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On a whim, he visits the Alunkal family farm unannounced. He knows well the elderly couple who own it as well as their children and grandchildren. Recently, he helped arrange a scholarship for one of their granddaughters to study nursing in Bangalore.

The Alunkals are all too familiar with the consequences of the Faustian bargain made by the last generation of farmers. Slumped in a chair in the living room and surrounded by children and grandchildren, the 86–year–old Abraham recalls the good old days.

“We used to plant two or three varieties of seeds for paddy cultivation. That’s all,” says the patriarch. “Previously, disease didn’t affect the plants. No pesticides were necessary. We used manure, cow dung and leaf compost. And we relied on ourselves to make our own decisions in the fields.

“But now we have so many new varieties,” he says whimsically, gesturing toward the door that opens onto his fields. “They’re high yielding, supposedly, but they’re unable to resist diseases. And the other big change is mechanization. Now farmers are getting advice from outside. Mechanization and science have taken over.”

As if on cue, his 82–year–old wife, Mariam, interjects with what she sees as the driving force behind these changes.

“Our demands and desires were much less when I was young,” she explains. “Nowadays, people are spending more money on the bombastic life. They want tip–top clothes and all the ornaments. The younger generation doesn’t want to be in farming. They want white–collar jobs where the attitude is for minting money not for earning a livelihood.”

Ever since Kerala’s agricultural sector hit rock bottom, experts have been debating the economic and systemic causes for its collapse. However, an indisputable fact remains: Kerala’s farming has yet to recover.

While the local church’s interventions and self–help groups no doubt ease farmers’ emotional and financial troubles, these programs alone cannot heal Wayanad’s wounded land. For that, Kerala’s entire agricultural sector requires a well–coordinated and carefully implemented overhaul that would make both individual farms and the industry as a whole sustainable in the long term.

To this end, the Wayanad Social Service Society of the Eparchy of Mananthavady has championed organic farming for more than a decade. It has not been until recently, however, that their efforts have gained any traction and organic farming techniques taken root.

In 1999, when the W.S.S.S. first began to promote organic farming, few farmers showed interest. At the time, the eparchy’s social service agency managed to convince one village, comprised of 106 farmers, to utilize organic methods. But after little more than a year, most participants dropped out of the program.

“The expectations were too high,” explains Father Choorapuzhayil. “Organic farming is not easy. Farmers have to work harder to prep the manure and care for their soil and crops.

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Tags: Kerala Farming/Agriculture Economic hardships Socioreligious programs Alcoholism