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.

Unni's family photo of 1967
Unni's ancestral house at Karukamanikalam

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. National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST),  formerly Regional Research Lab Trivandrum, 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. 

Hon. chief minister of Kerala Shri V S Achuthananthan visited Navara Eco Farm in 2007
PPVFRA meeting at Navara Eco Farm in 2012
Unni with Dr R S Paroda at Suwon, South Korea

Note: Navara is a sastika rice variety of Kerala.Navara is used as a nutritional rice and health food. Even though Navara has been recognised for its medicinal values from very olden times cultivation of this rice variety in pure form is almost extinct. The reasons for this are many, including non-availability of pure seeds, low yield and high cost of production leading to commercial non viability of cultivation of this variety. NEF made the bold decision to resurrect Navara irrespective of the difficulties and challenges involved.

Navara was traditionally cultivated organically. Because of its poor yield and difficulties in controlling pests and diseases, conventional method of farming was adopted by farmers. As Navara is a medicinal rice NEF decided to adopt only organic farming methods lest it might affect the medicinal properties. Moreover as Navara bran, root are also used in ayurvedic treatments, health rejuvenation therapies , any chemical or pesticide residue in the course of conventional farming might not yield the desired results. The expert opinion from the Ayurveda physicians and others in the field of Ayurveda was also to go for organic farming of Navara.

But conversion to organic farming in Navara rice turned out to be risky, laborious and costly.

The farm grows its own plants which are used for manure, along with green leaves obtained from the farm

Pest control in organic Navara rice farming is a major challenge. NEF planted Tulsi [ocimum sanctum] and Marigold on the bunds of the paddy fields to repel pests. .There was an instance when four acres of Navara crop was completelt damaged by pests. Following this, use of nets to catch the pests was introduced and the workers were trained in this.

Rats do extensive damage to the rice crop. Here also manpower is employed for control.

Thus Navara Eco Farm completely eliminated the usage of chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides in the farm. Hence all the products coming out of NEF are free of chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides.