Mathew Joseph Thuluvananikkal is also a small agricultural scientist in the area. In his little land of 4 to 5 acres, he has a mixed farming of cocoa, pepper, nutmeg, robust coffee, sapota, passion fruit, and honey. The violet coloured variety passion fruit grown at his front yard is free for anyone to pluck out and taste.
He is a known farmer not only here in the Mariapuram area where he lives, but almost among all the cocoa farmers in the region. It is because of the new variety of cocoa he invented and grows in his nursery – Tissa 40. This variety is found to grow best here in the high ranges of Idukki, and almost every farmer here has this new violet variety of bud cocoa grown in their farms today.
He says this variety gives at least ten kilograms of dry beans within just fifty fruits, with a wet to dry beans ratio of 45%. He also has a small drier wherein he can dry up to 30 Kilos of Cocoa. Annually, he harvests up to 3 tons of Cocoa within his four acres of land. Usually, it takes a full day’s work for him along with a worker to harvest the entire field every week in peak seasons.
The Tissa 40 is named after Mr Mathews younger daughter. His family migrated from Thodupuzha up to the high range about twenty years back. Most of the farmers here in the region are migrants who came up to these hills looking for cultivatable land in the last fifty years. The sloppy regions here are best for these type of crops as they get a good flow of water.
Joshy also has a mixed set of crops in his land. He has Coffee, pepper, coconut and even a little rubber. He is one of the few farmers in the area who still keeps the rubber plantations. Even if the price is too low now, he expects the rubber price to have a good raise in the next three or four years.
His father Mathew is at his 80s now but still remembers the days when their family just migrated into this high range three decades ago. Their family used to live in the area that is under the Idukki dam project today. Everyone in the area had to relocate their homes when the construction of the Kulamavu dam started.
He says the biggest problem the farmers here face is not to have a deserving price for their products. Whatever other challenges they encounter, they find one or the other way to overcome it somehow. The rain, the wind, various diseases that kills their crops, all the trouble and hardships they go through to grow a crop under all this, and finally if the market fails them to reward them a deserving price, then how can a farmer continue their living with hopes resting on the same crops even the next year.
But Mr Joshy here is hopeful. He hopes all this rain and wind that adversely affected his cocoas now worse than ever before will end in due time and he will again start getting the harvest he used to. He believes projects such as these that value his efforts on keeping his farms organic are going to change the course for his family. He, his wife, his father, and his three sons are all equal participants in the works on their farm.
Joseph’s house sits on the slope of a hill, with a great view in front. Sitting at the Veranda at his sit-out, one could see another small green hill looking back at you through the mist, on which is the Mariapuram town.
His family came and settled here exactly fifty-five years back. In the five acres of land he has, he grows pepper, coffee and rubber in addition to the cocoa. There is also a huge tree with grampoos(clove) in the front yard. And then there is a stable beside the house where lives four buffalos.
He says he usually gets up to 1.5 quintals of beans every year. But this year, in the same place where he used to get up to 60 kgs of wet beans at each harvest, he now only gets less than 10 kgs.
The reason for this he says is just the same as what everyone here says – the nonstop rain that hit them weeks before expected. Most cocoas started to get feverish, and the rest too couldn’t give enough pulp as used to. Now it will take months before another good harvest.
Joseph also grows the Tissa 40 variety of cocoa that Mathew Joseph developed. Even his farm has cocoas from both the plants he planted decades back and the budded ones he planted recently in the last seven years.
Sony Joseph Augustin
It’s a long steep way up to Sony’s house from the main road. The cocoa trees grown on either side of this road almost roof this small path to his home. Most of these cocoa trees are decades old, but still fruits large quantities of cocoa that he harvests every week.
It’s been thirty-five years since Sony’s father Joseph first came here from Mundakkayam. He is too old to help his son in the fields now, but still spends most of his time every day walking through the field looking after the crops. Their land is six acres in total and has about 400 cocoa trees. In season time, he gets up to 700 pods at each harvest.
But now with this heavy rain, he doesn’t get even one-third of that harvest and getting workers for harvest for such low quantities is not feasible either.
Sony has two children – Teena who is in college and Tony who is in 12th grade. Both of them helps their parents in the agriculture but will soon be looking for other jobs in the cities to earn a better living for their families.
Jomon is one of the younger generation farmers in the area. His father demised only a year back and he now looks after his family land. He owns about 12.5 acres in which he has 400 cocoa trees. Other crops include coconut, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and also rubber. A few years back when rubber prices started going so down in the market, he also cut down some of his rubber and replanted the land with cocoa.
The replanted cocoas are all the local Tissa 40 variety which has a greater yield and quality. Given good weather, he used to get up to 200 kgs of wet cocoa beans per week. Annually, he gets about an average of 3 to 3.5 tons of cocoa. He even has a family who works at his fields living there itself in an outhouse.
He doesn’t own a drier but when the weather is pleasing, he sun-dries the beans and sells the cocoa as dry beans if possible. His land was certified organic for the last ten years but he recollects this being the first time his products are valued more for being organic.
Sunny Joseph Thannikkal
In Sunny’s farm, one can see two different varieties of cocoa on the same tree. The lower portion fruits nice yellow pods – the local variety, whereas above it there is also the violet-red fruits of Tissa 40 variety which is smaller in pod size, but yielding more beans in proportion. That’s how gracefully this farmer has budded their cocoas.
Sunny’s home is very near to the local junction of Thekkinthand and their land is behind their house and falls on a steep downhill to a small stream of water at the end. Other than cocoa, pepper and nutmeg, Sunny and his wife also grow a variety of fruits around their home. There is papaya, sapota, rambutan, passion fruit, orange and many more. There is a rambutan tree standing very near to the house and is so big that the fruits can be plucked from the first-floor terrace.
The main manure for all of his crops is the goat excreta compost from the goats he grows. He also owns a drier unit which he had designed himself. It was initially built to dry the cardamom seeds and later modified in a way that could be used to dry cocoa and even the rubber sheets.
His son Sunu also helps his parents in all these farm works but also works part-time as an animation teacher in a college nearby.
Jose first sees the cocoa fruit forty-two years ago when Cadburys first brings it to the high range. It had only been three or four years since his father bought this land here in Idukki that time. Jose had finished his schooling when he was 16 and that is when his father brought him here to help in the fields.
He remembers a friend of his father who taught in a school nearby helped his father to buy rubber saplings from Harrison Malayalam plantations, and that was the first crop to be grown in his land here. Later when the Cadbury’s came and started promoting cocoa, at first, they gave up to even 42 rupees per kg and slowly when the production boomed here in the high range, they brought down it to 10 -20 per kg within a decade. That is when most of the farmers cut down their cocoas and replanted with rubber and pepper. The ones who retained their cocoa trees, like himself, were only those who had enough land to try other options too.
He is 62 years of age now but still does all the works in the fields all by himself. One of his sons works in the Gulf and the other son teach in a college nearby. But he, as usual, spends his entire day in the fields doing one thing or the other and that is how he keeps his land fertile and fruitful, and himself healthy.
Devesia is another one of the major farmers in the area who came to Idukki in the year 1970 from Pala. He is also a public spokesperson for the farmers here who has been in charge of the cocoa society and the rubber society in the region. He was one among those in front to build the roads through these hills when most of the areas were still counted as forests.
When he first came to the high range, he first found level areas to try farming rice in paddy fields. But it was too hectic a task to level these sloppy regions. Later it was rubber and pepper that worked for him just like most other farmers here. In the eight acres of land he owns, he has been growing cocoa for the last two decades and buyers used to come to his field to collect cocoa directly from him.
Two of his sons are priests and the other two, a daughter and a son, are both working in the middle east. His greatest worry today is what would he do with his land when he is too old to look after it. This he says is the biggest problem this entire state is facing today. Most of the younger generation does not prefer taking up agriculture.
Augustin Mathew Edakkanatt
Augustin (Appachan) is a small-scale farmer in the region. He only has 75 cocoa plants in the two-acre land he has. Other than agriculture, he used to work as a newspaper agent before. But now, after his four daughters being married off and old age starting to take on him, all he and his wife have is this small cocoa farming and some amount of pepper along with the two cows they have.
He and his family came here to the high range in 1975 from Pala and started farming. Now, he makes a living for him and his wife and the needs of their small house from the money they make milking their cows and from these small quantities of cocoa they grow. There is also a few areca nuts and nutmeg trees too but they don’t make much profit as they used to from these crops now.
But even if there’s only a small number of cocoa pods he has to harvest, these ones are of a great quality and having up to 300 grams of wet beans in each pod and are having ten to six wet to dry ratio. And each week he harvests and keeps ready at least ten kgs of beans for us.