Sooraj CS remembers how his mother would pick tomatoes and chillies from their kitchen garden, wash off the soil and use them to make delicious curry. As a child, he took up small tasks to help her in the garden, and observing how she dug the ground, sowed seeds, tended to the plants and plucked the vegetables when the time came.
This home-garden inspired Sooraj, a BSc Agriculture student to take up organic farming and also help other farmers in Kerala give up chemicals used in agricultural practices.
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His journey began when he was thirteen.
“When I was in class eight, I planted some tomatoes and cowpea in our kitchen garden. I grew up watching my mother work in the garden and so, the techniques of cultivating it came naturally to me.
These first seeds that I had sown gave a wonderful yield and that really inspired me to continue,” he tells The Better India (TBI).
Soon, he turned this tiny kitchen garden into a venture campaigning for organic farming. Taking his knowledge beyond the observations he had made as a child, Sooraj, in his final year at the College of Horticulture, Kerala Agricultural University, researched various methods of farming. He also undertook training under Subash Palekar’s Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).
ZBNF is a technique of farming that requires no production cost. Relying on natural resources such as land and water available in a particular area, ZBNF technique helps grow organic crops.
By the age of 17, Sooraj had already studied the climatic and topographic conditions of his hometown in Wayanad, Kerala. In the past four years, he went from growing tomato and cowpea plants to organic bananas, beans, bitter gourds, cabbages, carrots, capsicum, eggplants, green chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and yams!
No wonder he was awarded with the Karshaka Jyothi Award for the best student farmer in Kerala. The award is a state government initiative to promote agriculture among young people.
Speaking to TBI Sooraj says, “I started with ZBNF and updated my methods according to the climatic conditions here. I experimented with the use of modern technology in traditional farming so the yield is healthier and better. When some seeds were observed to be flourishing more than others, I started breeding and conserving them. Today, I grow over 50 types of vegetables and fruits in my 5.5-acre land and also help other farmers in my neighbourhood cultivate chemical-free crops through my methods.”
Sooraj formed “Project Earthworm”, a farmer’s group where he got together with organic farmers like him to conserve over 100 varieties of rice, tubers and other crops while also marketing the need to shift from chemical farming. “Many people think that using fertilisers is an easy solution to get a good yield. In fact, they’re conditioned to believe so. But that isn’t true. We have a lot of eco-friendly alternatives,” he tells Edex Live, further adding, “Plants mainly need micronutrients to grow.
Plants also need potassium and phosphorus, but these can be absorbed only in a soluble form. To facilitate this, we can introduce microorganisms to the soil, instead of using chemical fertilisers.”
He explains that there is a need to uplift the social status of farmers. With that aim in mind, he started giving technical training to organic farmers. Exchanging know-how and conserving various species of seeds, the farming community began working together.
“I used to give classes to farmers and school children, teaching them the advantages and methods of organic farming. In agriculture, the two best motivations are to show a successful farm and to help farmers sell their produce. That is exactly what we are trying to do here in the farmers’ group,” the 22-year-old says.
One of the major concerns of agricultural experts is that the younger generation perceives farming as an unprofitable occupation which demands months of hard work and investment with no guaranteed returns. Young farmers like Sooraj, who are developing their own techniques and promoting the much-sought-after organic produce can prove to be the leaders who show that farming can be a profitable and promising occupation, one that should be embraced if you have the will to do it.
Picture Courtesy: Sooraj CS
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)