Bijumon Antony is a professional photographer with two decades is experience. But when he turned to farming 10 years ago, he didn't imagine that one day, he would be felicitated with the Karshakothama Award by the Kerala government, given to the best farmer.
The resident of Kattappana in Idukki district was awarded on November 28. The 45-year-old comes from an agricultural family. And while he balanced both photography and farming until three years ago, his focus and passion now is entirely on his 0.6-hectare farm.
On good months, Biju gets a profit of around one lakh rupees from his farm. But that's not always the case. "The profit we earn from farming is special, even when it is not as high," he says. And it was this thought that inspired him to turn his farm into one of the best in Kerala.
He and his family grow a variety of crops on the land: coffee, cardamom, pepper, vegetables, fruit trees, nutmeg, and Malabar tamarind to name some. However, Biju says his true expertise lies in rearing animals and livestock. His little farm has got fish, poultry, several varieties of chicken, duck, turkey and geese, along with cows, goats and even ornamental birds.
"Many wondered how so much can be done in such a limited area. But it is possible," Biju beams.
As a farmer from Idukki, a place highly vulnerable to natural disasters, Biju says that mixed livestock farming is a good bet. "We cannot depend on a single livestock farming in high ranges like Idukki. In mixed farming, even if one endeavour makes loss, it can be compensated with another."
Biju most profitable ventures are Karikozhi (black meat chicken) farming -- as its meat and eggs are considered to have medicinal value, and goat rearing. Among goats he has various varieties including the Canadian dwarf, Nigerian goat, Jamnapari, Pygmy, Beetal, and Malabari.
"Apart from selling these animals for meat, I also sell lambs, calves, chicks and juvenile fish to other farmers. I have incubators to hatch eggs and hydroponic grass growing systems for goats. I want to show that even small scale farmers can use all these techniques," Biju states.
Biju says this success wouldn't have been possible without his wife Kunjumol. "It is a combined effort. My wife takes care of this farm, my sons Amal and Abel contribute to maintaining it too. A single person cannot develop and sustain all this. It is a combined effort. Above all I thank god that I am able to earn well from this limited land," Biju says.
Though he was born into an agricultural family, the state agricultural department's classes and other financial aid helped a lot, Biju notes. Above all though, it was hard work through hardships that bore fruit, he says.