Farmers to Entrepreneurs: How Cherai Became India’s First Aquaponics Village in Just 2 Years!
Cherai is a small coastal village near Kochi in Kerala,
and its scenic beach and stunning backwaters are much sought after by people who seek a tranquil travel experience.
However, Cherai also happens to have a very unusual attribute to its name—one that has been drawing farmers and agriculturists from across the country.
From 2016 onwards, Cherai has the unique distinction of being India’s first aquaponics village.
Aquaponics is a sustainable mode of organic agricultural practice that involves a symbiotic combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Let’s break this up for better understanding.
While aquaculture constitutes the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fishes and other aquatic organisms, hydroponics involves a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent.
So, when these two different practices are combined, the benefits include the plants feeding on the discharge or waste of aquatic organisms as they keep the water clean for the fishes. In addition to this symbiotic dependence, there is also room for microbes, which play a very important role in the nutrition of the plants, in this space.
As they gather in the areas between the roots of the plants, these beneficial bacteria help in the conversion of fish waste and other solids into compounds that encourage better plant growth.
All in all, across the world, this self-sustaining system is being touted as a big hope for sustainable organic crop production, aquaculture as well as water consumption.
So how did the villagers and farmers of Cherai decide to plunge straight into the world of aquaponics?
It all began two years ago when the Pallipuram Service Co-operative Bank (PSCB) decided to launch a pilot aquaponics project with the sole objective of helping farmers grow chemical-free food.
Teaming up with MPEDA (Marine Products Export Development Authority), the bank gave guidance and financial support to interested farmers. They were also supplied with fish seeds, feeds, water quality detection kit and technical training by MPEDA.
To introduce a new concept to people who have been steadfastly practising conventional methods doesn’t come without obstacles, and the farmers of Cherai were no different.
According to Sathyan Mayyattil, the former president of PSCB and one of the masterminds behind the project, the team began on a small scale as only a few farmers had signed up and that too after a lot of convincing.
“As they moved into this farming system, they realised the importance of natural and common resources for sustaining their own livelihood. Now, [there are] more than 200 aquaponics units, and so many people are interested starting this” said Mayyattil to Krishi Jagran.
A year into the project, the number of people taking an interest in aquaponics and wanting to practice the same in Cherai began ascending and soon, the initiative was expanded as ‘Cherai Aquaponics Gramam.’
While the bank officials state that the initial investment can be quite high, they also add that one can easily recover this amount in a year.
The bank’s commitment to the project has been invaluable for the success of the project, and they intend to continue assisting the farmers in all of their endeavours, adds Ashadevi, the bank secretary.
To gauge the scale of the initiative, let’s take the example of Sasidharan, who was amongst the first group of farmers who took up aquaponic cultivation. With a 14,000-litre capacity fish tank that houses more than 1,500 fishes, he has been successfully growing vegetables in about a hundred bags.
In fact, this method is not just being practised by farmers in Cherai, and people from different professions have also taken it up. For instance, Dileep, an entrepreneur, is now experimenting with different styles of aquaponics in his terrace while Kishore Kumar, a retired forest officer, took to farming after retirement.