Johnson Olippuram (55) from Kerala was an English teacher in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand for 13 long years. However, after putting in this many years into teaching, Johnson decided to call it a day and turn to his real calling – farming – in his home state. Johnson took to farming like a fish to water and his resilience and never-say-die attitude even during the Covid-19 pandemic helped him excel in this field.
He has been preserving various rice varieties and has 28 varieties in his kitty. That’s not all. To promote farming, especially organic farming, among the youth, he created a huge symbolic image of a lighted lamp (‘dia’) in his paddy field. This he made by planting various varieties of paddy of different colors. Speaking to IANS, Johnson said, “I created the lighted lamp in my paddy farm using four multi-hued varieties of rice. This was a symbolic move to prove that the farmers have not given up hope and that we will overcome the Covid challenges too.”
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The teacher-turned-farmer created the lamp art in his paddy field spread across 20 cents. He drew an outline in the field and sowed different varieties of rice so that once they grew, they took the shape of a ‘dia’. He has also created an Ashoka Chakra on the base of the dia. Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi had visited his farm and appreciated the “paddy art”.
The four varieties that are used for the paddy art include Nassarbath from Maharashtra, which gives coffee brown leaves for the flame, and the Kalabath variety that has black leaves and grains for the inner core of the flame. He also used the Clero rice variety, which has a golden brown color, and Kakhishala with dark-colored grains. The last variety, according to him, is from Odisha.
Johnson has also grown 19 other traditional rice varieties in the same field. The farmer said that while Covid-19 has created a lot of misery and problems for the farmers just like for people from other walks of life, it has also made people think about healthy eating habits. “There are a lot of inquiries about my Rakthashali rice variety which has medicinal properties. Same for the Njavara rice and some other varieties,” he said.
Johnson is farming in a total area of 10 acres of land, but the paddy art in this 20-cent field, which is adjacent to the main road, provides a view of the field to give people an idea about the various varieties of rice. The farmer, who is preserving organic rice varieties to develop a culture of farming and to popularise organic farming, said, “Paddy art is my way of communicating to the masses as to what I am doing. Once people see this art, curiosity arises and they enquire about me and my farm.
“I have been called from several places for talks on this, including local schools and other institutions, in which I get a chance to interact with the young generation on the importance of farming and the varieties of rice which I am preserving for the generations to come.”
Johnson is also farming in fields taken on lease from others and he is the president of a 90-member farm produce company. The farmer, who is cultivating in areas close to the tribal hamlets, said that he got the rich traditional knowledge of organic farming from the tribal people and he is now into mixed farming also. Coffee, paddy, pepper, coconut, arecanut, and plantains are some of the produces of his farmland which is spread over a vast area.
“The turning point of my farming carrier was when I came across Bolan Peruman, the tribal head of a small community in Wayanad. He shared his rich farming experience with me, which helped me know about the various varieties of rice and the medicinal value of these items,” he said. Johnson had incurred heavy losses during the devastating floods of 2018, but he has somehow climbed back and is now into group farming also with the support of other farmers in the area.
He is also helping the tribal children learn the nuances of the English language and is teaching them during his free time. The teacher-turned-farmer is planning more experiments in farming and has also bought a variety of cows and dug ponds for freshwater fish. As far as paddy art is concerned, Johnson has been dabbling into it for the past six years and each year he comes up with different art. He had even tried a floral design during the Onam season – the harvest festival of Kerala. (IANS/JC)