On Tuesday, March 20, Father Robin and Sebastian from the Marian College gave me a wonderful chance to learn from the people of Tekkemela and Palurkava, two communities situated in the beautiful hills of Kerala. The views were stunning and nature luxuriant. The setting would hardly make me think of my own Grez-Doiceau. Yet, I was determined to learn from my visit to offer back home whatever strengths I would discover. Besides that, I had no preset agenda.
Along the road, Saint George gave me a little wink as he happens to be the saint patron of both Tekkemela and of my village, Grez-Doiceau.
Soon Jose welcomes us to a small shop along the road. This is a shop of the local cooperative of 15 farmers. All of them commit to produce organic food only and
contribute a monthly fee of less than one euro. Their priority is to sell their produce to each other. The remainder goes to the shop for sale. That shop is selling 500 to 800 eggs per day, many items such as gourds, ginger, ladies finger, ivy gourd, yams, mangoes, papayas as well as honey, coconut oil and various spices. Jose invites us to visit the nursery situated on the shop’s roof. There, all sorts of seedlings are available to the co-operators who wish toreplant chili, egg plants, papaya, all sorts of tubers, mango, drum sticks, Cambodge or Malabar tamarind, orchids…. Does the scheme work? Well, every Sunday a truck used to come from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. It does not come any more…
We left the shop to visit Varkey’s farm. Varkey used to dedicate all his land to the monoculture of rubber trees. Now he has turned about one hectare into an integrated farm that combines poultry, fish, and Stingless Honey Bees also known as Dwarf Honey Bees, along with the richest combination of fruits, spices and vegetables I have ever seen. Everything is organic.
Does it work? “Before we used to rely on the rubber market for revenue and had to buy our food, he says. Now my family is fully autonomous for food and we have the revenues from the sales of our produce for other expenditures”.
Time to hop on a jeep and climb to a house higher up where we meet a women’s group led by the former Panchayat, the village leader. We explore the women’s dreams. Employment, water, energy, roads: all areas where local action could be stimulated…
The women radiate good health and self-confidence. What do they do when a family member is sick? Oh, we have our plants here. But most of all we are in good health. We eat well, the air is clean! You don’t go to the local clinic? Only when our local medicine does not work! It reminds me that before the visit of the cooperative shop, we had met another women’s group in Tekkemela. There, among other products they showed us the baby food and medicines they produce from the ubiquitous jackfruit.
On our way back to Marion college, Jose asked my friend Rafique what we were up to. We came to stimulate local action, not as donors or as promotors of a specific project, Rafique explained. Is that so? Jose replied. When we started our cooperative, we didn’t ask anything from government but government came to us to offer support 5 years later! He then shared a dream of his own: organize farm tourism in the region where visitors would appreciate farmers’ way of life. We left each other in great spirits. The ground is fertile for further local action. The School of Social Work is just a few miles away. With the appropriate mindset, its students might encourage the communities to formulate their dreams and to act to reach it. As for me, I’ll share my visit with my friends in Grez-Doiceau at an upcoming Agora Café, where we freely exchange ideas to progress to our shared dream. I don’t know what will come out of our discussions. But somehow, I am sure that the story will resonate with our experience in Grez-Doiceau. No doubt, something good will come out of it….