Navara Eco Farm (NEF) is situated on the banks of river “Shokanashini” (destroyer of sorrows) at Chittur, Palakkad District, Kerala, India. NEF is a family run farm which is more than hundred years old. P. Narayanan Unny of the third generation runs the farm now. Unny’s father Shri M.Ramachandra Menon (MRC Menon) managed the farm for sixty years of his life and developed the farm. Shri. M. Kelukutty Menon, elder brother of Shri. MRC Menon, was one of the first Rice Specialists at Rice Research Station, Pattambi. This combination of an elder brother Rice Specialist (Agriculture Scientist) and younger brother, a keen practicing farmer helped in developing the farm systematically.
After taking over the farm in 1995, Unny made a long term plan focusing on specialty rice varieties, converting the farm into an integrated one, adopting organic farming methods, addressing biodiversity, ecology, environmental and conservation issues.
The entire farm and its products are certified organic from year 2006, the farm has taken leadership in forming rice clusters for Navara and Palakkadan Matta varieties of rice and registering these varieties as Geographical Indication. Navara and Palakkadan matta were the first agricultural products in India to be registered as Geographical Indication through farmer led initiatives. Unny was conferred the “Plant Genome Savior Community Recognition Award” by Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmer’s Right Authority (PPV&FRA), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India for efforts taken to conserve Navara.
Many scientific studies in Navara have been done with Navara products from NEF. Regional Research Lab(National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST)), Kerala Agricultural University, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology are among the institutions which have done chemical analysis of UNF Navara Rice. Department of Botany, Govt. Victoria College, Palakkad and Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment have jointly conducted a study on “Medicinal rices land races, Kerala” in a fifteen cent plot at NEF. Many scientists, students, authorities of various government departments and agencies visit NEF.People behind the Farm
B.Com Graduate from Government College, Chittur, Narayanan Unny started his career as a pharmaceutical distributor. He also had a long stint as a dealer for HCL Computers for North Kerala region with offices at Palakkad, Kannur and Calicut. Later, Unny decided to carry on with his family tradition of farming and voluntarily quit the lucrative businesses which he had built. And once he became a full time farmer, there was no looking back.
During the early days of his farming, Unny brought in several sweeping changes to the way farming was done at Chittur. He was the pioneer in the area to introduce mechanization into farming. During this period, Unny figured out that many of the traditional rice varieties, which were of value, were getting extinct and decided to do something about it. He propounded the cause of conservation of Navara variety of medicinal rice. After years of strenuous effort, Unny was able to collect and segregate enough Navara seeds. He gradually moved into cultivating solely Navara rice in his farm. During this time, he turned to organic farming in a serious manner, and gradually evolved into the concept of Navara Eco Farm.
The journey was not easy. Conserving Navara rice variety was an almost impossible task. Collection and purification of seeds were an uphill task. The low yield of Navara rice made its cultivation commercially unviable. Problems faced during conversion to Organic farming were legion. Tireless in spirit, Unny continued to go forward in his venture.
Currently, Unny’s Navara Farm epitomizes environment friendly farming, preservation of ecology and bio-diversity. Slowly, the local, state and central government bodies are also recognizing the importance of his work, indicated by the increasing number of felicitations and awards being provided to him. The agricultural and scientific community also has recognized the value of his work indicated by the association of various agricultural bodies with NEF.
The farm workers are seen as important stakeholders in the farming process at NEF. Over the years, NEF has been able to educate the labor resources with skills required on effective organic farming methodologies specifically tailored for Navara rice farming. A stage has come now that they are in a position to mentor neighboring farming communities on the best practices being followed at NEF.