When a pandemic forced the states to close its doors to each other, it became all too clear how much one depended on another. For Kerala, this meant that food supplies, especially vegetables, coming from other states, would be affected. In a press conference towards the last half of April, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan spoke about the need for Kerala to be self-sufficient with food supplies.
Meetings got chaired, plans got made, and a name arose – Subiksha Keralam; and one by one, fallow lands are getting converted into farms.
“We are targeting around 25,000 hectares of fallow land to convert to farms. It is a convergence scheme – all departments converging together. We are creating good models of integrated farming so that expenditure is reduced and income is more,” says Dr Vasuki, director of the Agriculture Department and former Collector of Thiruvananthapuram.
She points out that even though no direct correlation has been made between climate change and the coronavirus, it has not been ruled out either. “With climate change, temperatures increase and disease transmission patterns can change. The World Health Organisation has predicted this almost 10 years ago and that is what we are witnessing now. In such an unpredictable scenario, every community should be self-sufficient, otherwise, it is going to be a disaster,” says Dr Vasuki.
The project also aims to give employment opportunities to a number of people, including farmers, youth, and groups such as Kudumbashree. “We believe it could be a great career for young people,” says Vasuki, adding that white-collar jobs have always been attractive but how in that process “we have completely moved away from nature”.
“That is one reason we have lots of diseases, so-called lifestyle diseases. Agriculture is not just a career option but it also offers a better lifestyle. The exposure to sun and nature in itself has a healing effect,” she says.
Jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities will be created in all four stages of production, harvest management, value addition and market, says Dr Vasuki.
Horticorp (Kerala State Horticultural Products Development Corporation) general manager Rajatha says that of the 25,000 hectares, 5,000 would be used for paddy, 7,000 for bananas, and in the rest, there will be millets, fruits, tubers and varieties of beans. “Departments of agriculture, forest and local self-governing bodies are all coming together for the project. One crore tree saplings have been given away and lakhs of vegetable seeds distributed even during the lockdown,” says Rajatha.
People with their own farms can be part of the project. Farmer groups or Kudumbashree units can take land on lease, with the help of the panchayats, she says.