KJ Mathachan, a farmer in Kerala has been cultivating pearls in his backyard using freshwater mussels sourced from rivers. He has been training others on how to equip themselves with this skill. One can make a profit of 3 lakhs from 50 buckets of cultured pearls.
You earn three lakhs by cultivating pearls in your yard with classes administered by an individual who has pearl cultivation in his backyard. Sounds surreal, but this is indeed a true story. Mr KJ Mathachan, a resident of a small town named Kasargod in Kerala, has made this dream come true for many. The unique patron to the agro-tech sector has been cultivating pearls in his backyard for 21 years. Yes, you read it right, in his backyard. Making this an enterprise was not his plan initially, but it is something he pivoted to eventually.
Mathachan was a professor in Saudi Arabia. It was there when he received the opportunity to visit China as a translator for an Oil Company. During his visit, he went to the Danshui Fisheries Research Center in Wuxi. Fisheries was a neighbourhood that always sparked his interest, so he decided to explore the various courses they had. That is when he stumbled upon the pearl cultivation diploma they were offering.
Pearl cultivation was something only a few people had explored in India, and hence, he went forward with the course. Mathachan quit his job and relocated to China to pursue a diploma in cultivating cultured pearls. Upon completing the course, he came back to Kerala in 1999 and started cultivating pearls in his backyard. It was an impulsive decision, and many people criticised it. However, he could foresee the potential of this market and turned it into a full-fledged enterprise.
Mathachan advocates that India, with its good quality mussels, has the potential to become a global leader in the pearl making industry. The position is currently held by China, which manufactures more than half of the global production. “With the right amount of patience and expertise, this can make way for small scale businesses and even big enterprises. The biggest advantage is that it is an early phase for this industry in the country. Hence it can bring a major economic boom in the country.”, he says.
But how did he do it?
There are three basic forms of artificial, natural, and cultured pearls. The cultured pearl is what he has been cultivating for quite 21 years now, and it’s the best one to cultivate since freshwater mussels are readily available in India.
Mathachan started sourcing freshwater river mussels brought from Maharashtra or drawn from the rivers arising from the Western Ghats. Then he treats them in buckets in his backyard. The mussels collected from rivers are skillfully opened, and a pearl nucleus is deposited inside it. The mussel is then completely submerged in water with bacteria to feed on. Over 18 months, the nucleus produces a pearl sac, collecting calcium carbonate from the mussel shells. The nucleus forms up to 540 layers of coating over it, hence developing excellent pearls. He makes a profit of 3 lakhs from 50 buckets of cultured pearls.
Can anybody do it?
The answer is yes. Mathachan teaches his method to the interested students who are spread across India and charges just Rs 10,000. The course lasts for a month. Due to lockdown, he has commenced classes online. According to him, there is a higher participation of women in pearl cultivation.
According to Mathachan, so far, none of his students has failed in cultivating pearls. However, one has to be patient, for it takes up to 18 months until the batch of cultured pearls gets ready. Fifty buckets of the pearl can earn up to Rs. 4.5 lakhs, while the expense will be just Rs. 1.5 lakhs. The pearls have a profitable export market to countries such as Australia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. A real pearl would cost around Rs 360/carat and Rs 1800/gram in India; hence in the foreign market, one can earn a lot.
Pearl cultivation was an untapped space in India at that point, and fortunately, he was determined to explore it. And is still flourishing. “By Pearl cultivation, we can make India, the global exporter of pearls, and I see this as my big opportunity to serve this country and fellow citizens. It has become my purpose now.”, Mathachan concludes.
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