An Exclusive Interview of The ‘Seedless Lemon’ Farmer of Kerala

Vinod Venugopal

'Three passionate farmers met on a Facebook community group, decided to pursue farming and harvested more than 11,500 kg of tapioca on 1.5 acres in eight months. This was one of the leading stories published in many national dailies a year ago. 

Vinod Venugopal, from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, again showed the world his passion for farming and courage for innovation in crops. This time he chose 18 different crops and rare fruits for his 1.5 acres of land.

Besides working as a regional manager in a medical devices company, Vinod devoted all his time with the nature. It was his ultimate intention to step into organic farming to feel the nature, which no rubber plantation can ever provide.

Coconut, banana, tuber, drumstick, areca, breadfruit, pepper, ginger, turmeric, curry leaves, winged beans, chilly, seedless lemon, etc. cultivates in his farm grounds located in Mukkunnimala of Pallichal panchayat. Vinod Venugopal in a live interaction with Krishi Jagran Kerala shared his techniques, opportunities and crisis in farming.

How and When did you choose organic farming (of vegetables, fruits, root crops), removing the rubber from your land?

We started in the middle of 2019. Rubber was grown there in the 1.5 acres and it a very profitable business. But it wasn’t close to my heart. Moreover, I am a graduate of Botany and I love plants. I shared my thought for farming in a Facebook group, Where in Trivandrum (WiT) and received more than two dozen responses.

Most of them were willing to give me cash, not their efforts. But, I found two youngsters, who had the same interest like me and we began Tapioca farming in October 2019. We prepared the land and also drilled a well for irrigation. We assigned some employees to the farm. Later, we went for mixed farming. 

How did you select the crops?

We examined the soil and discussed which varieties were good for it. First, we planned Papaya. But, Mukkunnimala is a quarry area, have monkey menace at large and we knew that they would not even leave its leaves. So, we turned to grow root- crops like tapioca, tuber, ginger, turmeric etc.  

Gradually, we moved to mixed farming. We also planted short-term crops for immediate revenue while keeping long-term varieties like coconut and areca aside. Drumstick plant, Curry leaves, agasthi, Cashew nuts are also grown. 

Is social media helpful in farming?

Yes it is helpful. Social media connected us not only at the initial stage, but it was also useful even in the sale. Like, people asked for our harvested crops through the platform.  I saw that people share their seeds without any charges through these social media groups. You also get a chance to meet inspiring personalities there.

To my surprise, I got a call from Bhopal regarding the seedless lemon. He came to know about me in an article of Dainik Bhaskar. It is the power of new media. If we talk about these crops at the roadside, people won't look at them. But, if you are posting it on social media, it makes a difference. 

Why choose Seedless lemon?

I grow Malaysian citric lemon here; have 25 plants and now planning to increase it to 75. It is juicier, unique flavour and is big comparatively. I chose it because it is very rare in Thiruvananthapuram so that I had to collect its saplings from Thodupuzha. The saplings are being produced by grafting. It was planted before the monsoon last year. I use cow dung as manure, which was collected from the cattle shed of one of my labours.

I have given them organic fertilizers from earthworm compost. Butterflies lay eggs in the plants and it affects the leaves also. But I use no pesticide against them. Let them live in their way. Meanwhile, they are helpful for pollination

It has been one year, the plants are at merely 2 ft height and now they take up to fruiting. Seedless lemon is compatible with the climate, need proper irrigation and is best in places that suffer monkey menace. The lemon will cost around Rs.50 per 2 kg. We are making it a brand and decided to sell through social media, rather than wholesale markets. 

How are value-added products worth for farmers?

Tapioca, turmeric, drum stick... all these can be sold by making some products from it. For example, curry leaves powder is very popular and can be used in dosa. Muringayila (drumstick) powder is good for tea. So I am on my way to producing such items in the coming months.  My farm name is FIT and our intention is also to be fit with maximum use of Agri products. Organic- value-added products need to be brought into markets by promoting it as a brand. 

How do you find the markets there? Is government giving any support?

We got saplings of pepper, coconut and drumstick from Pallichal Krishi Bhavan. But, for supporting farmers in their crop loss or finding markets, there is no 'efficient system'. In Thiruvananthapuram, the market is destined for selling farmers products at a fair price. We can bring our products there directly or to collection points. We have to apply for the service. I sent my application two months back but got no response as yet.

In the recent incessant rain, I lost my crops as Tapioca was in its harvesting time. I sent an email to our state agriculture minister but got no help. If farmers are treated this way, most of them might give up their land. Instead, they will tend to move towards construction or other jobs. 

Due to climate change, farmers need to sell their products by two pricing systems in monsoon and summer. 

As I told you earlier, the government has to do something and they have to extend support to the farmers in fixing prices. As I could not find any markets for tapioca, the doors were shut for me. For, 1.5-acre tapioca cultivation, some offered me Rs.20, 000. It seemed a big loss. For the land preparation alone, I had to spend Rs.20, 000. We can make value-added products and in the case of tubers, ginger and turmeric, we can use them for the next cultivation as well.

However, for a farmer who has no revenue except his toil in fields, it is a worse experience. Authorities thus have to take some serious measures for farmers, to cope with their crop loss. 

Vinod in his farmland

You are managing both farming and job. Does the farmer need a backup?

For a starter, he/ she must look at the revenue. They also need to ensure that either they are physically capable of farming or economically good to assign labours. Though they have no land, they can farm indoors and on the terrace.  

Do you export your crops?

Yes chilies are in high demand in the Maldives. But I feel India and especially Kerala is highly populated and here we have massive consumers for the crops. Hence, I promote in the local markets. I sold my tapioca last year with a home delivery system. While in markets it cost Rs.30 per Kg, I charged them Rs.25 per Kg at their doorsteps, without even delivery charges. It helped me to sell more.   

What message would you like to give to the young aspirants in farming? 

Start from small things. You must not wait for great things to kick off. The start will bring you to long distance. Grow small vegetables like tomatoes, chilly, brinjal or anything. Just make your mind that you will not buy these things from markets, instead will produce in your land. It will help you grow gradually.

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