Retired prof’s Operation Snow White reaps big wins for organic farming

One of Remesan’s significant achievements is the successful cultivation of butternut squash, a crop not commonly found in Kerala.
One of Remesan’s significant achievements is the successful cultivation of butternut squash, a crop not commonly found in Kerala.
One of Remesan’s significant achievements is the successful cultivation of butternut squash, a crop not commonly found in Kerala.Express photo

KOCHI: Retirement often means slowing down, but for 67-year-old Remesan T K, it marked the beginning of a new chapter. Trading his chalk and blackboard for seeds and soil, this former professor of zoology and fishery sciences at Natika SN College embarked on a mission to revolutionise farming in Kerala.

Today, Remesan’s two-acre farm in Vadakekkara and Chendamangalam panchayat, Paravoor, stands as a testament to the power of organic agriculture, showcasing exotic crops like butternut squash, and employing innovative pest control techniques that prioritise sustainability.

Remesan has always been passionate about farming but became fully engaged in 2012 after his retirement. Initially relying on traditional farming methods with locally sourced seeds, his scientific background soon inspired him to integrate advanced techniques such as drip irrigation with mulching and fertigation.

Dedicated to organic practices, he only uses natural fertilisers like cow dung, chicken droppings, earthworm compost, etc. “My approach to agriculture is strictly organic; I use organic pesticides and fertilisers, avoiding chemicals entirely,” he explains.

One of Remesan’s significant achievements is the successful cultivation of butternut squash, a crop not commonly found in Kerala.

However, it was the cultivation of the indigenous snow-white cucumbers that led him to gain recognition among the locals and beyond. Yielding an impressive 10,000 kilos annually, these cucumbers became the cornerstone of a new venture during Covid.

To stay active during the lockdown, Remesan and ten of his retired friends formed the Snow White Agriculture Group. This initiative provided them with a meaningful way to spend their time and allowed them to contribute to the local food supply during a challenging period.

Remesan’s farming success is not just a solo endeavour; it is sustained by significant community collaboration. The Snow White Agriculture Group works closely with the women of Kudumbasree, who offer helping hands in the field for an additional source of income.

“They help with farming and also assist in selling our produce locally,” he notes.

Vadekekkara and Chendamangalam Krishi Bhavans, both panchayat-level government initiatives, have also supported Remesan’s farming initiatives.

“Implementing drip irrigation, for example, was initially costly, amounting to about Rs 50,000 per acre. However, Krishi Bhavan covered around Rs 30,000 of this cost. They also provide organic fertilisers at subsidised prices and offer invaluable advice on crop cultivation. Their support has been crucial in maintaining the farm’s productivity,” Remesan adds.

Pest control is a significant challenge in Kerala’s agriculture and Remesan tackles it with ecological engineering, an innovative technique developed by the National Institute of Plant Health Management in Hyderabad.

This technique was introduced to him by a former agriculture officer of Vadakekkara Krishi Bhavan, Divya K M. The method involves planting species alongside the desired crops to attract beneficial insects and repel harmful ones. For instance, sunflowers, and sweet corn are planted to attract helpful pests like spiders, since they help repose enemy pests naturally.

“This sustainable approach reduces the need for chemical pesticides, thereby reducing monetary losses and providing additional plants for sale,” he explains.

Kerala relies heavily on Tamil Nadu for its produce, but these vegetables often come laden with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. “The prevalence of diseases like cancer can be linked to the intake of chemically-treated vegetables,” he explains.

Organic farming solves this problem by eliminating harmful chemicals from the food supply, promoting healthier lifestyles, and reducing disease incidence. Remesan’s commitment to organic practices showcases the potential for a self-sufficient Kerala, where local produce is not only abundant but also safe and nutritious.

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