Fry the fish as soon as it is caught: that is the simple but winning rule in the business of Chemmala Shaji of Nilambur. The young ex-expat has realized that taste buds could always be longing for fresh fish cooked to delight.
Shaji's father Hussein used to be a prominent farmer who also practiced aquaculture. Shaji now grows fish in the same pond, which his father used for 10 years.
Things have changed much, however. Shaji targets a 10-fold growth target than his father. Besides, his main item on sale is freshly caught fish fried in masala, rather than just live ones.
Shaji's fish farm is a two-acre lake. The bunds are covered with silpaulin sheets. In the middle is a raft-like platform on which are cages of ducks and rabbits.
A bridge from the shore extends to a tent on a platform. One can dine in this tent, which is open on all four sides.
Food is also served in bamboo cottages on the shore. Cooking is done in a shed nearby. Shaji says at least 20 people arrive every day here for food. On holidays it could be several times more. Visitors come from all sorts of places, even from faraway Kasaragod, besides Thrissur and Malappuram.
For sudden visitors Shaji provides chappathi and bread with fish items. Those who come with advance notice will be served with meals along with rabbit meat and duck. A family normally spends nearly Rs 2,000 in the farm.
Pedal boats are also ready in the lake for visitors. The farm has just a single staff member. But Shaji has at least 10 to 15 people for company for fishing and serving food. Shaji says they are neighbors and family who do not expect any monetary benefit and are happy with the homely food that he provides, along with his love.
Shaji recalls that his father's fish farming was in the traditional style taught by government agencies. The father did not much care about income; his annual breed was limited. He cared more for the happiness that the work gave him.
But Shaji was in need for a higher income as he returned from abroad. His experience was only a year's partnership with his father after ending his expat life and settling down home. But he tested new plans, which have now become a lesson for all farmers in Kerala: a beautiful model of value addition and diversification.
Shaji, who took over after his father's early demise, simply combined farming with business smoothly. The gains multiplied many times as the generational change reflected in pisciculture too. He says he has nearly 20,000 fish of different varieties in his pond. The figure is lower than usual because it's end of season.
A look at Shaji's business strategy is interesting. He takes Rs.150 for an average 200 grammes of fish fried on leaf. If he sells it fresh, he might get a maximum of Rs40 only. Even if other expenses are considered, his profit is good.
Anglers are also provided with facilities here. The only condition is they have to buy their catch. Shaji says he sells as food three tons of fish out of a five-ton total catch. That's solid profit indeed.