In a first, banana farmers in Kerala have come together to constitute an association in an effort aimed at resolving issues they have been suffering for long. Veterans as well as current farmers in the banana farming sector in the state have given shape to the Banana Farmers Association (BFA). Paving the way for the formation of such an body was the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), which had successfully organized the first ever National Banana Festival in Kerala last year.
It was after the National Banana Festival that the need for such an organization was thought about. CISSA had been continuing with its efforts across panchayats, and inspiring banana farmers to come together to form a common platform so that their voices also could be heard. According to Dr. C. Suresh Kumar, General Secretary, CISSA, banana cultivation is almost a household practice in Kerala. A large number of farmers with many decades of experience in banana farming had turned up for the debut meeting.
“If banana farming survives the tests of time in the state, it is chiefly attributed to the notably large number of smallholder farmers. Though the farmers of many plantations crops have their own associations, the banana farmers have not yet had an organization of their own, political patronage or benevolence of god fathers, Dr. Suresh Kumar said.
“Even as Kerala continue lamenting of a declining number of its farmers, the number of farmers who are into banana farming in the State seems otherwise”, he added.
CISSA’s intervention was mainly aimed at plugging this gap between mainstream cultivations and banana farming. The principal objective behind such a move was to offer the much needed support to hitherto unorganized and neglected banana sector. During the last few months, a number of meetings were organized under CISSA’s initiation to openly communicate with banana farmers at the panchayat-level, which eventually led to the constitution of the Banana Farmers Association (BFA).
Following the formation of the BFA, there was a passionate call by its inaugural office bearers to stand hand in hand for bringing back the deserving place for banana in the agro economy of Kerala. Sreekumar, an agriculture scientist-turned-farmer, was elected the first president of the BFA. “Currently, farmers from the vicinity of the capital district form the association’s members. We are looking to spread the message and bring more banana farmers from across Kerala into the BFA fold. The current office-bearers have voluntarily expressed their willingness to offer whatever they can for strengthening the platform”, said Sreekumar.
According to Sreekumar, Kerala, which has the largest banana diversity, mainly consumes the raw banana fruits. “Manifold benefits contained in the banana tree are yet to be popularized in our state. Recently, there were newspaper reports on the health benefits of consuming Vazhakoombu (the bud of banana flower) that underlines the medical significance of the plant,” he added.
Dr. Suresh Kumar reiterated CISSA’s commitment in offering support in all possible ways to entrepreneurs who come forward to explore the huge scope of value addition in the sector. “An enthusiastic entrepreneur can tap hefty economic benefits inherent in the fruit, fiber, pseudo stem, leaves and inflorescence of banana tree,” he said.
Banana Resource Centre (BRC): CISSA has also set up its Banana Resource Centre (BRC) as a pilot endeavor at Kalliyoor panchayat.
With the objective of turning each banana tree into a source of profit for farmers, the BRC would look to provide scientific training and familiarize the latest know-how among the banana farmers. Complex science is made simpler and dispensed palatably so that farmers find it easier to choose a climate resilient banana variety or the one suitable for their locality. BRC would also help farmers in developing a gene pool of local, versatile varieties that can thrive in the challenging climatic situations of the region.