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How a natural nutmeg hybrid transformed a Kerala farmer’s life

Shajan Varghese

Ask Shajan Varghese whether farming, that too cultivation of nutmeg, alone is enough for a family to live a decent life? With no doubt, this 52-year-old farmer of Konnathady in Idukki, Kerala will say yes. Shajan and his four – member family comprising wife and three children have been totally relying on nutmeg cultivation for a livelihood for the last 20 years.

He has achieved unprecedented success by cultivating a hybrid variety of nutmeg now known by his family name “Punnathanam” developed by his father and grandfather through natural processes.

Shajan, who returned from Saudi Arabia around 20 years back leaving behind his job, attributes his success in nutmeg farming to the hybrid variety that his father and grandfather developed after they devoted years of their life as farmers.

“My father Varkey Thoman was a dedicated farmer who had a deep-rooted love for his profession and an unwavering commitment to sustainable farming practices. He and my grandfather developed this hybrid variety of nutmeg after putting in over 50 years of hard work. They took a lot of effort to learn nutmeg cultivation techniques and dedicated countless hours to observing and understanding the complex genetic makeup of various nutmeg varieties,” Shajan told Open Digest.

He added the Punnathanam hybrid variety was developed through years of experimentation and cross-pollination. “Our hybrid variety is known for its exceptional resilience, enhanced yield and superior flavour profiles. We only cultivate this hybrid variety and we have our own nursery to sell the saplings,” he added.

As the Punnathanam nutmeg variety has been developed solely on natural processes, the yield is very high. “The major advantage of nutmeg farming is that it’s the only cash crop that requires less care. From the third year of planting, a nutmeg tree will start giving yield and it will continue for at least 50 years. The input cost is much less for nutmeg cultivation compared to any other crops and the farming is less labour intensive,” Shajan says, adding that a 50 cent plot is enough for a family to do nutmeg cultivation and earn a decent income for living.

Shajan also passes on his knowledge on nutmeg cultivation to others who want to try their hand at nutmeg farming. “Many people visit our nursery and farm to learn about nutmeg cultivation. Our hybrid variety nutmeg is only available at our farm,” Shajan said.

The success of the Punnathanam hybrid nutmeg variety did not go unnoticed as Shajan’s father Varkey Thoman won national and state awards for developing the hybrid nutmeg and successfully farming it on his six-acre farm.

Shajan says that his nutmeg variety has attracted attention from international buyers for its distinctive flavour, aroma and medicinal properties. “I am getting a lot of orders from companies that are into manufacturing of essence from spices,” he added.

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