After working for ten years in the Middle East, Joy Vakayil and his wife, who was working there as a nurse, returned to their hometown in Kottayam, Kerala in 2004. The couple had just had their first child, Naveen Joy.
When asked about the reason for his return and what his plans were, Joy shocked everyone by stating that he was back to start his own farm and cultivate different vegetables and fruits there. Having grown up in a family of farmers, he wanted to return to his roots and create something of his own.
At that point, he only owned a few acres of a rubber plantation, but decided that he wanted to cultivate a wider variety of products rather than sticking to just a single cash crop. So, he weeded out all the rubber plants, and cultivated pineapples and easy-to-harvest vegetables like ladies finger and bitter gourd as well as plantain trees.
Today, the farm is home to a variety of fruits and vegetables along with cows, goats and fish, but for Joy, the biggest validation of his efforts is the fact that he gets to export his organic harvest to Europe!
The Initial Days
“I had to face a lot of criticism in the beginning because the people around me didn’t believe that I had the skills to follow through this plan. Additionally, many said that cutting down the rubber that I had was something I would always regret. But today, I’m glad I took that risk because now the farm has expanded to a level that I never anticipated,” Joy exclaims.
Finding the money to invest in the farm was the real struggle. Joy had about Rs 2 lakh saved, and with the help of the Kisan credit card, he took a loan of Rs 3 lakh. He used this money to procure land and materials required for agriculture.
The 14-acre farm is now spread out with almost 5 acres solely dedicated to the cultivation of ladies finger, bitter gourd and green chillies, 2 acres of paddy cultivation, 4 acres for the cultivation of coconut trees and the remaining land for the tubers and the rearing of the cows and goats.
“Soon, the farm started expanding and curious media persons and people started visiting it. I was even featured in an episode of an agricultural show,” says Joy.
On seeing the show, an export company in Kerala approached Joy and asked him if he would be interested in shipping his organic produce abroad. Joy agreed, and after sampling all the vegetables, the company started taking in his harvest for export.
“I have been exporting my vegetables to Europe for the past six years. Some months, I export almost 3/4th of the harvest. The international market is mainly interested in turmeric, ginger, tapioca which is not commonly cultivated abroad but abundantly grows in my farm,” he explains.
Besides exporting his harvest, Joy also provides his vegetables to the nearby Krishi Bhavan.
Dairy Farming And More
“When the farm started expanding, the need for fertilizers and compost also started building up. That’s when my friend, Dr Kuriakose Mathews, who is a veterinarian, gave me the advice to start dairy farming. Since he lives nearby, he assured to give me the necessary guidance and help whenever I needed it,” Joy says.
Today the farm has almost 25 goats and 10 cows that provide an average of 90 litres of milk every day. All the manure from the animals is used for farming purposes, and similarly, all waste leaves and plants are given to the cows and goats along with their fodder.
Joy also creates a manure powder which he sells in the market.
“Joy has always been very passionate about farming. The reason the farm became so successful was because he was always concerned about the harvest than the profit it made. He even goes around the neighbourhood and helps out budding farmers in our locality,” says Dr, Kuriakose Thomas who has been closely involved with Joy’s farm for the past 6 years.
“Many professionals from Krishi Bhavan and Krishi Vinjan Kendra often visit the farm and give me the necessary guidance for a better harvest. I was even given the opportunity to do a course at the Agricultural University to expand my knowledge and build a more scientific understanding about farming,” he explains.
Along with the farm, Joy has also started a nursery where people from across neighbourhoods and cities can purchase a variety of plants. Joy says that he started this initiative to encourage farming in the surroundings and especially to cultivation in the growing generation.
“I’ve ventured out into many levels of farming at the moment, the most recent one being a zero-energy cool chamber which I’ve set up to restore vegetables in their fresh state for upto a week. I’m also trying pisciculture (fish farming) at the moment with different varieties of fish like Rohu and Catla,” he explains.
A recipient of many awards given by the State Agricultural Department, Joy is also conducting an online farm school for beginners under the leadership of Mr Korah Thomas.
“A few years back, the people who knew me would never recognize me as a farmer. But I have worked hard, and am glad that the effort and the risk that I put into the farm changed that perception and I am so glad to be known as a farmer now,” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)