Teacher-turned farmer in Kerala pursues art for paddy’s sake

Paddy art
Paddy having different colours could be seen in Johnson’s field the demand is said to be high for medicinal varieties of rice.

When others grow rice in their paddy fields, Johnson makes paddy a medium of art to attract people to farming.

This former teacher creates patterns and varied hues by planting various varieties of paddy. Johnson’s ‘Paddy Art’ is on display at his field at Thrissilery in Wayanad.

Johnson Oliapuram has been creating artistic patterns and figures in his 20-cent paddy field for the past five years. His creations attract many, including Rahul Gandhi, the MP from Wayanad, who visited the field a year ago to see the ‘lighted lamp’ Johnson had created.

More than his artistic creations, Johnson is also credited with making organic mixed farming profitable. He has won the State Agriculture Department’s Rs 1 lakh cash award for the best organic farmer.

From teaching to farming

Johnson, hailing from Manjapra, Ernakulam, was a teacher in Andhra Pradesh for 18 years. He returned after quitting the job with the aim of starting afresh as an environment-friendly farmer in Wayanad, and to educate the tribal children.

He settled down on five acres he had bought at Thrissilery 14 years ago. His plan was to follow Wayanad’s traditional farming methods. A meeting with tribal head Bolan Peruman was the turning point in his life.

Johnson learnt the traditional farming systems from the chieftain, and in return, he started a Trust to educate tribal children. He named the initiative Unni Sadan Trust after Unni, Peruman’s son.  He also purchased 4.5 acres for the Trust.  

A better understanding of the possibilities of mixed farming benefitted Johnson. Paddy, coffee, pepper, coconut and areca palms, plantains, vegetable plants, cattle, poultry, and fish in his farm are all interdependent.

Traditional varieties

Johnson has been cultivating 28 traditional Indian varieties of paddy in 2.8 acres. Many of them, such as njavara, rakhthasali, gandhakasala, jeerakasala, mullan kayma, kalladiyaran, okkapunja, chomala, nassarbeth, Assam black, Kalabad and Burma black have medicinal values. Some of them are scented as well.

Paddy having different colours could be seen in Johnson’s field, saying the demand is high for medicinal varieties of rice. More people are seeking njavara, rakhthasali, jeerakasala and nassarbeth.

The former teacher said he started ‘Paddy Art’ to attract people to cultivation. He mostly uses nassarbeth brought from Maharastra to create art patterns since the coffee-coloured variety adds more vibrancy to art. His ‘paddy field’ canvas by the road attracts passersby.

Incidentally, paddy art has its origin in Japan recently, with the residents of Inakadate in Aomori Prefecture using four different types of paddy as their canvas. Their designs included Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, Geisha and Marilyn Monroe, Gone with the Wind, and Star Wars, among others.

Johnson said he has been using organic fertilisers such as jeevamrutam, panchagavyam, and fish and egg amino acids in his farm. He sells the fertilisers for a reasonable price as well.

Integrated farming

Johnson also sells organic agriculture product certified cash and tuber crops, vegetables and spices. He has set up a polyhouse, and has been proving that winter vegetables could be grown profitably in Wayanad’s climate.  

Besides indigenous chicken, he also farms fish in four ponds. After his 2018 floods destroyed his pepper cultivation, he is now expanding it and has planted new saplings.

As many as 90 farmers are engaged in cultivating paddy under a company Johnson had launched. He is also the president of padasekhara samithi, a collective of paddy farmers.

Johnson is supported by wife Nancy, and children Mercy and Arpita in his efforts.

(Johnson: 8606681181)

Scientists to clear your doubts

The Integrated Farming System Research Station at Nedumcaud near Karamana in Thiruvananthapuram has set up a helpdesk to clear doubts of farmers during the lockdown. Scientists from the Kerala Agriculture University will be clarifying the doubts.

Integrated farming

Dr Jacob John: 9847022929

Home garden

Dr B Sudha: 9846024539

Vegetable crops and diseases

Dr A Sajina: 9446104347

Organic waste management

Dr A V Meera: 9446466239

Pest control in vegetable crops/apiculture

Dr S Shanas: 9400262806

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