Meet Sijo from Kerala, India

“I am a South Indian, born and raised in UAE. My dad comes from a family of farmers and with little knowledge he started planting some plants like Mint, Moringa, Curry leaf, Aloe Vera, Tomato, Tapioca, Melon, Indian Spinach, Sweet potato by the side of our house. Due to the heat and not enough knowledge, the harvest used to be very low but we enjoyed working side by side. Those are the fondest memories I have with my father. We are well known in our neighbourhood because we share our beans, Moringa and tapioca with everyone who simply glances at our garden.

I chose to do my Bachelors in Aircraft Engineering in the U.K. and there I found locally grown fruits and vegetables to be tasting a lot better than back home. Upon some research, I found that this was due to the lack of chemicals used and lesser transportation time. This meant the fruits and vegetables were harvested closer to their ripening time and not early. Thanks to YouTube and Netflix documentaries I learnt about the importance of organic food and how it affects your wellbeing. I also went on a plant-based diet from the second year of my university and been continuing for the past 4 years.

I returned to Al Ain with much enthusiasm and knowledge. With the newly found spare time, we experimented with grow bags, raised beds and composting. We were happy with our harvests and I was always surprised to find new saplings showing up from the compost bin.

My Dad and I travelled to Kerala, our hometown in India for an event in January 2020 and we were supposed to return in March. Unfortunately, that’s when COVID started spreading in India and a lockdown was imposed. We have been stuck here since then.

We have three large plots of land that were taken over by weeds due to years of ignorance. The plot in which our house is built has a couple of coconut trees and a jackfruit tree. Due to fear of food shortages, we started using all our three plots for organic farming. We grew many vegetables from scraps and seeds from the neighbourhood as purchasing seeds wasn’t an option. I use natural solutions such as neem oil, fenugreek/black and white pepper powder, Ash. I don’t have issues other than ants and weeds.

I preserve my harvests through drying and pickling methods. We have constant rainfalls and I hate to see the water and land not being utilized while we are fighting poverty and malnutrition.

I have also started a YouTube channel and blog to document our journey with a limited amount of resources I have. I make videos talking about the benefits, growing, harvesting and cooking common vegetables. This way the viewer can understand everything about a crop and also learn how to use it. My dad used to help me with the videos but recently we have been both tested positive for COVID and taking treatment and isolating ourselves.

I have started educating people about the importance of organic varieties and how to grow organically. I also started a food sharing and seed sharing program in our society. We make sure to share the produce with the less fortunate as they wouldn’t accept money. My relatives and friends aren’t very supportive because they think gardening is a waste of time due to lack of harvests and diseases. But I love doing this and eating fresh from the garden and I am determined to turn every inch of my land into a food forest.”

Sijo runs a translation and transcription agency that deals with English, Arabic and all Indian languages to help teachers who lost their jobs due to COVID. So, if you have any subtitle/translation type of projects, please contact Sijo.

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