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‘Gospel of the Seeds’ – A Missionary of the Farmers

Father Joy Kochupara at Seed Fest 2023 in Cherupuzha North Kerala, India

A SeedFest - an exhibition of agricultural seeds, tools and products - is the mostly unlikely place to find a Catholic priest on a Sunday Morning! But there he is Fr Joy Kochupara of the Missionary Society of St. Thomas (MST), India.

For Father Joy, the SeedFest is the equivalent of what the patron’s festival of the parish is for many a parish-priest. Fondly called Joychan by all in local Malayalam language of Kerala, Fr Joy proclaims the Gospel and finds ‘pastoral’ fulfilment in promoting bio-diversity, crop security and fair price for the farm products and food security for the nation. The flock of this good shepherd is the farmers.

The recent weeklong SEEDFEST 2023 from January 19 - 23, at Cherupuzha, an indiscrete North Kerala town, was the tenth 'Festival of Seeds' organized by Father Joy. He is the inspiration behind it, its ‘invisible’ organizer and its soul and spirit, mixing with the larger crowd of farmers who assemble.

This North Malabar SeedFest makes headlines in newspapers and local TV channels every year. This year the Chief-Guest was none other than Rakesh Singh Tikait, the national leader of All India Farmers Union (Bharatiya Kisan Union - BKU) and several well-known film personalities of Kerala were present.  Father Joy shared stage with them and gave a motivational speech to the farmers – but he avoids media gaze and social media posts.


The SeedFest of Malabar is the largest display of Indigenous seeds, plants and domestic animals, every year in the month of January in Northern Kerala. It is envisaged as a focused effort at displaying, exchanging and preserving all sorts of seeds, planting materials, native livestock, medicinal plants, home-grown and wild plants and trees, and the like. It is organized like a festival with exhibitions, seminars, food stalls, agro instruments expo, cultural events – a real festival in every sense.

The last edition of the SeedFest had 100 stalls with more than 3,000 indigenous varieties of seeds and planting materials, including near-extinct varieties of rare local seeds, roots and livestock, for display, sale and exchange. The ultimate aim of this fest is to turn farm lands into rich depositories that ensure food security.

Around 5000 member-strong farming community, organized under Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, is backing this initiative.

“I noticed that poor farmers faced scarcity of food materials as well as quality seeds for planting, when I started visiting them. This was the motivation behind the SeedFest,” Fr Joy said.

Over the years, the SeedFest has become the largest native seed preservation effort in the eco-sensitive Western Ghats of Kerala. As a venue for sharing experiences and traditional knowledge on preservation and propagation, the Fest asserts farmers’ right over seeds, need for protection and propagation of indigenous varieties of seeds.

“Ever since we have regular availability of quality native seeds, our crops have improved in productivity and protection from pests. Similarly, diversification of crops has ensured food security,” said a farmer from Wynad.

Farmers who have switched to robust native seeds and organic farming have observed that there is substantial improvement in their health and reduction in diseases because of the availability of nutritious food from multi-crop farming.

Fr Joy is seldom seen in front of the camera or media, but was omnipresent through the entire days of the Fest as the animating spirit behind it, engaging the farmers and visitors in conversation on farming and family, social, political, material and spiritual aspects of their lives.

That is the Gospel of the seeds!

Fair Trade Alliance Kerala

The SeedFest is organized by Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala (FTAK), an affiliate of the International Fair Trade Alliance.

Father Joy founded the Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala (FTAK) in 2005 together with Mr. Tomy Mathew (MD of ‘Elements’) from Calicut and Mr. Rony from Palai in order to motivate farmers to do organic farming and to produce toxin-free food and farm products.

“It was when we found that many small farmer families were starving because of low prices of cash crops like cashews from the market that we decided to start the Fair Trade Alliance,” says Fr Joy, the life-time promoter of FTAK.

Born at peak of agrarian crisis, today Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala is a farmer collective of around 4500 farming families in the Malabar regions of Western Ghats. FTAK offers remunerative prices and fair market access to farmers, helping them engender sustainable organic farming practices.

FTAK pioneered fair market access for farmers of hills in Kerala and soon became a trendsetter in procuring agricultural commodities like cashew, coffee, spices, coconut, cocoa, at prices that match the cost of sustainable production, directly from farmers.

“When we export products through FTAK, a premium amount is donated by the foreign companies for social development. We pass on that extra income to the farmer’s for innovative farming,” says Tomy Mathew, the marketing manager of FTAK.

Brochure of Fair Trade Alliance of Kerala

A Complete Humanitarian and a Missionary

Besides and beyond the SeedFest and farmer’s movements, Joychan is an accomplished missionary, a fearless fighter for justice, humanitarian helper and promoter of the weak and the marginalized.

Fr Sebastian Kizhakkeyil of the Santhome Bible Centre Pariyaram, Director of the community of Fr Joy, has this to say, “Compassion is a character trait of this person known popularly as Joychan. He cannot but act compassionately when he sees instances of need, helplessness, and suffering.”

A Priest for the People at the Periphery

Fr Joy started his priestly ministry in N.R. Pura parish in Karnataka State among the people who had migrated there from Kerala for the sake of survival through agriculture. There he was touched by the hard life of the farmers.

His next appointment was again among Keralites who had migrated to Gudalur in Tamil Nadu state, at a time of turmoil, when the Government of Tamil Nadu decided to evict the migrants hailing from Kerala and take over their land and property. Fr Joy, did not hesitate to join the farmers’ agitation against eviction and Joychan was arrested along with the farmers and was kept in jail for a long period, in order to crush the protest of the migrant farmers led by him.

Soon after, the Missionary Society of St Thomas started the St. Thomas mission in the Mandya district of Karnataka state in 1978, Joychan moved there as a missionary.

In the Mandya Mission, Fr Joy pioneered grassroots level social work, in collaboration with Netherland-based CEBEMO, aimed at integral development of all sections of the poor villagers through non-formal education centers, self-help groups, awareness programs for the development of the villages. Empowerment of farmers and women were major thrusts of the program.

International Tenure with Farmers’ Organization

After several years in Mandya Mission, Father Joy started his tenure as the international chaplain of the Belgium based International Federation of Catholic Rural Movements (FIMARC), which works with national organizations for the defence of the rights of peasants, protection of territories and representation in the UN, FAO and UNESCO. There he got a chance to visit farmers in several countries in various continents. During this period at the world scene, he came to know about the problems of farmers globally and was strongly motivated to do something substantial for the farmers of his own country and state. [International Federation of Catholic Rural Movements (FIMARC)]

On return to India after 10 years of service, he was posted in a rural parish of Thalassery archdiocese in Northern Kerala. Wanting to establish a forum for the farmers, he founded Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK) in 2005  and initiated the SeedFest in 2010.

Currently, he is also into promotion of Ayurveda, Naturopathy and herbal medicine, being the Manager of Santhome Ayurvedic Arogyakendra, in Bedskhi, Maharashtra, bordering Goa.

A life set apart for the weak and the marginalized

We can summarize Joychan's life and ministry as one set apart for the welfare of the weak and marginalized. Anyone in need will receive a ready welcome from Joychan and he will do all he can to redress their problem. Joychan is unique in many ways.

A man without a “No” in his vocabulary

Father Sebastian says, Joychan is one of the rarest who does not have the word “no” in his vocabulary. An “YES” comes out from his lips whenever and wherever people in need ask him for something.” This will cause a lot of inconveniences to himself. He sacrifices his own interests and needs for the sake of fulfilling his commitment to all those who seek his help.

One such incident was narrated by Father Sebastian. One morning Joychan was preparing to go to a dentist after suffering intense toothache all night; then someone called him for immediate help as a man had fallen from a coconut tree and the family was unable to take him to a hospital. Joychan discarded his own toothache and went to that man’s house, took him to a hospital in Kannur in his vehicle and spent the whole day with him in the hospital despite his own intense toothache. He could get to the dentist only the next day.

The wife of the man told that “without immediate assistance of Father Joy, her husband would not have received proper treatment, without which, he would not have been able to work again. We are so much obliged to Joychan.”

He makes himself available to anyone in need, expending his time, wealth and health. What he owns is only one car for his mobility and a mobile phone for contacts. The car, however, is always means of transportation for anyone in need to go hospitals or some other purpose.

Father Joy is a good Samaritan in the literal sense, a good neighbour ready to extend a helping hand to anyone in need, irrespective of their caste or creed. The best thing about him is that concern for his own security or personal needs does not stand in the way of him acting compassionately and charitably towards others.

This anonymous quote, “Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love,” applies best to Father Joy, shared Father Sebastian.

Father Joy is a missionary in every sense, proclaiming the ‘Gospel of seeds’ among the farmers and sowing seeds of compassion and goodness among the people at the periphery. - with inputs from Fr Sebastian Kizhakkeyil


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.