K.P. Ilyas and Shamika Mone are a study in harmony. The organic farmer from Kozhikode and the agricultural researcher from Pune are bound by a common quest for indigenous seed varieties.
The couple has married their work to their life. They live together, do organic farming together and learn about it together.
Mone met Ilyas on a visit to Kerala in 2012. Ilyas, who had just reclaimed a traditional rice variety from oblivion with the help of a few friends in their collective farm in Kasaragod district, accompanied the researcher to the farm of Cheruvayal Raman, the treasure trove of indigenous seed varieties in Kerala.
They realized they had more in common than the pursuit of organic farming practices. Mone had dropped her research in Wardha to act amid the farmers’ community in the wake of increasing suicides.
She was working with environmentalist Claude Alvares’s Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) as a research director when she visited Kerala to attend a meeting of organic farmers held in Kozhikode.
The couple bonded well. By the time they met again in Wardha as activists for the cause of farmers, their friendship has blossomed into romance. They partnered their lives and works in May 2015.
Pursuit of food
Ilyas was always interested in agriculture. As soon as he finished his studies, he joined a silent movement of organic farmers that resisted the legacy of the Green Revolution.
The movement sparked by pioneer environmentalists such as John C. Jacob and K.V. Dayal 25 years ago created awareness among the youth in Kerala. The Kerala Jaiva Karshaka Samithi (Kerala Organic Farmers’ Committee) did not have a single office in its early days but scores of volunteers worked for the cause in all districts of Kerala.
Ilyas’s association with the committee started with the restoration attempts at the Padetti paddy fields in Palakkad district with support from the Biodiversity Board.
The work inspired him to lease a paddy field at Kundamkuzhi in Kasaragod district along with friends Sanoop and Harikrishnan. The friends successfully brought back in circulation a long-lost local seed variety called Thavalakkannan.
Mone’s work had taken her to Wardha in Maharashtra and Kodagu in Karnataka. She studied the effects of organic methods and chemically induced farming in the farms of Kodagu. She had travelled across India to document the local seed varieties and the farmers who braved the odds to preserve them. She has written a book on them. Cheruvayal Raman’s farm was her stop in Kerala.
Getting hands on
Ilyas and Mone decided to get back to the soil. They leased an acre of farm land at Vellankallur near Thrissur and put their ideas into practice. Ilyas also acts as an agricultural consultant to the Salim Ali Foundation.
The couple toiled in the soil in pursuit of their common interests. They prepared the land, planted the seeds, nurtured them throughout and harvested them. In the process, they promoted local varieties such as Thavalakkannan and Rakthashali.
Later, they took to a cucumber variety in the summer. The organic product found many takers when they sold it by the farm. They wanted to prove many points.
Local farmers never dared to farm cucumber without chemical pesticides because the plant is highly susceptible to pests. And the middlemen only paid half of the product’s market price.
Ilyas and Mone are preparing for another sowing season in the paddy field. The rains have just started. They are working on about 40 varieties of local seeds. Anyone who is interested in indigenous varieties is welcome to the farm.
Mone is also busy with her research work. She is working on a paper to be presented at the Organic World Congress to be held in New Delhi. She is in charge of selecting the organic farmers to take part in the conference.
Ilyas, a joint secretary of the Jaiva Karshaka Samithi, has his hands full. He is busy with works related to the 25th anniversary of the organization. A course in organic farming is one of the programs planned to mark the silver jubilee.