Safety and Health Officer Proposes Safe Farming
Kesavan Manokaran’s passion for planting and curiosity about nature led him to a career in agriculture. A Masters degree holder in industrial safety management, Kesavan has been working as a safety and health officer for the past 9 years. He talks to people from all walks of life about the safety measures they should adhere to in various aspects of their lives.
As his work involves extensive training and dialogue, at one point, he started brooding over agrochemicals, which permeate the air, water, and soil. It dawned on him that hardly anyone discusses or cautions about these lethal pollutants despite their persistence in the environment.
The 2020 COVID-induced break gave Kesavan a chance to try out farming. “We need to practise what we preach. If I, through my work, preach about safety, then I must set a good example,” he stressed.
With this, came the thought of learning more about agroecology. In 2019, Kesavan attended the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)’s training session on chemical-free farming. There he learned how to prepare growth promoters, pest repellents and methods of seed saving.
Above all, he managed to get some insight into how corporate companies try to rule the farming sector through their seed politics. Such a revelation signalled to Kesavan the responsibility to avoid agrochemicals at all costs.
The information on pest repellents shared by CAP is invaluable. A combination of neem leaves as the main ingredient and various locally sourced plants makes a good pest repellent.
“CAP’s methods of guiding the farmers always make them independent. It is not a rigid formula to follow, but a basic understanding of how one could come up with their own solution to pest problems.
“The decoction of neem leaves, sesbania, betel leaves, and adamant creeper makes a good pest repellent. Some of the leaves are derived from my own farm. Some can be plucked from the wild and hence involves no cost.
“Likewise, cow dung and cow urine derived from a cow that grazes fresh grass are all-powerful pest repellents and growth promoters. The cow dung and cow urine are diluted with water and sprayed on plants,” he revealed.
At the moment, Kesavan is managing his ancestral plot at Ladang Transkrian, Nibong Tebal. At present, it is planted with brinjal, chillies and okra. At the beginning of the learning process, Kesavan ended up using hybrid seeds for planting as he had no knowledge about seeds.
Later, upon being alerted of the adverse effects of these seeds, he received heirloom seeds shared by CAP and from his friends and planted them as well. In fact, the earlier mistake was favourable for him in the sense that he could learn the differences between these 2 varieties.
From Kesavan’s observation, hybrid seeds were designed to respond well only to chemical fertilisers and pesticides. “When I used the same compost and pest repellent for both heirloom and hybrid eggplants, the eggplants from heirloom seeds thrived, while the growth of eggplants from hybrid seeds showed some setbacks.
“So, when you are truly into agroecology, start with heirloom seeds to avoid future complications,” advised Kesavan.
Kesavan mixes the pancakavya and fish amino acid to the right proportion and sprays them on the plant. This gives the plants an extra boost. The trial and error built his confidence in tending the land and making the most of it.
“In between all this, Kesavan’s friends tried to convince him to opt for chemical-based farming, citing that it produces a better harvest. Kesavan, who has a strong spiritual background, stressed that no harm should be inflicted on any living being and refused to budge from his stand.
“Why kill when nature balances itself? While tending the plants, I noticed a flock of sparrows swiftly pecking at the insects that destroy my plants. That was my first-hand field experience and a revelation of how beautifully nature takes care of itself.
“I don’t have to kill those insects that feed on my plants when nature has already created predators to do the job. On the other hand, spraying pesticides would have chased the birds away from my farm.
“Connecting daily with plants (without the intention of harming them) reveals many things that cannot be perceived with our normal eyes,” revealed Kesavan.
Kesavan keeps detailed records of his daily trials, inputs, outcomes and expenses. He was amazed at the minimal cost involved in chemical-free farming.
“Good farming practices crusader, Kanniappan of Kulai, Johor, has been instrumental in my grasp of agroecological knowledge. He gives me solutions and ideas for my quests and qualms regarding farming.
“Nature is vast, and it is a lifelong learning process for all of us. Overall, farming revealed to me that nature is ever ready to share its bounty. We need to decide how to maximise the benefits of nature without harming it,” stressed Kesavan.
“IF YOU ARE TIRED, LEARN TO REST, NOT QUIT” ~ Murlitaran Prathapan
Kesavan’s farming venture is a joint effort between him and his cousin, Murlitaran Prathapan. “When I told Murlitaran about my intention of starting an organic farm, he welcomed my idea and gave many constructive suggestions.
“We share all the farming tasks. Together, we experiment with various methods of making the plants thrive. Even with our limited experience in farming, through discussion and out of curiosity, we improvised the growth promoters and the pest repellents and tried them out on different plants.
“When my enthusiasm ebbs away, Murlitaran motivates me with his favourite quote, “If you are tired, learn to rest, not quit.” Such words rejuvenate us further towards progress.
Murlitaran too plays a crucial role in marketing farm products. His knack for communicating with and convincing the customer is an added advantage to our farming endeavours. He has always been my pillar of strength,” shared Kesavan.