Weaving a classroom of hope in the farm

Many passionate farmers are giving back to the society by sharing their knowledge and experience on growing food in an eco-friendly manner. This is how knowledge got passed from generation to generation, traditionally. But, present day farmers are moving a step ahead by integrating the modern technology and social media, thereby reaching and educating a large number of people interested in farming. Mr. Ayyub is one such passionate and innovative farm teacher.

Students visit Ayyub farm to learn

In the current face of climate change and food security, a holistic approach is needed to address the various issues in agriculture. Conventional teaching systems do not go much into the practical aspects of agro ecology. Even today, we are very far from including such concepts in our education system though some potential steps are being taken in including topics like nutrition gardens, farmer schools etc., in the curriculum of certain private schools to familiarize young minds on farming.

Some passionate individuals have taken up the responsibility of educating people based on their practical field level experiences. One such farmer is Mr. Ayyub Thottoli from Mananthvady in Wayanad, Kerala who has been keen to share his experiences with the community. Mr. Ayyub conducts classes for farmers, students, women and outsiders on how to make agriculture profitable, organic cultivation, various farming techniques and much more at his farm. Mr. Ayyub is now a well known figure among farmers, students and general public who are interested in learning agriculture as a whole.

The beginning

Mr. Ayyub is not a conventional farmer.  With a background in economics, he was working at a private firm at Bangalore. In 2004, owing to the ill health of his ageing father, he decided to return to his native to start farming, leaving his well-paid job.

Being new to farming, Ayyub struggled a lot, initially. He first cultivated banana and different vegetables.  He then diversified his farm with short duration crops that can help gain a stable income on a daily or monthly basis. For certain crops like papaya, he altered the planting times to get fruit availability throughout the year, instead of getting the entire harvest at one point of time. However, he faced marketing challenges. Though he produced good quality vegetables without chemicals, they were not as attractive as one gets at a supermarket and hence did not fetch good price. To solve these challenges, he started selling the produce from the field itself. Direct marketing helped him in getting more sales especially from tourists and local media also supported him. Over time, Mr. Ayyub by his keenness to learn and his efforts, could make his farming profitable.

Ayyub is also innovative which attracts fellow farmers to his farm. He started bamboo cultivation due to its hardy nature in the harsh climate. He followed Vietnam method of high density planting in pepper which gave him more recognition and improved income. Presently, he is maintaining a well diverse farm with plenty of fruits, vegetables, bamboo, fisheries and native trees. In light of environment hazard and consumer demand, he prefers to restrict his cultivation practices in a fully organic mode by following zero budget farming, natural farming and other organic management practices.

A classroom of hope

With years of continuous learning, Mr. Ayyub now proudly affirms his success in the farming venture. He strongly believes that learning comes from one’s own experience and from the knowledge and wisdom shared by others. He too started his journey by learning from experienced farmers, reading books, articles, participating in workshops and of course the internet.

Around seven years ago, one of the training coordinators, Mr. Ramakrishnan of MSSRF Community Agrobiodiversity Centre in Wayanad, encouraged him to take up teaching. Having gained knowledge from various people and publications, he felt it was his moral responsibility to share the gained knowledge and experience with others. With support of MSSRF and his family, Mr. Ayyub started classes for farmers, retired personnel, women and students. Once he started teaching, he realized that cross learning is very important. He adds that over the years of teaching, he has learnt many things from his audience and that communication has to be from both sides. Last year alone, he conducted classes for more than 1000 people while following Covid protocols.

Mr Ayyub takes sessions on diverse topics mainly organic management practices, climate adaptive practices, Vietnam model of pepper cultivation, livestock and fisheries management, papaya cultivation, soil management, production of biofertilizers like Jeevamrutham, Fish amino, etc., to name a few. He especially focuses on the sustainability aspects for which an entire ecosystem has to be kept in mind. His sessions are a perfect mix of theory and practice as he efficiently gives insights on the field experiences to the learners. With his background of economics and field know how, Mr. Ayyub’s classes are an efficient blend of wisdom for the learners.

Box 1: Some technologies shared by Mr. Ayyub

Vietnam model of pepper cultivation

In the Vietnam model of pepper cultivation, a dead stand i.e. concrete pillar works as a stand for the pepper vines instead of a tree. The system follows a high density planting approach and also allows efficient utilisation of nutrients. However, the system is suitable for a cooler climate as in high temperature the hot concrete will affect the crop negatively.

Papaya Cultivation

Initially, Ayyub incurred loss in papaya cultivation due to unstable market. But by changing the planting times and harvesting ‘papain’, a latex released by the papaya, he started earning good profits. This experience is shared with fellow farmers for them to benefit.

While following innovative methods, Mr. Ayyub makes sure to motivate farmers on maintaining crop diversity by arranging a sustainable mix of diverse vegetables, fruits, native trees and livestock in the farm. His own farm is home to native cow breeds, poultry, fisheries and various fruit varieties (mango, guava, banana, papaya, dragon fruit, sapota, litchi, rambutan, custard apple, mulberry, miracle fruit, Avocado, mangosteen, pomegranate, etc.), vegetables, coffee, areca nut, coconut, pepper, cinnamon, bamboo, moringa, neem and other native trees.

An inspiring point about Mr. Ayyub is that in his teachings, he beautifully combines profit making and sustainable agriculture practices. He insists on conducting the sessions on the farm itself as he strongly believes that people who are cultivating must understand the agro ecosystem as a whole including the crops, the soil, the microbes, the insects and understand the role they need to play in maintaining the balance. He says, ‘I have received this land from my ancestors in the purest form and I must give it to my next generation in the same way’.

 Beyond the classes, many learn from visiting his farm. Every year, students from agricultural university and foreigners visit his farm and share knowledge among them. Officials from agriculture and other government departments and NGOs also arrange exposure visits to his farm.

Mr. Ayyub is very active on social media too. He responds to queries of other farmers and also updates his experiences and relevant information on crop management, marketing, etc., through Facebook and Whatsapp. Through Facebook alone, he is reaching around 10,000 farmers across India. His facebook page can be accessed where he shares his insights on farming https://www.facebook.com/ayoobkrishiwayanad.thotoli.

Teaching has given Mr. Ayyub a sense of pride. He also provides consultation to Resorts, plantation and estate owners. He is invited to deliver sessions. In his farming journey, Mr. Ayyub has been honoured with various accolades from the government and non government organisations.

Hope for future

In the coming years, Mr. Ayyub wants to develop a good marketing network for farmers using social media and local networks. Another plan is to facilitate organic farms for general public i.e., maintaining farm on a small plot of land for people, who are interested in growing crops, organically. The plan is in the pipeline and many people have already expressed interest. Mr. Ayyub is very firm on practising farming during his entire lifetime and teaching and learning from fellow farmers. His only appeal to the government is to provide policy support for the farming community as they are facing serious challenges in changing climate, wild life conflicts, over use of chemicals and gap between science and practice.

Archana Bhatt, Vipindas and Divya P R

MSSRF-Community Agrobiodiversity Centre

Puthoorvayal, Kalpetta, Wayanad, Kerala

PIN 673577

Email: archanabhatt1991@gmail.com



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