One of the World’s first agricultural theme park, the mango meadows agricultural pleasure land is located at Ayamkudy, Kaduthuruthi PO, Kottayam, Kerala, India.It is the world’s biggest bio diversity park. Home to more than 4500 species of plants.The concept of Agricultural Theme Park was conceived and mooted by Mr N.K.Kurian,a true nature lover, an agriculturist, an award winning agricultural entrepreneur from Kerala,India. derived the concept of agricultural theme park out of his own sheer necessity and as he felt the situations demand for it.He has been selected for the 12th edition of Garshom Award. He has been selected under the excellence in entrepreneurship among Pravasi Returnees. Recently, he was awarded Man of the Year Award (URF) by Universal Record Forum in Kolkata. Abhijit Ganguly spoke with N K Kurien on the sidelines of URF World Talent Festival 2017.
What motivated you to create the World’s First Agricultural Theme Park?
While in Saudi Arabia, I was leading a worldly life full of luxury. I used to visit my home place (Kallara, Kottayam district, Kerala, India) every 6 months or so. During one of my visits, I heard from someone that my own very school from where I completed my schooling was about to be closed as there were only a few admissions that year. It hit me like a shock. I had lot of childhood memories associated with my school and I was very distressed. I couldn’t sleep that night. I had dreamed of sending my kids to my school. As a kid, me and my friends used to walk to school and on our way, we used pluck and eat small berries, throw down mangoes using stones, eat guava, jackfruit, we do it all the way till we reach our school. Our daily journey to school was like that. I wanted my kids to experience all those little big things in life. As a kid, I was very attached with nature and I was very naughty too. Those fruits and berries were more like vitamin and protein supplements that we get these days. Every time I visit my village, I used to notice that all those trees and plants were disappearing from my village. I felt an urge, I was so distressed that I decided to quit my job and send my kids to my school and return to my village.
This decision ended up as a reason for me to think of settling down in Kerala. I also had a dream to build a house near a farm land. I was inspired by an Arab Oasis, a man-made vegetation in the middle of the desert in UAE that I once happen to visit. The Oasis had a pool, a farm land with vegetation, a villa and cattle farm. I wanted my house to be built like that. It was during this time that I bought land near my village at a place called Ayamkudy. The first thing that I did was to make a pond in that land. Later I started depositing small fishes in it. One time during my visit, I found out that my pond was full of big fishes. I decided to sell those fish considering it as my first agricultural income. There was a lorry full of fish. I tried to sell the fish in the local wholesale market. It was supposed to be my first sale and truly my first-hand experience with the market. The wholesale dealers there offered me just one third of the actual price and I rejected their offer. I decided to sell it in a bigger market. After seeing a lorry full of fish and knowing that we came a long way to sell our fish, the wholesale dealers there thought that I don’t have any other option other than to sell at the price they offered, they offered me just one fifth of the actual market price. I rejected their offer and returned with a full load of fish, and dumbed it in my land. With that incident, I came to know one of the major plight of a farmer. I came to a conclusion that as the farmers have huge quantities to sell in one go, they won’t get a fair price for their produce and understood that the farmers are forced to sell their produce at a fraction of the actual retail price that end customer pays.
I figured out that the best way for a farmer to get a fair price is by selling directly to end customer. But how is this possible? After lot of brainstorming, I came up with the idea of Agricultural theme park. An agricultural theme park is just a park associated with a farmer’s own farm land. The customers are supposed to come to the farm land and buy the produce directly from the farmer. But why should a customer simply do that? Here lies the importance of value addition. Agricultural theme park is setup to give that value addition for the produce a farmer has to sell and to sell the produce directly to the customer in different forms in a value added way and to pass on the benefits to the farmers. This is how the concept of Mango Meadows got its shape.
How challenging was it to convert a barren piece of land with only a pond in it to a agricultural theme park?
At first, there was only me, my hat and the sun. It was like my hobby to collect plants and trees from here and there. Later it became a passion. I was after more and more plants. Then people around me and people in my closed circle who knew about my passion started to inform me about rare plants. For gathering rare plants, it was important for me to know the differences between different plants, and for that I started my research on plants. After knowing about different plants and their importance, I was really getting more and more involved with plants and trees. I started feeling it necessary to protect some plants for the future. Gradually, the numbers of plants I collect keep on growing. Some people even started to think that that I became lunatic. As the number of plants keep growing, I started employing staffs to look after them. One by one, over 15 year span, I collected and planted around 4800 species of plants and their numerous sub varieties.
Every plant at Mango meadows has got a name board, depicting its local names, botanical name, scientific name. Guides are provided to explain about different plants and their importance.
What are the values that inspire and guide your work?
I believe that the nature has its own ecosystem to protect and sustain itself. We are the creatures who are meant to protect it more than any other creatures. Rat, crows snakes are all part of the system and we humans are the ones entrusted to look after the system and we are given extra ordinary powers compared to every other creatures that we are like super powerful for them. But we are using these super powers to destroy this very own nature. We are thinking ourselves as out of the nature’s system. We are no more worried about the nature and its creatures. Mango Meadows emphasis on sharing the importance of nature with the future generation, for they are the ones who determine the very nature of existence of nature. We share the same values that nature has entrusted us, and we inspired by the same methods that the nature has itself created for its sustenance. All we need to do is to realign ourself to the right track and get connected back with nature.
The farm has a zodiac junction- ‘Nakshathra Vanam. Could you enlighten our readers about it?
I believe that concept of Zodiac trees or nakshathra vruksham took shape in the mind of some extra genius or super intellectual. May be some rishis or munis created this concept. It is commonly known that according to Indian astrology, everyone born on earth is assigned with a birth star. But many of us don’t know that these birth star also has an associated tree. According to the concept of nakshatra vruksha, each and every person is supposed to plant and water his birth star tree or nakshatra vruksha. Trees planted by parents and ancestors were respected and they supposed to be watered and not cut.There are 27 birth stars and there corresponding trees. What happens when a family of five plants different nakshatra vrisha. A combination of different trees occur in every household. In this way, Bio diversity gets established. More than that, the nakshatra vruksha trees are found to give out more levels of oxygen than any other trees which makes the air more rich with oxygen
What is the importance of importance of Sarppakkavu?
Importance of Sarppakkavu, the Sacred forests of Kerala Sarppakavu or sacred forest were build, conserved and preserved by our ancestors from ancient times. Each and every family maintained their own Sarppakkavu within their compound. But our “care for nothing” attitude and materialistic living have all made us ignore these sacred forest. The families which had preserved Sarppakavu felt it as a burden to preserve it and wanted to get rid of it if they could. The trees that were preserved in Sarppakkavu are not good for wood, they were not used in making furniture, and they were not fruiting trees either. For any typical human being, the trees used inside sarppakkavu are like good for nothing trees. People don’t grow them inside there compound as they don’t find it of any use at all.
Then why did our ancestors consider these trees sacred and wanted to preserve it?
Our ancestors were super genius and they foresaw our future. They knew how important each and every tree is for the sustenance of ecosystem and nature. They knew that the chosen trees of Sarppakkavu possess ability to improve the quality of air than any other trees around (Generates more Ozone than other trees). They also knew that the materialistic human of the future will only preserve the trees that are good for wood and useful for their needs and would just chop the trees that they don’t find useful. They tried to protect the trees by placing the idol of the “Sarppas” or “King of Snakes” believing that we would conserve the forest and would not destroy it. All what they did was for our own good. They wanted to make the air we breath as pure as it can be and they wanted us to live in a pleasant climate within a comfortable temperature. But we ignored there ideology and become more materialistic that we even found loop holes to get rid of the trees and forest and started dig our own grave.
Sarppakkavu is one of the prime source of attractions at Mango Meadows Agricultural theme park. Sarppakavu is conceived and preserved at the world’s first agricultural theme park with a vision to pass on importance of Sarppakkavu to the future generations. Sarppakkavu is actually a gift that Kerala gave to this world to protect every one of us from the miseries of global warming and climate change. Forgetting our roots is like digging our own grave.
What are your future plans with the park?
Our future plan is to setup Agricultural theme parks across each and every state of India. While we have plants and trees from every part of India and around the world, Mango Meadows is a miniature representation of the ecology and bio diversity of Kerala. Each and every state has got its own varieties of flora and fauna. Our future plan is to setup Mango Meadows in each and every states of India so that the whole of India, and the whole world itself will be benefited from it.
Our environment is getting worse at a point where it’s sometimes beyond repair. What would you say are some small steps that people can take to improve their relationship to the environment?
One of the major mission of Mango Meadows is to spread awareness about the importance of preserving nature and the ecosystem and to teach the ancient traditions and practices that helps to preserve our nature. We are all indebted to a highly intellectual super genius being for creating some very beautiful traditions and practices that helped mankind to preserve the nature till this extend. Nature has suffered huge losses, but I believe we still have a chance to roll down the ill effect and improve the conditions like global warming, uncontrollable level of air pollution etc. But how? We need to follow our roots and traditions. Urbanization and industrialization are all important for an economy but an economy without considering the sustenance of the future generation is not at all important. Just imagine that you and your 4 member family embrace the concept of Nakshatra vrukra and start following it. The first thing that you need to do is to find your Nakshatra vriksha based on your birth star, then you need to find a suitable place to plant it. Other members of your family will do the same. So at the end, you will have
4 different plants representing your family. So now as the plants represent your family, it becomes your duty to protect the plants. If each and every family does the same, every family member will have the responsibility to look after 3 or 4 plants representing their family. All I have done is that I have assigned a value to the plant and it creates a sense of responsibility. we always had this responsibility, but we deviated from the roots. Just think of it this way. The butterflies, bees are doing their duties with nature, the birds and animals are doing their duties with nature but what about man? We should get back to our roots, we should all remember our responsibility with nature, we should give value in protecting trees and plants and it should be taught to children from very young age onwards. Only then, we can make a new generation clean from all the bad things that our generation did with nature, only then, nature will thrive and flourish.