Liju Cherian –
The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings,” said Masanobu Fukuoka, the founder of The One-Straw Revolution. That seems to be philosophy of Oman Krishikkoottam or the farming group in Oman.
The social media group, which has over 1,000 members, grows all types of vegetables in the Sultanate for food and fun. Lifeless soil and scorching sun never come in their way. With love and patience, these urban farmers of Oman coax bounty out of barren land.
The terrace of Ashraf and Shahanas on the fifth floor in Muscat has been their kitchen garden for the past 4 years. The space is chock a block with chilies, scarlet gourd (Kowai), Panikoorka, and other vegetables in old bath tubs, washbasins, thermacool boxes and a trashed washing machine.
Another member Anand grows tapioca, banana plants in old fridges, freezers and worn out tyres. He also raises common quails and chickens at his Bait Al Falaj home.
These micro farms prove that it is possible to grow almost all vegetables in Oman, except during the hottest months from May to August. The tiny Agati or the hummingbird tree was the common plant which almost all the members have raised at their home due to its medicinal and culinary uses. Even during summer, leafy vegetables can be cultivated if proper shade is provided.
The seeds of Oman Krishikkoottam were sown by a group of Keralites on Facebook with comments, posts and tips on kitchen garden, pests and the challenges of farming in an arid land and hostile elements. Soon the page gathered more men and women.
Thus the idea of an Oman-based agricultural group came up, says Santhosh Varghese, a businessman and a founder of the group. The group members were guided by agricultural experts who helped clear their doubts on pest control measures and harvesting. Initially, Deepan Vilambath, an agriculture officer with Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Kerala (VFPCK), answered their queries and now they have a panel of agri-officers in P M Joshy, P K Abdul Jabbar and Vidya Gopinath.
More than a platform for interaction and communication, the group acts as an inspiration for the members and those keen on taking up farming as a hobby. Members post their harvest pictures and flag on farm diseases and pests on social media. They discuss issues and send queries to experts and the response shared among group members.
The 12 founding members of Oman Krishikkoottam exchanged ideas for the first time through social media. All were expatriates who shared a common passion for farming. Despite its limited resources and hardships, the group holds events and programmes frequently to make people aware of the importance of self-farming.
“The constant interactions helped clear doubts and hone their farming skills,” says Hema Sopanam, a journalist and a founding member of the group.
“The first meeting of the members in January 2015 was a success wherein they shared seeds, plants, farming trends and techniques. They also decided to launch a Facebook group to make the platform wider and organise activities effectively,” says Suni Thomas, a teacher from Al Hail North, who shifted to a villa with more space to nurture her passion for farming.
Each of the members soon started adding new members to Oman Krishikkoottam. Its 12-member administrative panel includes Santhosh Varghese, Sapna Anu B George, Muhammad Iqbal, Hema Sopanam, Shaiju Vethottil, Suni Thomas, Shahanas Ashraf, Suresh Kartha, Anwar and Vinod Madhavan. Hema explains they have members from all over Oman while some are small-scale terrace farmers, but many are self-sufficient vegetable growers having large areas in their villas.
Krishnadas Menon, a member from Al Buraimi, who cultivates organic vegetables, says he began with spinach and curry leaves which is the easy to cultivate. He suggests seasonal farming from September which is most favourable.
Shaiju Vethottil from Al Wadi Al Kabir says: “We provide shade nets during summer to protect long-term crops like curry leaves or drum stick plants. Usually we conduct pre-winter meets to distribute seeds and plants and bring seeds from Kerala after summer vacation while hybrid winter crop seeds are purchased from shops in Muscat.”
“The group promotes safe agriculture practices, adopts biological pest control and uses organic pesticides. But they are also not reluctant to use chemical fertilisers. Most of us make compost in our garden from our own kitchen waste and dry neem leaves collected from gardens,” says Sapna George. The members also make organic manures like fish or egg amino acid to boost plant growth.
The group members also make bio pesticides using neem leaves, neem oil, garlic and chilies and distribute it among peers. Despite their busy work schedules, the members squeeze in time to promote the message of farming in the Sultanate.
“We are invited to community programmes to set up stalls and educate the visitors and distribute seeds and pamphlets at such venues,” says Shahanas.
Kerala Minister for Agriculture V S Sunil Kumar, who recently visited their stall, was impressed by their efforts to promote agriculture. He offered help to bring in free seeds from Kerala.
Oman Krishikkoottam plans to acquire an agricultural plot to do community farming where they can grow crops on a large scale. By holding hands and pooling resources, this bunch of green growers may realise their dream in the near future.
Are you tempted to grow vegetables after reading this? Start with curry leaves, green chilli or even a mint plant. You can even do it in the balcony corner or even windowsill.