news Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 05:30
By Dhanya Sukumaran A group of 101 families has created a small yet strong challenge to the idea that farming requires modern science to thrive. Since 2006, Vengeri, a village in Kozhikode district, has revolutionized everyday living and has set an example by not only managing sustainable organic farming, challenging genetically modified crops and also efficient waste management practices. Thanks to Niravu, a residential association of 100 odd homes, today Vengeri is a “Zero Waste-Zero Pesticides Organic Village” whose waste management practices are being followed by the Kozhikode International Airport, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) and NIT Kozhikode. It all started with a survey conducted by a volunteer student group from Providence Women’s College which revealed that there were 6 cases of cancer in Vengeri, and most of the patients were women. Sathyan AP, a resident of the area recalls “Curious to know why women were more prone to cancer in spite of not smoking or drinking, we approached the Pathology Department at the Kozhikode medical college, where it was explained to us, how pesticides are a growing reason for cancer and mostly afflicting women who handle the vegetable first in a household in the process of cleaning.” This got the residents thinking about organic farming. As a first step, the residents identified a nearby vacant stretch of land and proposed an organic paddy field. Soon support started flowing in, with volunteers from Providence College, 12 residents' associations and Kudumbasree units (women’s self-help groups) in the ward joined in, along with enthusiastic officials from various departments. Some contributed seeds, some age old wisdom, others manure and with a lot of labour and fun this event was a huge success. “The camaraderie that we felt during this effort planted the idea of forming an association which would take forward our vision” says Babu Parambath, a leading member of the group. And so Niravu (Nethaji Residents association Vengeri ) was formed, consisting of a 101 homes surrounding Nethaji Library, in Vengeri village. Niravu (Fulfilment in Malayalam), has since then run many successful projects like Farmer’s club, waste management and energy conservation programs, rain water harvesting, road construction, awareness programs and more. For the past four years, no chemical fertilizer or pesticide has been used at Vengeri. More importantly, all residential and vacant plots within this ward grow vegetable and fruit-bearing trees, sourcing manure from cattle owners within the area, making it a self-sustaining and self- sufficient village. In 2008, Vengeri was declared an Organic Village by the state government. However, this was not enough and Niravu also launched a creative campaign against genetically modified vegetables. Geetha Devadasan, one of the residents, offered seedlings of a local variety of brinjal and they proceeded to make one lakh seedlings of this variety of brinjal in Niravu homes and distributed them among people from different parts of the State. The Kerala Agricultural University recently certified that the ‘Vengeri Brinjal’ was high yielding, relatively tasty and suitable for backyard vegetable gardens. Efforts to commercialize it and make it widely available to the public are underway.  Niravu Awareness Programme (NAP)  : Zero waste management consultation Based on their own success story of zero-budget plastic waste management, they launched the Niravu Awareness Programme (NAP) which educates other residents associations across the state about their model. They successfully completed a year of waste management in Kozhikode International Airport. Now other government agencies are queuing up. The airport handles over 30 flights and more than 20,000 people on a given day, generating about half a ton of waste each day. Besides the environmental implications, the waste had also been attracting birds, posing a threat to aircraft operations. The airport authorities entered into a consultancy agreement with  Niravu.  Niravu help set up the arrangements, including construction of waste segregation sheds, biogas plant, and stocking yard on 1.5 acres near the airport. As the news of this successful venture spread, they were contacted by Coimbatore and Guwahati  airport approach to implementation a similar process for them. Railway division of Palakkad has approached them for cleaning up four of the railway stations under the division.    
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