For Arun D B, a class 10 student of Government High School, Karipoor, Nedumangad, the day starts even before the sun rises, at 4.30 am. The son of a farmer, Arun, known better in his neighbourhood by his nickname Nandu, is also a farmer in his own right.
On one side of their small house, creepers have spread up to the terrace in a vast green canopy. Below are growbags of saplings of different vegetables. A clump of banana trees have borne fruit and are ripening. A ‘nithya vazhuthana’ (clove bean) vine, not so commonly seen these days, is also in flower.
“Right now, I have a lot of ‘valamarakka’ or ‘valari payar’ (sword bean) and ‘chatura payar’ (winged bean),” said Nandu, pointing at the creepers. “Different types of chilli have also been grown and some ‘kovakkai’ (ivy gourd).”
Nandu sells his produce to his neighbours and the money he makes pays for some of his school accessories and also helps pay back a loan taken from the local self-help group to build a shed in their backyard for their goats.
“I don’t really charge much. Last week I gave about a kilo of green chillies, winged beans and sword beans for 25 rupees,” he said with a shrug when asked about how he prices his crops.
Said Alphonsa, one his neighbours and regular customers, “He practically gives it away for free. Sometimes I have to beg him to take more money.”
She feels people are enthusiastic about buying from Nandu as he grows his crops without using any chemical fertilizer.
He is helped in his organic farming by his furred and feathered friends. The rest of the roughly five cents of land on which the house and his garden stand is a cacophony of activity. Three male turkeys strut around in a show of dominance, a few hens and a duck or two share the space with seven goats, including two month-old kids. In one corner, a makeshift tank of bricks lined with a tarpaulin sheet houses a large catfish, while a basin in another corner of the yard is full of guppies and sucker fish.
“The water from the fish tanks goes to the plants providing excellent fertilizer,” said Anila, Nandu’s younger sister, a class 8 student, who helps him with his garden and is just as well-versed in handling the animals.
These young farmers are no strangers to the adversities that those of their ilk have to face.
“Actually, this year, I haven’t been able to do much,” said Nandu, pointing out some of his withering plants. “There have not been enough rains this year to get the canals flowing and the ponds full to help us through the dry spells. We also don’t have a pipe connection and are dependent on a pond. Last year, the crop was much better, every day I had something different to sell - tomatoes, bitter gourds, brinjals and what not.”
Apart from the shortage of rains and the heavy winds in the region, they have other enemies to contend with.
“Monkeys are a big menace here. They come from the neighbouring ISRO compound, where they probably don’t have enough to eat and raid on the surrounding farmers’ lands,” said Anila. In the garden, a sack had been tied around the banana bunch so it would escape the monkeys’ notice. “But see, they have bitten into some of the bananas,” she said.
Nevertheless, they have already started planning for the next Onam crop. A string bean plant is in full fruit. “This is not for sale,” said Anila. “We are going to save the seeds and plant them in time to be harvested for Onam next year.”