production commercially are free to do so, but their main aim was to secure the protein intake of farmer’s family.

Another gap in the market chewing away at the cultivator’s potential income is the fact that they sell raw material at lower prices, but the final products are sold at high prices in the market.

Take for instance coconut. Once it is harvested, the grower sells it either in the market or to companies. There is a huge difference in the market cost of the ready product and that of the coconut.

While the cultivators already make value-added products from raw materials for their own use - oil from coconut, for instance - the Iyers via the NavaSakti Trust are trying to persuade farmers to boost the production & sell the products in the market.

Over the last 12 years, since the Trust was founded, the couple has led around 80 courses in agricultural development in Thazhava. Some examples of their courses are mushroom cultivation, production of value-added products & methods of inter-cropping.