A group of ambitious farmers came together in 2001 to start Manarcadu Social Service Society (MASS) with the objective of helping the farming community in Kottayam and Idukki districts of Kerala adapt to sustainable agriculture practices, thereby creating a better livelihood and a better planet.
Fairtrade certified in: 2008
Fruit and juices (Banana, Avocados, Pineapples, Strawberries, Jackfruit, Rambutan, Mangosteen), Cocoa , Herbs and spices (Cardamom, Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Black pepper, Turmeric, White Pepper, Vanilla)
Each day Sunny Babu rises with the birds: 4am is the best time to
really see what’s happening with plants. As the resident plant doctor
serving the needs of 1,000 Fairtrade farmers in the Manarcadu Social Services Society (MASS)
of Kerala, India, Babu has a lot on his plate. He might visit banana or
spice farmers to check their plants for small pests or signs of
disease, or he will teach farmers how to irrigate their plants.
By 8am, he’s at his desk in Kottayam, ready to answer his phone from
the farmers with their questions. He receives daily queries to help them
with the business of growing food, sustainably, in somewhat complex
The plant doctor service offered by MASS is supported by the
Fairtrade Premium. For sales on Fairtrade terms, farmers receive an
additional amount above the purchase price that is paid directly to the
producer organization. At the organization’s general assembly, farmers
vote on how to invest this Premium to improve their business and their
communities. The Fairtrade Premium is used to address local priorities
and needs. In the case of MASS, the farmers benefit from the input of an
experienced plant doctor.
Usually during late summer, the farmers in this region are dealing
with challenges that come around monsoon season, such as drying and
processing spices in wet conditions. But this year, the challenges are
even greater: climate change has altered weather patterns. As a result
the harvesting of spices, like nutmeg or cocoa, which normally takes
place between May and September, will be delayed. In most cases it will
start a month late, but in some places, it may extend even to December
“Farmers call me and ask me what to do. They are worried about their
incomes, and want to ensure the best prices. In most cases, I try to
provide them with answers. If I can’t, I’ll do some research and get
back to them, and may need to visit them in the field.”
“Storage and processing are often the biggest issues,” says Sunny.
“But lately we’ve seen changes to pollination patterns. As they’re not
getting the proper rain, as in the case of the pepper plant, there isn’t
proper pollination, so yields are decreasing.”
The same thing, he says, is happening with rice.
“Also because of the lower monsoon, we find more problems with rice.”
Rice cultivation demands decent rains to succeed, which is why,
traditionally; the crop has been well suited to the moist and warm
monsoon conditions of Kerala.
The farmers of MASS are fully committed to organic principles. So
Sunny’s task has been to find alternative organic pesticides and organic
solutions to counter disease in rice paddies, vegetables & spices.
Fortunately, he’s well trained. Sunny studied Microbiology at
Karpagam College under Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu,
before becoming the Plant Doctor in 2010. He’s also a Senior Research
Fellow at Regional Agricultural Research Station, Kumarakumin Kerala.
His training and current research has led to some success in finding
For example, he worked with a farmer, Kunjumon, in Hyrange, where
they found leaf spot and fruit rot on the nutmeg plant. It was treated
successfully with neem oil and garlic emulsion, and his crop is now in
Sunny is clearly passionate about his work, “I enjoy my work, and
working with the farmers and MASS has been very rewarding,” he says.
“The farmers tell me that they’re making a loss. If they improve
their growing, they can improve their income. I feel very proud when I
see a farmer who has taken on my advice and is now doing well.”
This story was first added to our website on 29 September 2014.