A Kerala-based entrepreneur has started crowdfunding to save his two-decade-old dream project, an agroecological reserve, from a financial crisis due to lockdown.
With over four lakh trees and plants numbering around 4,800 species, Mango Meadows, the unique model of an agricultural theme park, is an initiate of NK Kurian. It is spread over 30 acres of land in the village of Ayamkudi near Kaduthuruthy in the Kottayam district.
The 120 crore venture started as a small farm in 2002-03 is now a spectacular spot that provides visitors with a unique opportunity to experience farming culture and gain an understanding of traditional and sustainable agricultural practices. Moreover, it employs around 300 persons. In the few months that the park was open, Kurian had bagged a few awards which include the Kerala Forest Department, for his effort.
Being a treasury of rare species like the Rhododendron,Ficus Alii tree, Beggar’s bowl or Calabash and Damas, the park found a place in the URF World Records and Limca Book of Records for developing the maximum number of agriculture and horticulture species in a minimum space.
Mango Meadows started its normal functioning in 2018. The financial burden worsened by back-to-back natural disasters that hit Kerala, two consecutive floods in 2018 and 2019, and the global pandemic has pushed the venture into a red zone, threatening its closure and possible loss of biodiversity.
“We opened in 2018. Almost after six months came the massive floods and the entire park was submerged underwater for a month. We recovered in the first year itself, we earned a revenue of Rs 8 crore. However, the floods came the next year also. But our revenues grew to Rs 11 crore," said Kurian.
As it was recovering from the disasters, came the Covid=19 pandemic. The park had to be closed down due to lockdown and the income came to a halt. All these affected the repayment of loans availed from a non-banking finance company (NBFC).
“We have nearly 4,800 species of plants including 700 trees and 900 flowering plants. Then 64 varieties of fish and almost all domestic animals and birds are here. Unlike other ventures, we can’t cut down on the expenses even if the park is closed as we have to take care of all these plants, animals and fish. It needs a monthly expense of around Rs seven lakh to maintain the farm. I have to repay an amount of around Rs 25 crore to the private financial institutions. The uncertainty created by the lockdown developed into a huge crisis," said Kurian.
With its outstanding debts accumulating the park now faces the prospects of confiscating under the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act, Kurian is seeking a government-level intervention to tide over the crisis. Last week, he met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with a memorandum to save his project. His main request to the government is to assign any of its financial agencies such as the Kerala Financial Corporation (KFC), Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) or Kerala Bank to take over the loan so as to pay the amount in different instalments.
Meanwhile, a revival plan was devised by well-wishers, which can be a permanent solution to this crisis. “The plan has been devised in such a way that everyone, who loves to conserve nature and biodiversity, can be part of it. We seek contributions of Rs 10,000 in return for a premium membership in the Mango Meadows family and schemes for those making contributions in amounts less than Rs 10,000 too have been formulated. So we are requesting all good samaritans to support in this endeavour," said Kurian.
The committee for crowdfunding includes former minister
Mons Joseph MLA, Dr Sabu Thomas Vice-Chancellor, M G University, P V Sunil, Kaduthuruthi Block Panchayat President and CPM Kottayam District Committee Member and Cherian Philip, Nava Kerala Working Project Coordinator along with many other dignitaries.
Many state governments had shown interest in this park. “I have been invited by the Gujarat state government to set up a similar park there," said Kurian.