“It had always been my father’s dream to start farming and paddy cultivation in the rich soil in Wayanad after his retirement.
He was working at the secretariat in Thiruvanathapuram all his life but his heart was always amidst the greenery in our hometown.
Unfortunately, he was not able to fulfil that dream as he passed away in 2004,” explains Rajesh Krishnan, a biotechnologist turned farmer hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
After completing his graduation in biotechnology from the University of Kerala and finishing his masters in ecology from Pondicherry University, Rajesh went on to work as a campaigner for Greenpeace for almost 10 years.
“Over those 10 years, I had the opportunity to meet several people who had made a great impact in their communities. That’s when I realised the potential and the kind of change that I could bring about on my own and how I could help at least a small portion of the farmers in our country,” says Rajesh.
So after quitting my job at Greenpeace in Bengaluru, I settled in Wayanad, where my brother and I had bought around 5 and a half acres of land in 2008. My main aim was to try to save the paddy varieties from extinction through organic cultivation.
“I started out my cultivation by trying to grow 15 varieties of rice but I realised that it was hard to keep them apart. So then I set aside around 5 cents of land just to experiment with different varieties of paddy to see how they were adapting to the weather conditions,” he explains.
“From almost 3000 varieties of native seeds, we’ve come down to almost just less than 300. As part of the Thanal project that I run, we’ve been able to cultivate around 200 of them in our paddy fields including varieties like Thondi, Mullainkaima, Gandakashala and Veliyan,” says Rajesh.
He goes on to explain how these varieties are ideal for the local weather and have a better resistance from pests, bugs and diseases.
During the initial days of cultivation, I had a lot of doubts and was struggling to find my way around it. That’s when the local farming group, the ‘Souhridha Gramshree’ invited me to join them. They had a weekly meeting where they would discuss new initiatives and farming techniques,” Rajesh explains.
It was during one such meeting that Rajesh pitched the idea of adopting organic paddy cultivation using traditional techniques.
“I knew that my farming skills were not even close to what the others, so I offered to help them find markets to sell organic rice. There were a lot of questions from them regarding the profit and how could we keep the pests away when we cultivate organically and so on. After a few meetings, we decided to launch the Tinueli Agro Producers Company (TAPCO) in collaboration with the farmers directly,” he explains.
With the support of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the idea behind TAPCO to source rice from farmers directly and supply it to organic retail shops across the country without any middlemen.
“We were able to lease land for the paddy cultivation and ensured that we adopted only organic methods. The very next year, in 2017, we registered the company as well,” Rajesh explains.
Over the years, TAPCO has grown into a company with 86 employees that cultivates almost 200 acres of paddy.
“Last year, we were able to send out 80 tonnes of rice which was worth almost Rs.40 lakhs and were able to pay the farmers their daily wages also on time,” he explains.
Out of the variety of paddy that is cultivated under TAPCO, the variety that gives a large harvest is the ‘Thondi’ variety which yields particularly high in the Wayanad soil.
The local price for the variety is Rs 18 per kilo and the price allotted by the government is Rs 26.
“Through TAPCO, we are able to sell it at Rs 29, this gives the farmers a 50% boost from the regular market price and get a profit of about Rs 6,000 from each acre of the paddy,” Rajesh explains.
TAPCO also has a mill which can process almost 1 tonne of grains in an hour. This mill is the first organic rice processing mill in Kerala and was purchased with help from the agricultural department.
“Currently we are only cultivating and processing rice but in the future, we hope to expand the work into other crops as well. Although after the paddy is harvested, the farmers use the land for cultivating pulses during the rest of the year,” Rajesh explains.
“Rajesh has been the brain behind this entire project and as a result of his efforts, farmers are getting almost twice the amount of profit over the last few years,” says Chairman of TAPCO, Johnson OV who has been a farmer for almost 13 years in Wayanad.
Rajesh won the Kerala Youth Icon award in 2017, for his organic cultivation of traditional paddy seeds and saving them from extinction.
“The idea behind the company is not just to help farmers get a better profit but to promote organic farming and make people aware of these local varieties that are on the verge of extinction. Over the years, paddy cultivation has become a celebration here in Tiruneli. We sing songs, celebrate and have made it an essential part of our lives,” Rajesh concludes.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)