04/05/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

This Healthy Obsession Is Revitalizing Lives Across Kerala

Simon Rawles via Getty Images
A farmer picks ripe red chillies which will be sold as fairtrade chillies.

On a recent visit to Kerala, the change sweeping across the state and rapidly turning into a way of life for many was palpable. Everywhere in God's Own Country, people are using the backyards of their homes, terraces, rooftops and any other available space to produce several varieties of vegetables and fruits that not only provide tasty meals but are reassuringly free of pesticides and toxic chemicals. With lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer wreaking havoc, this new focus on home-grown food is a refreshing trend in the state.

Sowing the seeds of success

In a lush residential community comprising 65 villas by the side of the Periyar River in Ernakulam district, I witnessed the perfect example of a community that is striving towards self-reliance in food, as evidenced by the delightful sight of rows of red tomatoes, banana trees, green chillies, among others. Nearly every household produces enough fruits and vegetables for its own consumption, with enough left over to distribute to family and friends. The kitchen waste is recycled as fertilizers for the vegetable garden. The residents agree that their endeavour has also fostered a great community spirit.

Kerala seems to be returning to its farming roots... people are taking the quality of their food into their own hands.

Travelling to Thalasseri in the Malabar region, a similar trend was noticeable with conversations largely revolving around growing one's own food, its many benefits and how it had become necessary. People shared many experiences about how this enjoyable pastime is a great form of exercise for them and that they are feeling a health boost.

Connecting to the Earth

Though the pursuit of organic farming began several years ago in Kerala, the mass participation and the ever increasing passion of the people to grow vegetables and fruits in their households indicate a perceptible change in the collective mindset in favour of a healthier lifestyle.

What started as chemical-free cultivation by motivated individuals and small farmers' groups has gained momentum among the wider public and is evolving as a widespread culture.

Kerala seems to be returning to its farming roots. The growing population and urbanization had necessitated imports of fruits and vegetables in large quantities from neighbouring states. However, with growing awareness about the toxic chemicals that find their way into mass-cultivated produce, people are taking the quality of their food into their own hands.

Widespread support

What is really heartwarming is that people from all walks of life are embracing this change to ensure food safety for themselves and their families. This includes doctors, engineers, public and private sector employees, homemakers and retired people. People who had earlier scoffed at the idea of getting their hands dirty in the soil are now acknowledging the obvious health benefits and view it as a great outdoor activity and creative occupation. Even in overcrowded city areas people have devised innovative ways to use all available space. Many are adopting techniques such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, vertical gardening etc. and receiving great results.

Even in overcrowded city areas people have devised innovative ways to use all available space. Many are adopting techniques such as rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, vertical gardening...

Every section of society is supporting this mission like never before. Women's organizations such as Kudumbashree, which aims to empower women, help carry the message of the benefits of organic farming throughout the state. Many schools and colleges are involving students in cultivating green patches within their premises and nurturing their interest in organic farming. Oncologists and other medical experts, the media at large and social media have all been creating extensive awareness about cancer and other diseases and encouraging organic farming and homestead gardening. Several success stories of individuals and groups showing tremendous commitment to this unprecedented change are also featured regularly in the media.

United for a sustainable future

Kerala is among the trendsetters, but signs are positive that the movement will gain traction in other parts of the country too. Mizoram, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh have already adopted organic farming techniques and in several cities and towns all over the country people are increasingly realizing the benefits of growing one's own food.

There is an ongoing debate about the several challenges presented by organic farming, including its practicality and constraints such as time requirements. However, the examples provided by states such as Sikkim and now Kerala, prove that a culture of awareness and the power of collective efforts can surmount odds and pave the way for a sustainable future.

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