The Kerala Jaiva Karshaka Samithi, a 25-year-old organic farmers group in Kerala, has won global recognition for their efforts in innovating organic farming.
The association is one of the two winners of the Organic Medal of Honour, instituted by Xichong, a Chinese Municipality in association with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) Asia in South Korea.
â€śThe award will be presented in Xichong on May 30. The prize money is USD 5,000, which is roughly about 3.5 lakh Indian rupees apart from the gold medal. This will be used by the association,â€ť Ashok Kumar V, state secretary of the association told TNM.
The quarter-century-old organic farming association has around 15,000 members who are active farmers. The democratic structure and operations of the association, including their method of fund collection, was one of the principal reasons for their attracting the international medal.
â€śWe have small and large farmers who cultivate vegetables, food and cash crops in our association. While some cultivate on 2 cents, there are others with acres of farmland. Every year, we select farmers to become board members and stakeholders from among themselves,â€ť Ashok said.
The association elects Board members, an executive and a state body which comprises of presidents, treasurers, secretaries and others from each district. Together they discuss issues pertaining to organic farming and arrive at decisions. They have bodies in the Panchayat, Taluk, District and State level.
â€śWhile most other farming groups work as NGOs and ask for donations, we do not do that. Our members pool in cash in case of any activities,â€ť Ashok added.
The association has lead efforts to protect traditional rice varieties and vegetables local to the state.
â€śWe encourage farmers to cultivate traditional varieties of rice to protect them. We then sell these varieties so that people can buy and cultivate them in other areas,â€ť Ashok added.
Traditional vegetables that are encouraged to be grown include okra, eggplant, beans, green chillies etc.
The group also holds organic farming courses for those interested. The course is held over 20 Sundays in 20 different farms where both theory of organic farming and practical classes are held.
â€śThere is no indoor class. Out teachers are the farmers who have been cultivating organic produce. Students will learn everything right from the history of agriculture in the state to organic farming methods, growing value added crops and marketing of organic products,â€ť Ashoka said.
They are also taught how to get rid of pesticides on produce and how to cook organic produce to retain nutrients.
Apart from the organic farming course, at the village level, children and women are taught to keep houses toxin-free.
â€śIt is not just in the fruit and vegetables that you have toxins and pesticides. In many other things you buy such as paint, cleaning agents etc., contain toxic components. The students are taught to identify and get rid of these,â€ť Ashok added.
Apart from the comprehensive list of courses, the association also holds an organic farming festival in different districts annually where members can discuss their discoveries or experiences with organic farming. In 2019, the festival was held in Vadakara in Kannur.
â€śHere we have farmers, both members and those experts who come from outside the state, educating us on their innovative methods of organic farming. This helps in exchange of ideas. For instance, Swaminathan, a farmer from Tamil Nadu, attended the festival last year and presented their innovative organic cotton plant,â€ť he said.
Organic cotton is not grown with seeds brought from Monsanto or other farming companies. They are 100 percent natural and can be used to make fabric from it.