Kasargod: K J Mathachan at Kaduthottil, Malakkal is a farmer who harvests pearls, literally. His carefully set up farm yields cultured pearls, fetching a high price in the ornament market and giving a reliable source of income.

"The pearls we buy these days are mostly plastic. They do not give any resale value. The real pearl fetches a handsome Rs. 360 per carat and a gram would bring home Rs.1800," said Mathachan who has been in the field for the last 25 years.   

Mathachan cultivates freshwater river mussels obtained from the rivers originating from the Western Ghats or brought from Maharashtra or Gujarat. His farm spreads in buckets carefully arranged in his balcony and nearby buildings. Small grounded pieces of old mussel shells is a raw material used in the production.

The mussel is pried open delicately and the nucleus is deposited inside it. Thereafter the mussel is immersed in water in a mesh container with bacteria to feed on. The water must be between 15-25 degree Celsius in temperature for the mussels to be able to grow. The nucleus develops a pearl sac and it collects the calcium carbonate that precipitates from the mussel shells.

In the next 18 months the pearl sac fills up with the precipitate and the nucleus grows into a pearl. In the normal course 140 layers will be formed within this one and half year period staying attached to the inner shell of the mussel. 

The cultured pearl is harvested after 18 months by opening the mussel shells. Mathachan says that 50 buckets of the pearl can earn him Rs. 4.5 lakhs while the cost will be just Rs. 1.5 lakhs. The pearls have a lucrative export market to countries such as Australia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Matchan also said that the big corporates are pitching into pearl production. Just a week ago, the officials from Reliance had come to meet him seeking advice. He is also adept at handcrafting fabulous products from the mussel shells and is also giving personal training and conducting classes. He may be contacted at 9446089736.