A Facebook group, launched a few months ago, has become a virtual school for agriculture enthusiasts in Kerala.
'Muttathe Krishi', the social media group run by farm consultant Venugopal Madhav, has emerged as the go-to space for farmers, small-scale or professionals, to have their doubts and concerns cleared.
The group now has over 20,000 members, many of them engaged in kitchen or terrace farming. Members of the group discuss their farming practices, issues they face as well as the results they have achieved.
What makes the group different from other cyber collectives of similar nature is the interventions of Venugopal who spends quality time answering the questions and clearing doubts of the participants.
The notes prepared by him in response to specific problems raised by the participants turn out to be reference materials for others.
The Facebook group is, in fact, an extension of a similar WhatsApp group created three years ago.
The topics of discussion in the group include the ways of filling a grow bag, preparations of fertilisers and application of various soil nutrients. The members post pictures and videos of their farms and crops which help others improve their practices and learn from each other.
Venugopal, a native of Palakkad, was an expatriate for nearly 30 years. He worked in construction and interior designing sectors in various countries such as Arab nations, the Philippines, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan before returning to Kerala a year ago. He is now a freelance farm consultant who helps people set up farms not only in Kerala but other parts of the country also.
For Venugopal, 60, agriculture is much beyond a passion passed on to him through generations. “My father was a very good farmer. I grew up watching his farming methods. Even as I worked abroad, my interest in agriculture never died down. I used to visit farms in the countries where I worked, interact with the farmers as well as researchers in the field. I have travelled to different parts of India to learn the various farming practices across the country,” Venugopal said.
Mission ultra organic
Venugopal's mission is to promote what he calls ultra organic farming which is based on scientific methods and approaches towards agriculture and livestock rearing.
“For long, there has been a tussle between the promoters of organic farming and conventional farming. Both of them often take extremist positions. Instead of that, we need to approach farming more scientifically. 'Muttathe Krishi' group was formed with the aim to guide those interested in farming to the right direction,” he said.
Venugopal's position is clear from his posts and responses in the group. Every time he advises someone about the use of a fertiliser or insecticide or a particular plant, he writes in detail about its scientific aspects.
“Ultra organic farming is a wholistic approach. In this method, the fertilisers, cattle feeds and nutrients needed in a farm are made in the farm itself,” he said.
Apart from the Facebook page, Venugopal also respond to his followers over WhatsApp and phone also.
“For me, going through the posts in 'Muttathe Krishi' is like attending a class on organic farming. It is through Venugopal sir's posts that I learnt about the proper use of several bio fertilisers. Venugopal sir is prompt in answering our queries. Though I'm a member of several agriculture groups on social media, 'Muttathe Krishi' is the only platform where a scientific and serious discussion takes place. It provides us with a great learning experience,” Sreejith Vellavoor, who does terrace farming in Kottayam district, said.
Venugopal's wife Maya and three daughters are so supportive to him that they often accompany him during his farm visits.