Kerala Electrician Starts Organic Paddy Farming; Opens India's First 'Rice Park'
In Kozhikode, Kerala, everyone recognises Jayakrishnan Thaazhathuveettil as the pioneer of organic paddy farming in the state. Partnering with his friend Leneesh K, Jayakrishnan has helped revive 118 traditional, rare and exotic varieties of paddy, many of which hold excellent medicinal properties.
The former electrician has an interesting story about the starting point of his organic journey.
Thirteen years ago, his son, Bhagath was just one year old, when he suffered from a bout of chronic sickness. When the prescribed medicines failed to provide relief, a worried Jayakrishnan observed the consumption habits of his family, and realised that the chemical-laden food in their diet was possibly responsible for recurring health issues.
Jayakrishnan decided to return to his ancestral vocation of farming. He leased a 7-acre plot of land in Kozhikode and named it Anadha Farms to grow paddy . However, unlike most around him, he opted for organic farming which was quite a revolutionary concept at the time.
'My son is now a healthy 14-year-old! My family and I have given up using chemicals like soaps, toothpaste, refined sugar, dishwashing bars etc., and opted for all-natural alternatives like coconut cake, burnt rice husk (for washing). I absolutely feel that we—my mother Janaki, wife Reshma, and children, Bhagath and Rudra—are leading a much healthier and happier life now,' shares Jayakrishnan.
An electrician who became organic farmer
Jayakrishnan had heard about long-lost varieties like Mullan Kayama, Rakthashali, Valkya Chennel or KalaMalli Phula—which once fulfilled several medicinal requirements for the community. He wished to revive these varieties and bring them back on people's plates.
Drawing inspiration from Subhas Palekar's zero-budget spiritual farming and Fukuoka's natural farming methods, before formulating his own methodology. Today, aside from over a hundred varieties of paddy, the Kerala farmer also cultivates over 50 varieties of traditional tubers and 20 varieties of native vegetables.
'I collect diverse varieties of paddy seeds by travelling all across the country, including indigenous communities in obscure hamlets of India. I procure the remaining seeds through an extensive network of rice farmers spread across continents. I even have a few varieties sourced from Pakistan and Thailand!' says the electrician-turned-farmer.
The prized varieties of rice
While the revenue from farming does not earn him a fortune, his annual harvest of 20 tonnes of exotic rice is nearly enough to sustain his passion for exploring and discovering newer paddy species.
Speaking with The Better India , he enthusiastically explains the incredible health benefits of some of his prized paddy varieties.
The Mullan Kayama is an aromatic medicinal variety, once consumed by royalty, while Rakhthashaali is red rice, which is deemed to have anti-cancerous properties, as well as antioxidant benefits. He procured the Kalabhatti paddy from remote parts of Odisha, which is a dark purple variety enriched with calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins B & E and zinc, and also has blood purifying properties. The Kanaka Choorna , proven to have a high content of gold as a micronutrient, is another exceptional find. The Valkya Chennel rice is known to boost energy levels while the KalaMalli Phula is rich in antioxidants. Basmati Nagni, Assam Black, Mapillai Chemba and Rakhta Choodi are four of his other best varieties.
Folk Rice Park & Knowledge Centre
Jayakrishnan works in partnership with Leneesh, who runs a similar paddy farm in Wayanad. Leneesh, a former journalist, had been growing paddy using organic methods for the past few years, ever since he participated in the Save Our Rice campaign by NGO Thanal.
'I met Jayakrishnan at a paddy seed festival and was deeply intrigued by his passion. For a while, we exchanged seeds regularly and supported each other's efforts. In 2018, we joined hands and decided to pursue paddy farming together as a joint venture,' Leneesh shares.
The duo has recently opened the Folk Rice Centre & Knowledge Centre, on Leenesh's 13-acre rice farm in Wayanad. The park attracts visitors from all over Kerala, as well as tourists from other states. Interestingly, such a rice park is perhaps the first-of-its-kind in India. With their exhibition of lost indigenous rice varieties, a guided walk through the park is an enriching experience for any visitor.
The two friends also conduct extensive awareness campaigns among the public. Jayakrishnan himself regularly visits schools and colleges, conducting workshops on organic farming and rice varieties. He also actively advocates the ideas on social media.
Jayakrishnan and Leneesh, also run 'Paithrugam,' a chain of organic superfoods concocted from their fresh farm produce. For example, their all-organic baby food mixture Shishu Bhojan - made with traditional rice varieties, pulses and nuts - is one of the local bestsellers. Shaali Paani (organic health drink from powdered black rice), Glypor (food mixture to regulate insulin levels in diabetic patients) and Oushadha Kootu (porridge mix from rice, pulses and medicinal herbs) - are some of the other consumer favourites.
'I started farming for selfish reasons'
To ensure the proliferation of his efforts, Jayakrishnan regularly offers his seeds to interested farmers and educates them about the A to Z of his methodology. Jayakrishnan ardently wishes the people of Kerala to switch back to their older consumption habits, sans any harmful chemicals or hybrid cultivars.
Winding up the conversation, Jayakrishnan mentions that while he is a staunch advocate of organic farming and zero-waste lifestyle, he is not averse to technology. Rather, he believes that modern technology and traditional habits should go hand in hand to foster a perfect society and environment. In fact, he has also implemented unique machines in his fields to help in sowing, watering of saplings or conserving the seeds after harvest.
'I started farming for selfish reasons (you can say). But, it's all good now since the outcome has been great.'
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)