Alleppey promotes soil-less cultivation

Households in our city are growing healthy vegetables in their backyard or terrace. The practice is catching up quite fast. More than anything, these vegetables are free from chemical pesticides or fertilisers,” says Oomen Thomas, a member of RC Alleppey, D 3211.

Rotarians distribute grow bags to the residents in a locality in Alleppey.
Rotarians distribute grow bags to the residents in a locality in Alleppey.

The club is passionately promoting the district’s signature project — REAP (Rotary’s Empowerment of Agricultural Production) — launched at the beginning of the year by DG Suresh Mathew. The club has distributed grow bags for organic vegetable cultivation to the residents of the city. These grow bags are unique in many ways — they are filled with manure-enriched coco pith; are lightweight and consumes less water. There is no soil. So people can even keep them on their terrace. The manure is naturally processed with mushrooms and ‘asola’, a kind of fern, among other things.

This idea was the brainchild of the Club President Kumaraswamy Pillai who retired from the Coir Board, Kochi, after 40 years of service. “C P Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Coir Board, presided over my installation function and I discussed with him about promoting grow bags for vegetable cultivation. He agreed to support us,” says Pillai. Coir pith is a by-product obtained during the extraction of coir fibre. The Central Coir Research Institute (CCRI) conducted a field study on the feasibility of the project and subsequently, the club launched the programme last December by distributing 1,000 grow bags and it had a tremendous response. So far, 2,500 bags have been given to the residents.

In Europe, especially in the Netherlands, coir pith is largely used for growing ornamental plants and also for vegetable cultivation, he said. It is highly porous and can hold water thrice its weight and release it slowly for the growth of plants. In India, use of coir pith for cultivation is rather limited. Every year around three lakh tonnes of coir pith get accumulated in the coastal belts of Kerala and this was earlier considered a waste, says the president. Of late it has become a money spinner in the export market and coir pith worth ₹1,000 crore has been exported last year.

The club distributes 10 grow bags to each beneficiary with seeds and saplings sourced from the Vegetable and Fruits Promotion Council of Kerala, an R&D unit of the Government of Kerala at Kochi. The club collects ₹15 for each bag to ensure that the beneficiaries take good care of the saplings.

Narrating their experience with the grow bags, Meera and Jayalakshmy, residents of Alleppey, say that they got around four kg of yield from their cultivation of tomatoes, brinjal and chillies. Growth of plants is faster in this medium with the use of organic manure, they add.

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