SIVAGANGA: Youngsters mill around S Mukesh Kannan at O Siruvayal in Sivaganga as he explains the art of threshing and winnowing paddy. They pay rapt attention to the only farmer in the village who cultivates native rice varieties. The 29-year-old Kannan had organised a Aruvadai Thiruvizha (a plucking festival) in hopes of showing attendees the sustainable route of farming using indigenous crops.
Nobody would guess the man on the organic mission, with farming tips and tricks up his sleeve, was once a senior-site engineer. In fact, he only learned how to handle a spade in January 2018. Kannan never thought he would leave his nine to five job at a construction company in Chennai for long days on the field with a sickle in hand. “After my father Selvaraj passed away, my 90-year-old grandfather Alagukonnar wanted to return to the village and work with agriculture. His love for cultivation changed my mind, and I shifted there along with my mother Indira, brother Balasubramanian and my grandfather,” he said.
While the former engineer was aware of how construction equipment functioned, sowing land was new terrain. Here, Kannan was in luck as help came from his uncle R Bose (55) from Patharakudi, who trained him for three years. “For the first year, I did all the work on the land and taught him (Kannan) the basics. In the second year, he helped me on the land. In the third year, he did the work on his own and I only supervised,” recalls Bose.
Initially, Kanan planted hybrid rice varieties like the rest of the ryots in the district. “Later, I switched to the native breed rice as it is the healthier option for people,” he explained. In the agricultural season of 2021 alone, he cultivated 9 varieties — Melagusamba, Karuppukavuli, Sembulisamba, Arubathamkuruvai, Karuthakaar, Chinnar, Geeragasamba, Kalluorundai, and Kullakar.
Kannan may be the only organic farmer in his village but he is not alone in his passion. Support also pours in the form of a tight-knit WhatsApp group named ‘Vaigai Vivasayal’ of like-minded organic farmers across Sivaganga. “For one season, I may sow the Melagusamba variety and be aware of a technique that has better yield, Meanwhile, another person on the group would have better tips about how to plant the Kullakar variety. So, we exchange ideas and seeds,” he added.
On advice for other upcoming organic farmers, he said patience is the key as it takes a few seasons for results and profits. The land needs its own time to process the native varieties and the swapping out of pesticides for organic fertilisers, Kannan pointed out. He adds native breeds also have high demand in the market and often, he can’t keep up with orders he gets from across the State.
Now, four years later into agriculture, he knows the lay of the land and even makes organic fertilisers and vermicompost. But it doesn’t stop there for Kannan as he hopes to take his vision to others, especially those who do not know the names of native rice varieties.
Bye bye hybrid grains
Initially, Kanan planted hybrid rice varieties like the rest of the ryots in the district. “Later, I switched to the native breed rice as it is the healthier,” he explained. In the agricultural season of 2021 alone, he cultivated 9 varieties — Melagusamba, Karuppukavuli, Sembulisamba, Arubathamkuruvai, Karuthakaar, Chinnar, Geeragasamba, Kalluorundai, and Kullakar