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Vinod Sahadevan Nair, 60, from Parassala, Trivandrum, likes to believe that he has established his own banana empire of sorts!
He might not be wrong. In a span of 30 years, Vinod has collected and cultivated over 430 varieties of the fruit from across India and the world! Thanks to this, in 2015, he entered the Limca book of records and was also given the award for the best farmer by the ICAR-National Research Centre for Banana.
Expanding His Farm With Unique Plantain Varieties
After completing his Bsc. in Physics, Vinod worked for a while and later started a web designing firm in Kochi. The firm was doing very well, but when his mother passed away, he decided to shut shop and return to Parassala to take care of his father.
“We owned 3 acres of barren land that was previously used to cultivate paddy. I was just 12 when my father started cultivating bananas in that land, and I began to help him out. Slowly, I grew to love the work so much that every day after school, I would head straight to the farm. Even after I left Parassala for studies, I would return on the weekends and involve myself in the farming work,” explains Vinod.
This time, Vinod decided to dedicate himself full time to farming and slowly started expanding his father’s plantain cultivation.
Unlike other households, Vinod wanted to create a farm that was unique and started collecting varieties that were not commonly seen in Kerala. He began travelling to Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Manipur to source varieties that were uncommon to a Malayali’s tastebuds.
Vinod even approached various horticulture departments, research institutes and universities in our country to get a hold of every single variety available.
Although many institutes refused to help him, Vinod didn’t give up and decided to look at international varieties of bananas. He travelled to Malaysia, Africa, Australia, Hawaii and Honduras and brought back many rare varieties that grow in coastal climatic conditions.
Growing 430 varieties of bananas
From the tall Assam Plantain to the short ‘Jahanji’, Vinod’s farm is home to over 430 varieties of bananas today. International varieties like the lady’s finger banana, red banana and the blue java are also members of the farm.
“According to the climatic conditions in each area, the taste of the plantain also differs. The Assam varieties even have seeds in them which is not seen in any other variety. Ottamungli, Karingadali, Suryakadali are some of the other Indian varieties that I grow. The way these varieties also vary from area to area. While some are treated as fruits, many of the varieties are used as vegetables and even added to meat dishes to boost their nutritional value,” explains Vinod.
“Every kind of banana has a certain cultural element attached to it as well. For example, ‘Manoranjitham’, a variety of Kanyakumari emanates a beautiful fragrance. So in the olden days, people would hang them in their homes during auspicious occasions, marriages and festivals,” Vinod adds.
Besides banana farming, Vinod also cultivates vegetables for his household needs and also rears domestic fowls—60 chickens and 20 ducks.
Vinod sells all his harvest from the farm in the wholesale market and earns upto Rs 1 lakh a month. His son, Ambaneesh V., who has completed his MTech has also recently started working on the farm.
“I’ve already gone on many expeditions with my father to different tribal settlements to find rare varieties. We trade our varieties with them to get a hold of new saplings. It is truly an amazing feeling,” explains Ambaneesh.
Vinod and his son are now planning to expand the business even further by creating products from the harvest like banana coffee, porridge and pickles.
“People in my village, even the little kids, lovingly call me ‘Vazhachettan’ (plantain man). To be honest, I am immensely proud to be known by that name. After all, this is my banana empire!” he concludes.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)