Kerala resident Vinod Venugopal transformed his rubber plantation into a flourishing organic farm where he grows and harvests thousands of kilos of tapioca, alongside yam, coconut, arecanut, seedless lemons, and more.
A farming enthusiast from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Vinod Venugopal was not ready to compromise his love for agriculture by owning just a rubber plantation.
Despite receiving a good yield and earnings from his sprawling 1.5 acres of rubber plantation, he decided to transform his land into an organic farm, nurturing a wide range of crops.
“It was easy to maintain rubber, but I was never satisfied with it. Besides, I am a botany graduate and always aspired to do something that let me be in the soil and more close to nature. That’s why I decided to put the land to better use,” Vinod tells The Better India.
With two partners in 2019, Vinod, who also works as a regional manager of a medical devices company, replaced rubber trees with tapioca on his land.
His courage and efforts turned out to be fruitful. Within eight months, they were able to harvest more than 11,000 kilos (11 tonnes) of tapioca in a single harvest from his land at Malayam in Thiruvananthapuram.
A fruitful decision
When Vinod decided to transform the rubber plantation, he says that many questioned and criticised him for removing a perennial and highly beneficial cash crop. “People including my relatives advised me not to do it. But I was sure about what I was doing and went ahead with my plan,” says the 46-year-old.
In November 2019, after clearing the land, he decided to step into organic farming by partnering with Anu Joseph and Philip Chacko — two farming enthusiasts from Thiruvananthapuram. “While searching for ideal partners, I posted on Where in Trivandrum (WiT), a Trivandrum-based Facebook page, inviting interested people to start a joint farm venture,” he explains.
“I wasn’t looking for partners to invest money in. I wanted those who were ready to dedicate their time and put in real efforts to make it happen. Finally, after meeting several people, I decided to partner up with Anu and Philip, who had farming backgrounds and were equally enthusiastic about the venture,” he adds.
In December, they started their venture Farm in Trivandrum (FiT) by planting over 2,000 stems of tapioca, bought from the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI) in Thiruvananthapuram.
Vinod says that after removing the rubber trees, he didn’t have to prepare the soil specially for planting short-term crops. “It was a fertile land and had rich red soil. I was confident that anything would grow here,” he notes.
In 2020, the trio harvested over 11,000 kg of tapioca. “We planned to grow a few more crops on the land, but it didn’t happen due to unavailability of seeds during the lockdown,” he says.
“The first harvest was in September 2020. We didn’t want any middlemen, so we sold our produce directly to street vendors, small shop owners, hotels, etc, and the rest were distributed among our friends and family,” he adds.
Later, Vinod and his partners decided to venture into mixed farming and started cultivating a wide range of crops including short-term like turmeric, ginger, different types of yam, etc, along with long-term ones such as coconut trees, pepper, areca nut trees, cashew trees, drumstick trees, curry leaf trees, agathi cheera (Hummingbird tree), and so on.
“Short-term crops like yams, turmeric, and ginger were aimed at making fast revenue, which in turn has been used to invest back into the same venture,” he says, adding that currently, they sell a certain amount of their yield to their friends or family, and store rest of it as quality seeds for the next season.
“Therefore, revenue-wise we haven’t reached break-even yet,” he says adding, that it might take two to three years to hit the point.
According to him, they chose crops that don’t require daily supervision or maintenance. “With a full-time job, it wasn’t practically possible to supervise 1.5 acres of land on a daily basis. So, we decided to hire a few labourers from nearby areas who have been helping us in managing the farm,” he elaborates, adding that he visits the farm on weekends.
The trio has also planted Malaysian citric lemon, a rare and seedless variety of lemon on their land. “We have planted around 50 of them. It is a juicier and very unique variety of lemon, which is rare in Thiruvananthapuram. So, we decided to try it out here,” he says, adding that the saplings were sourced from Thodupuzha in the Idukki district.
Vinod says that he mostly uses cow dung as manure for all his crops. “We also use chicken manure and earthworm compost. We have been very particular about cultivating everything organically, so we don’t use any kind of chemicals or pesticides,” he points out.
Suku Thomas, a regular customer at Vinod’s farm, says, “Their produce is totally organic and we can eat it worry-free. Whenever there is a harvest, I make sure that I buy from them. At a time when we find it difficult to find organic and chemical-free farm produce, Vinod’s initiative is a blessing.”
Vinod and his team have now started marigold flower cultivation on 50 cents of land as part of an initiative by Krishi Bhavan for Onam.
“We also have plans to make value-added products out of our produce in the future under our farm and brand name ‘Farm in Trivandrum’ (FiT),” Vinod says.
Edited by Divya Sethu