The erstwhile Travancore’s first agriculture ‘patshala’ (school of learning) has turned 100. When the ‘patshala’ was established on the banks of Periyar River facing Maharaja’s summer palace and the famed Shivaratri Manalppuram in 1919 at Aluva in Ernakulam district, the seeds to form an agriculture university in Kerala were far from sown. Though the ‘patshala’ became known as a seed producing centre after independence, the institution still gives utmost importance to imparting training in the nuances of agriculture.
The seed producing center, situated on a small islet, is rich in biodiversity and attracts many species of migratory birds. The center caught attention at the national level after it got certification as the country’s first organic seed farm in 2012. The alluvium mixed soil of the islet is rich in nutrients, and novel ventures of the center pave way not only for agricultural but also industrial activities. The seed farm is also a symbol of integrated farming and farm tourism.
The farm with pristine surroundings and quality facilities will elicit farming interest even among those people who don’t want to roll up their sleeves and hit the muddy agricultural fields. The students of farming shouldn’t give the audio-visual lab at Sree Moolam Bungalow a miss. They can see for themselves how beneficial insects devour pests that are detrimental to agriculture.
Presently, only farmers selected through krishi bhavans come to the farm, which has railway lines and river as boundaries, for training in organic farming. As there is no road leading to the farm, one can reach the facility only by boat or by crossing the railway line. And once you reach this exquisite place, you can only fall in love with the farm.
Overcame floods with tenacity
The seed producing center overcame the challenges of the great floods last year and stands tall as it enters 100 years of its existence. The paddy field and vegetables were under water for 5 days during the August deluge last year. Moreover, buildings were inundated, boats were washed away, and tractors, farming equipment and water pumps were damaged. Rare species of cows were left stranded on the rooftop of the office building without fodder for many days. The drought that followed the deluge was equally painful.
The year-long centenary celebrations of the center will be inaugurated by Kerala Agriculture Minister V S Sunil Kumar on July 22. Though the farm comes under the agriculture ministry, the facility is controlled by the local panchayat.
Organic all the way
The farming in 5.32 hectares of land is purely organic without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Paddy is being cultivated in 3 acres of land and in the remaining portion coconut, plantains, tapioca, vegetables, ginger, turmeric, corn, sweet potato, tomato, chillies, nutmeg and air potato (adathappu) are being grown. Apart from these, the farm also has Kasaragod dwarf cows, Malabar goats, Kuttanad ducks, hens, rabbits and honey bees.
Air potato has medicinal value and grows on creepers unlike the traditional potatoes, which are underground tubers. The main aim of paddy cultivation is to produce high quality seeds.
Two varieties of rice are sold at the farm. Close to 30 percent of chaff is retained in ‘Prathyasha’ variety of rice and this is good for health. The other one is ‘Rakthasali’, red rice, used by the tribal population of Wayanad. This rice is a storehouse of nutrients and the rice is processed in rubber roller mills of Alappuzha to ensure that chaff is not separated from rice. Coconut oil pressed out of coconuts from the farm and mango pickles made of mangoes from the farm could be bought from the center. Pokkali rice flakes, honey and duck eggs are also sold at the center. As the demand is more, the farm is not able to satisfy all the customers. As many as 48 varieties of rice seeds, which are becoming extinct, will be produced at the center in the immediate future.
Memories of a regal life
The Maharaja along with his retinue used to visit the palace during summer and they came to the ‘patshala’, which was then under construction, by foot. The two buildings – the Sree Moolam Bungalow and farm office, which were constructed 100 years are still in use at the center. The farming training is given at the bungalow and as only 30 people could be accommodated at a time, prior reservation is mandatory. Along with training in manufacturing value-added products, one can also enjoy a boat ride on the Periyar River. A sumptuous lunch also awaits you at the palace.
The grand centenary entrance
The construction of a grand centenary entrance to the farm is over. The authorities are toiling hard to convert erstwhile Travancore’s first agriculture ‘patshala’ into a learning center of national stature that imparts training in integrated organic farming. Work is underway to build a 100m long pandal, from the entrance to farm office, dotted with nature’s bounty.
Plans are anvil to open a museum portraying the history of paddy cultivation and an outlet to sell organic produce on the Aluva palace premises, said district panchayat president Dolly Kuriakose and vice president B A Abdul Muthalib. A bridge connecting Desom with the farm will be constructed, and there are also plans to put in place floating boat jetties.
Integrated farming at its best
The farm is a perfect example of integrated farming as honey bees and Kasaragod dwarf cattle co-exist with peace. The bees not only collect honey but also facilitate pollination, and the ducks play a pivotal role in controlling pests in paddy cultivation. The Malabar goats are reared for manure. In a bid to attract beneficial and friendly insects, sunflower, marigold and jasmine crops are planted. Cultivating Chethikoduveli (plumbago indica) is the best antidote to the menace of rats.
Various products that expedite the organic growth of crops are sold at the farm. These include ‘panchagavyam’, ‘kunapajala’, vermin wash tonic, vam, fish amino acid and earthworm compost. It is worth mentioning that the Kasaragod dwarf cows have never been milked.
‘Panchagavyam’ is prepared using the dung and urine of Kasaragod dwarf cows along with milk and curd of other cows. ‘Kunapajala’, which includes goat meat, can be sprinkled at an interval of 15 days to increase agriculture production by 3 times, said Agriculture officer Lissymol J Vadakuttu.