Sweet solutions for fallow fields

After decades, sugarcane cultivation is being carried out in Kizhakkambalam 
Suresh Kumaran in his sugarcane field in Kizhakkambalam. (Right)
Suresh Kumaran in his sugarcane field in Kizhakkambalam. (Right)

KOCHI:  Every day at dawn, dental technician-turned-farmer Suresh Kumaran sets out to his farm at Kizhakkambalam. This is a crucial time, for the first time in decades, a new crop, sugarcane, is being tried out in fallow paddy fields. “This place was bought by a few doctors to start a hospital but because these are paddy fields, they were not given permission,” says Suresh. He walks between the stalks. It has reached a height of 10 feet. “In a couple of months, it should reach 14 feet,” he says.  

He points to the ground beneath the stalks and water can be seen. “Since these paddy fields are next to a stream, there is always water beneath,” says Suresh. “Sugarcane needs a lot of water.” Soon, a few workers come. They sprinkle organic pesticide, a mix of urea, potassium and neem oil, and use spades to mix it with the mud. A specific variety called Madhuri is being used. “This variety is known for its sweetness and sturdiness,” says Suresh. “We got the plants from Pathanamthitta.”  

They are expecting about 40,000 kgs from a single acre. And if all goes well, from that, 4000 kgs of jaggery will be made by a four-member Kudumbasree team. They have taken a government loan of Rs 1 lakh through the ‘Joint Liability Groups for farming’ scheme. Suresh has contributed Rs 70,000 while the rest has been given by the Twenty20 Kizhakkambalam Department of Kitex Textiles Limited. The company is also providing manpower, machinery, fertilisers and expert advice. 

 As to why it was decided to try sugarcane cultivation, in an area of 10 acres, Sabu M Jacob, the managing director of Kitex says, “Because of its potential as a cash crop, and for its suitability to the Kerala climate. Sugarcane can remain in the water for up to three weeks without rotting – this could be a plus when you consider the recent flooding.”  Sabu also says that there is a huge demand for pesticide-free jaggery in Kerala. “There are also plans to make biodegradable plates and cutlery from the waste,” he says. “Later, we might go in for the cultivation of jasmine flowers.” 

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The New Indian Express