Lessons from the field

By TheHindu on 24 Nov 2016 | read
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Students and staff of Government High School, Pappanamcode in one of the paddy fields at the school Photo: Nita Sathyendran

Staff and students of Government High School, Pappanamcode, talk about their success in cultivating vegetables and paddy on the school premises

School students in the city could well take a leaf out of the books of their counterparts at the Government High School, Pappanamcode. The enterprising staff and students of the small school, that has just 152 students on its rolls, have been reaping the benefits of farming a variety of organic products and paddy too, all on a two-acre plot on the school premises! Most of the produce is used in the school itself for the noon meal programme, under the Government’s Mid-day Meal Scheme. “We sell the rest of the produce to the students, most of who belong to economically disadvantaged families, teachers and local people too at a nominal rate,” says Padmaja P.V., headmistress of the school.

Even on a drizzly exam day, in the run-up to Onam vacation, the vegetable garden is getting some hands on TLC. After handing in his answer sheets, Renjith K.S., a student of class nine of the school, is busy in the cucumber patch. “I’ve got to cover the cucumbers with dry leaves to protect them from the rain and creepy crawlies,” says the youngster, his sleeves and trousers rolled up for the task. Shortly afterwards, a bunch of Renjith’s equally enthusiastic classmates, among them, Vishnu K., Mohammed Khalif, Hakim, Shiyas Khan, and Abhijith, turn up to help.

The six boys are ‘leaders’ of the school’s agricultural club; there are six girl leaders too. Once the boys have tended to the cucumbers, it’s time to harvest cheera (red amaranthus) and neelan payar (long beans).

“This Onam we’ve got a bumper crop of cheera and payar. Our bananas too are almost ripe and in a couple of months’ time the paddy will be ready to harvest! In fact, the paddy has just begun to flower,” they say, as the headmistress and teachers look on with pride.

The seeds for the vegetable garden were sown three years ago, after the back lot of the campus was cleared of dense foliage. “It was Ajaydev, former Malayalam teacher of the school, who actually came up with the idea of cultivating paddy on the vacant plot (in 2011) and thus sowed the seeds of change. For many of the students, and, admittedly, many of the teachers too, agriculture was a novelty. Nonetheless, right from the beginning they were all enthusiastic about it, even though it is very much an extra-curricular activity,” says Padmaja.

The next year they also planted banana saplings and some 10 varieties of vegetables, apart from paddy. kandam

“Today, we farm banana (nenthran and kappa varieties) on some 15 cents of land, vegetables such as cabbage, snake gourd, cauliflower, capsicum, cheera, spinach, colocassia, and the like on another 10 cents, and a few other tuber crops too, here and there. Last academic year we harvested 50 kg rice, so this year we’ve added two more paddy fields. In the last couple of months we have sold around Rs. 3,000 worth of vegetables,” says Ashalata K.R., a teacher at the school and convener of the agricultural activities.

Often the teachers, especially Padmaja, dip into their own purses to fund the activities. “On an average it costs us Rs. 20,000 per yer to cultivate the plot,” says Padmaja.

The students themselves do the majority of the work, be it weeding, watering, harvesting and so on, before or after class and during break time, with a little bit of help from knowledgeable members of the staff, of course. “Even on weekends and holidays, those students who live nearby come to school to tend to the plants. Some of the students have even planted their own vegetable gardens in their homes,” says Ashalatha

The teachers note that since the students got involved in cultivation, there has been a world of change in their attitude. “Time that the students would otherwise have spent on frivolous activities is now spent productively. They are always engaged. That was always our aim,” says Padmaja. Vishnu, who has elected to speak for his fellow green activists, adds: “Our garden is really a collective effort. We’ve come to realise that, if we, the next generation, don’t do something for agriculture, who will?” Indeed.

Contact: (Padmaja) 9495311931