For a change, Kerala women farmers in Upper Kuttanad grow maize instead of paddy, reap success

Maize grown on one acre of land given by Grama Panchayat President Abraham Thomas. Photo: Special arrangement

Pathanamthitta: Tall maize plants with long, dark green leaves make for an unusual sight in the Peringara region of Upper Kuttanad in Pathanamthitta; an area always known for paddy cultivation. Thanks to a panchayat president who gave his land for free and a group of women farmers who took up the challenge; Peringara now has big plans for Maize cultivation.

Maize was grown on one acre of land given by Grama Panchayat President Abraham Thomas. Thomas donated the land because he was keen to revive farming. The land was overgrown with weeds and had become barren. “Through this initiative I wanted people to realise that the land otherwise abandoned due to lack of care, can be productive. I hoped that if we were successful, we could inspire others,” he said.

It has been around 50 days since the project was initiated. The choices of crops were Bajra and Sarghom which can be harvested within 90 days. The land was cleared and seeds were sown with a distance of one feet between them.

The initiative was carried out by a group of seven women in their 20s and 30s who are Agro-Service workers under the Agriculture Department. These women- Anitha, Ambili, Jisha, Sreeja, Soumya, Sreekumari and Shobhana – hail from the Kadapra region of Thiruvalla.

“All the facilities were provided to us. There was a well and we used a pumpset for water. We also used only manure for the crops, we have not used any fertilizers or pesticides,'' says Anitha one of the farmers.

Even the possibility of rain ruining their days of toil could not dampen their spirits. They covered the plants with plastic covers. The project was spearheaded by Jannet Daniel, Assisstant Director Of Agriculture, Thiruvalla and Vice President Binil Kumar. “It would not have been possible without them. Jannet Madam taught us everything and provided all the encouragement and support we needed,” says Anitha.

Jannet Daniel has nothing but praise for the women and the Panchayat. “I had earlier taken a group of farmers on an ATMA( a society of stakeholders involved in agriculture) tour to Tamil Nadu University. But when the time came to assign this project, it was this group of women who took up the responsibility,” she says.

According to her, they selected maize because of its various health benefits such as its fiber content. “I had attended Kerala University training of my own volition to learn all of this. Binil Kumar Sir and I wanted to show that we too could grow millets and hoped to rouse other people's interests,'' she says. Binil Kumar has always had plans to cultivate millets on at least one acre of the Panchayat Block and with Abraham Thomas' help, the plan was realized.

The cultivation is being done on a trial basis and depending on its success, the future course of farming will be decided. They are hoping to extend the cultivation. They also plan to venture into different areas depending on the season. Since it is an open area and ideal for vegetable farming, they have spinach, ladyfingers, bitter guord, beans and ash guord in mind. “We can get Rs 120 per kg for corn and Rs 260-300 if it is made into different products and powdered,” said Abraham Thomas. 

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