Vinod Sahadevan Nair (60) from Parassala, Trivandrum claims that he has established his own ‘Banana Empire’ of sorts!
Vinod has collected and cultivated over 430 varieties of the fruit from across India and the World in a span of 30 years. His entry in the Limca book of records and the award for the best farmer by the ICAR-National Research Centre for Banana proves his hardwork.
Expansion of His Farm With Unique Plantain Varieties.
Vinod after completing his Bsc. in Physics worked for a while and later started a web designing firm in Kochi. Eventhough the firm was doing very well, when his mother passed away he decided to shut his firm and return to Parassala to take care of his father.
Vinod says, ‘We owned 3 acres of barren land that was previously used to cultivate paddy. I was just 12 when my father started cultivating bananas in that land, and I began to help him out. Slowly, I grew to love the work so much that every day after school, I would head straight to the farm. Even after I left Parassala for studies, I would return on the weekends and involve myself in the farming work.’
Vinod decided to dedicate himself to farming and slowly started expanding his father’s plantain cultivation.
Vinod wanted to create a farm that was unique and started collecting varieties that were not commonly seen in Kerala. To source varieties that were uncommon to a Malayali’s tastebuds, he travelled to Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Manipur.
Vinod approached various horticulture departments, research institutes and universities in our country to get a hold of every single variety available.
Many institutes refused to help him. Vinod didn’t give up and decided to focus on international varieties of bananas. He brought back many rare varieties that grow in coastal climatic conditions from Malaysia, Africa, Australia, Hawaii and Honduras.
Cultivating 430 Varieties of Bananas.
Vinod’s farm is home to over 430 varieties of bananas today, ranging From the tall Assam Plantain to the dwarf ‘Jahanji’. The members of the farm include International varieties like the lady’s finger banana, red banana and the blue java.
Vinod says, ‘According to the climatic conditions in each area, the taste of the plantain also differs. The Assam varieties even have seeds in them which is not seen in any other variety. Ottamungli, Karingadali, Suryakadali are some of the other Indian varieties that I grow. The way these varieties also vary from area to area. While some are treated as fruits, many of the varieties are used as vegetables and even added to meat dishes to boost their nutritional value.’
‘Every kind of banana has a certain cultural element attached to it as well. For example, ‘Manoranjitham’, a variety of Kanyakumari emanates a beautiful fragrance. So in the olden days, people would hang them in their homes during auspicious occasions, marriages and festivals.’
Besides bananas, Vinod also cultivates vegetables for his household needs and also rears domestic fowls—60 chickens and 20 ducks.
Plans For Tomorrow!
Vinod sells his harvest from the farm in the wholesale market and earns upto Rs 1 lakh a month. His son, Ambaneesh V., who has completed his MTech has also recently started following the footsteps of his family.
Ambaneesh says, ‘I’ve already gone on many expeditions with my father to different tribal settlements to find rare varieties. We trade our varieties with them to get a hold of new saplings. It is truly an amazing feeling.’
Vinod’s and his son’s plans for their coming years is to expand the business even further by creating products from the harvest like banana coffee, porridge and pickles.
Vinod feels elated when he says, ‘People in my village, even the little kids, lovingly call me ‘Vazhachettan’ (plantain man). To be honest, I am immensely proud to be known by that name. After all, this is my banana empire!’