Organic veggies the new flavour for Onam in Kerala

Rise in pesticide residues in vegetables prompts many to switch to organic food

Organic veggies the new flavour for Onam in Kerala

Besides the spectacular hues of spring, Onam celebrations in Kerala are never complete without the traditional 28-dish sadya (feast).

As the state prepares for the festival this time, the feast would not only be tastier but safer as well, thanks to the organically grown vegetables.

The rise in pesticide residues in vegetables sold in local markets prompted many to turn to the organic variety, as sellers press home the merits of switching to organic food in the season of indulgence. They say interest is steadily growing.

At the office of Thanal, a Thiruvananthapuram-based voluntary group for environmental health, people queue up with tokens at the Onam Bazaar that sells organic vegetables.

Besides buying the produce, there are also discussions on everything from the festival shopping rush to new cultivation techniques. “Many of our customers have become farmers and in turn, our suppliers,” says Sridhar R, Director – Agriculture and Food Sovereignty at the organisation.

Started as a group of nature enthusiasts, Thanal shifted from campaign mode to sustainable production and marketing of organic farm produce in 2003. Over 10 years, the group’s annual turnover has grown from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50 lakh.

Thanal trains farmers and ensures payment better than what they would get from the traditional retail market. “For Onam, we ask the farmers to be ready much ahead of the season. The Onam bazaar is planned in such a way that customers can also go in for packs of assorted vegetables required for specific dishes like avial or sambar,” Sridhar says.

Through its Horticulture Mission and its women empowerment movement Kudumbasree, the state has also been contributing to production and distribution of organic food.

Reena David, consultant at Kudumbasree’s Thiruvananthapuram district mission, says demand for organic vegetables in the district has grown over the last few years in the 70 Onam stalls the mission has put up.

Experts say there is no foolproof method to assess the precise market share for organic vegetables and are wary of their authenticity.

“There are many outlets claiming to sell organic vegetables. I have no way of ascertaining the claims. But as I buy more, I also learn more. The rise in the number of such stalls in festive season like Onam indicates there is genuine interest,” says Umadevi, a housewife in Thiruvananthapuram.

Sridhar suggests a “truth and faith-based approach” to check the authenticity of organic vegetables.

“We tell anyone who wonders whether the vegetables on sale are organic or not to contact the farmer himself. We can be sure because we know the source; we know the farmer and how he farms,” he says.

Thanal also takes supplies of vegetables including carrots, cauliflowers, beetroots and lettuce from a farm in Ooty. According to Sridhar, it has about 500 “regular” customers.

This Onam, the Kollam district panchayat has taken the organic route too, growing 10 varieties of organic vegetables and marketing them in kits sold at reduced rates.

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