Living sustainably – Vengeri leads the way!

It’s taken a small village near Kozhikode to demonstrate how sustainable living can actually be achieved and can be quite idyllic!


At a time when excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides has become the norm in agriculture across India, a small community near Kozhikode in Kerala is making an effort to return to much healthier practices of organic farming.

Niravu, which means fullness, is today a proven example of the successful efforts of a community to regain a bygone lifestyle. It is a collective engaged in organic cultivation and related nature-friendly activities. Niravu started as a residents’ association of 101 households in Vengeri, a small village on the outskirts of Kozhikode.

“The basic aim of cultivation is never only harvesting only. It is an attempt to make our lifecycle complete,” said Babu Parambath, green activist and Project Director of Niravu. “That is what the Niravu initiative is trying to communicate to society.”

It’s never easy!

Inspired by V.S. Achuthanandan, the then Chief Minister of Kerala, who requested social workers to focus on the development of Kerala in his golden jubilee year speech, some social activists in Vengeri conducted a survey in the neighbourhood.

They selected and trained 100 students, who then visited 1,824 houses in the village to gather detailed data. The findings were alarming. Many residents were suffering from different diseases; seven among them were cancer patients. Twelve years ago, this was considered to be a scary number, especially in a less-polluted village like Vengeri.

The activist sought expert opinions to explain this and found that toxins that are released while burning plastic waste and the presence of chemical pesticides in rice and vegetables may cause cancer.

Though Vengeri had been an agriculture-dominated area, gradually people turned towards other occupations. “They tried for white-collar jobs and sent their children for higher studies. They lost interest in farming,” shared Lakshmikuttyamma. The backyards were neglected and plastic waste piled up on them.

“We never used plastic things at home. Rice and vegetables in our own fields and backyards fed us in our younger days,” said 76-year-old Lakshmikuttyamma. “We usually grew spinach, bitter gourd cucumber, ash gourd and drumstick in our backyards,” another elderly women echoed.

A momentary glitch

The piles of garbage behind every house left the activists confused for a while. Suggestions came again from older wisdom. “Each family should clean up their compound and surroundings. It may not take more than half an hour. Collect plastic, glass, and metals and keep them aside. Use the bio-waste as manure,” they said.

This made things easy. Non-degradable wastes sent to different recycling units. Community activists conducted campaigns and awareness classes, approached each family and sought their support. It wasn’t easy to change a lazy habit to a responsible initiative. Finally, 101 households came under a banner called Niravu and formed a residents association. The association was registered later in 2009.

Each family started vegetable cultivation. It varied from 3-4 tiny pots to acres of land, according to space availability. Rice cultivation was also restarted. The older generation happily handed over conventional seeds they had preserved. They also used cow dung as manure.

“Together we ploughed the land, did seeding, weeding, watering, manuring, and of course, harvesting,” an old student recalled. “Farming was a new experience for us. We gathered a lot of practical knowledge from the village. Elderly people considered us as their family members.”

Elders, youth and children made the whole farming process a grand festival. Ministers, social activists and other dignitaries came to Vengeri to experience the new wave. Niravu members cleaned the public pond. Pipe connections were arranged. This made irrigation easier. Strict segregation of waste in its sources left the area waste-free. Food habits slowly changed. Organic vegetables added taste and health factors to food. Health problems reduced.

Niravu values the older generation’s experience and the young generation’s technical knowledge equally. “We took children to new sights, to new places, to new cultures and allowed them to develop their own attitudes,” Pradeep, a Niravu member, told “Travelling helps them to gather knowledge. They interact with people and document their experiences.”

Apart from the successful organic farming and zero waste system, Niravu ventured into water conservation by maintaining water resources and harvesting rainwater. It also started energy conservation by encouraging the use of solar panels, biogas, LED bulbs, etc.

Niravu today supports many waste management programs. The Calicut International Airport and IIM Kozhikode are some of its leading clients. A number of schools and colleges, local bodies and offices also seek technical support from them. “We proved living with nature is not an impossible task,” said Parambath.

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NB: This story is based on a feature and by Chithra Ajith and photos by Niravu, from

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