Express News Service
PALAKKAD: Paddy being boiled in large copper vessels called ‘chembu’, its aroma filling the corridors of houses, and then being dried on bamboo mats have become rare sights. Especially with fields shrinking, and even farmers selling paddy to Supplyco and purchasing rice from outside for household consumption.
But take a trip to the village of Kambrath Challa on the Kerala–Tamil Nadu border in Palakkad, and the nostalgia comes alive. No plastic mat is used to dry paddy there and husk is removed using a rubber roller preventing heat from entering directly into the rice, which helps preserve nutrients.
“The milling process to polish rice takes away these minerals,” says Biji Aboobacker, who has set up a unit in Kambrath Challa to process and pack rice. Now 45, she has had hands-on experience in farming since 2008. She and her husband, Hilal, were advocates of natural farming. They even undertook farming for celebrities like Mammootty and Sreenivasan.
However, Biji lost everything in the 2018 flood. Burdened with debt, she left for Dubai along with her four children in search of a job. The devastating flood, which swallowed 270 acres of crop cultivated on leased land, also sowed seeds of discontent within the family, resulting in their separation. After a brief stint as a quality supervisor in Dubai where her sister, Serina, is based, the passion for farming has brought Biji back to Kerala. And she has pitched tent in Palakkad.
“Palakkad Matta, which has always been a premium variety of rice, is often marketed by colouring white rice and rubbing mineral oil. That’s why we decided to procure paddy directly from farmers who don’t use chemical fertilisers and pesticides from various parts of Palakkad, and process and pack it on our own,” Biji says. “Rice is packed in jute bags and sold under the brand Natural Edibles through various exclusive outlets in the state, and also in the Gulf countries,” she says.
Pudussery Sreenivasan, of Ramassery, who supplies paddy to Biji, says she inspects the fields from where she purchases paddy. “She pays Rs 40 per kg immediately, while the procurement rate of Supplyco is Rs 28.72,” he says.
Biji and Hilal had met during their student days in Kottayam. “I learnt about natural farming, and to live with nature, from my husband. He used to say that to eat healthy food, people should cultivate it themselves,” Biji says. The couple has four children — Nonu, Nyna, Nysa and Nyju.