Kaniappan Thiruvankodan is always on the move to spread the message of natural farming.

Embracing Agroecology and Enlightening the Farming Community

The soil that you are tending to is not fertile enough. The growth of the plants is not as lush as you expected it to be. Adding to your woes, come the harvesting season, you notice that the pests and diseases have wreaked havoc on the leaves and fruits.

If you are a farmer or anyone into farming and are facing such challenges and looking for effective remedies, you can contact T. Kaniappan, a natural farming expert from Kulai, Johor. Almost always, he will ensure your problems are settled and the harvest is revived.

Years of experience in natural farming and unconstrained sharing of knowledge made Kaniappan a full-fledged agriculturist. The septuagenarian, who owns 5 acres of land planted with mangosteen trees, due to age, has limited his farming activity in a way that does not require much labour and instead has channelled his knowledge into guiding farmers to practise agrochemical-free farming.

Kaniappan began farming at the age of 20. In 1976, he leased 15 acres of land and planted them with bananas. “At that time, my knowledge of farming was limited to what fertilisers and pesticides to apply to the crop. I followed exactly what the agrochemical companies suggested. My focus was more on the income the crop would bring.

“The ill effects of agrochemicals and deteriorating soil health were all beyond my comprehension. Even in 1978, when I bought 5 acres of land, I followed the same pattern of applying chemicals and reaping the harvest.

“In 2004, I received an invitation from CAP to attend a training session on natural farming. Farming without agrochemicals sounded preposterous to me, but I attended the session anyway. It was a 4-day natural farming session led by Gopalakrishnan, a successful organic farmer from Trichy, India.

Kaniappan guiding women from Marudi, Sarawak to make Farmers’ EM (FEM) and Fish Amino Acid (FAA).

“Gopalakrishnan introduced us to the new world of farming the natural way. He cautioned about the deadly chemicals used in farming and their devastating effects on our health and the ecosystem. He explained the endless benefits of organic farming and demonstrated natural farming methods that are easy to follow and cost-effective. At the end of the session, we were more than convinced.

“It dawned on me that, all this while, in the name of conventional farming, I had unintentionally introduced a host of toxic chemicals into the soil, environment and living beings. My perspective on food production and safety started to shift, and I immediately joined CAP’s bandwagon of chemical-free farming.

“Together with CAP, I travelled to several parts of Tamil Nadu, India. There I learned more about natural farming, restoring soil health, making growth promoters and pest repellents and many more rudiments of farming that our ancestors bestowed upon us but we had forgotten to put into practice.

“From 2006 to 2012, together with Chinese and Malay farmer friends and CAP officials, I made several organic farming study visits to India, and those visits were ever transformative,” recalled Kaniappan.

During that period, Kaniappan had 500 lime plants on his farming plot, and they were in the stage of flowering. Once a week, he sprayed the coconut milk combined with fermented cow’s milk solution (the method he learned during the training) on all the lime plants, and to his delight, the lime plants were flowering profusely.

In the end, when he harvested the limes, it was 4 times more than what he had harvested previously through conventional farming. When the lime season was over, out of curiosity, he applied this method to make the lime plants flower again, harvested a significant amount of yield, and was able to supply lime during the off-season.

The success drove him to delve into other traits of natural farming, such as earthworm breeding and composting, making pest repellents and many more. The attempts, while increasing the harvest, also boosted his confidence in guiding other farmer friends.

CAP invited him as a trainer in many of its natural farming programmes, and he travelled up to Sarawak to train the indigenous community there on natural farming techniques. Over the years, his training extended to farmers, students, urban gardeners, NGOs and even agricultural officers.

Kaniappan demonstrating natural farming methods to participants at CAP.

Many are interested in farming but cannot proceed further due to a lack of land to cultivate. Kaniappan guides them on how to apply to the Agriculture Department and on the many procedures to follow to procure land. After his advice, 2 of them are now practising farming on 12 acres of land offered by the Agriculture Department. Both of them, with Kaniappan’s guidance, are practising farming the organic way.

As for now, advising farmers on healthy farming methods through phone conversations and WhatsApp is Kaniappan’s daily routine. This intensified during the pandemic, as many took to farming during that period.

Kaniappan says finding suitable land to cultivate and marketing their products are major hindrances that affect farmers. If these two important issues are scrutinised and the impediments are cleared, then farmers could concentrate on tending their soil and increasing the yield.

They too could play a significant role in enhancing food safety, thereby contributing to a healthier nation.

“The year 2004 was the year that completely altered my life path; in retrospect, it was a divine call to eschew toxic chemicals and enhance the lives of the living things on this earth. This is the path I will tread until the end of my life,” vowed Kaniappan.

Agroecology Fund