Kerala’s Pokkali farmers want support to develop this indigenous rice that weathers floods, is salt tolerant and offsets floor water salinity.
PK Hormis Tharakan was a late entrant to the tribe of pokkali growers. The retired police officer started farming this selection in 2016 in his ancestral land in Thaikkattussery, on the japanese facet of Lake Vembanad. He realized of its virtues after his crop weathered the 2018 floods, even when the bund broke and drowned the sector. That yr, the crop survived enormous winds in Kadamakkudy till the grain was harvested.
There is additional proof of its hardiness: a 2018 documentary Njan Pokkali by environmental marketing consultant Ranjith Rajendran, traces the historical past of the rice. Washed away by flood-waters within the Western Ghats, the seed survives a protracted and tumultuous journey to lastly germinate in Kerala’s salty coastal waters. The plant grew to a top of 5 ft defying the low tidal waves. Slowly, it grew to become a part of the State’s heritage and lore, and rituals connected themselves to its cultivation.
Over time, nevertheless, this conventional rice misplaced its place to extra profitable agricultural produce and was lowered to small pockets. This triggered the lack of a whole social and ecological ecosystem.
However, the tide is now handing over its favour. Since pokkali cultivation doesn’t use both pesticides or fertilizers, it has been well-liked as an natural selection for round a decade. Ecologically, its significance lies in its means to withstand sea erosion. After 2018, it’s being seen as a possible climate change-resistant meals and a accountable tourism farming produce.
In 2011, Gopinath Parayil, a Responsible Tourism pioneer, started to affiliate with the pokkali trigger. He has been popularising farming excursions in Ezhikkara and Kadamkkudy panchayats.
“Here is an amazing wild nutritious indigenous rice that survived the floods but its growers are struggling. It is labour-intensive and does not fetch a good market rate. We need to retail it strategically for its unique properties.” Gopi tried to market the rice to “conscious consumers” in Kerala initially and likewise hyperlink it with tourism by taking the story of this rice to 17 accommodations and creating a requirement. He even launched the rice to college students of the distinguished Culinary Institute of America.
Last yr, as a part of Sampoorna Pokkali, a re-generation programme by Paliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank, Ranjith started pushing pokkali as meals safety produce and streamlining its assortment and advertising from 34 panchayats. “We are additionally doing value-addition merchandise with virtually 12 derivatives from pokkali, like tooth powder from its husk,” he says.
KG Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Center for Below Sea Level Farming (IRTCBSF) Kuttanad, factors out that the world is taking a look at saline-resistant crop varieties, now that sea ranges are rising. Pokkali obtained GI standing in 2008, however is farmed solely in 1,500 hectares now. The space was 20,000 hectares 30 years in the past.
It grows properly within the tidal wetlands of Ernakulam, Thrissur, and Alapuzha. The farming season is April to October and fields are given over to prawn and shrimp cultivation for the remainder of the yr. Padmakumar factors out the symbiotic side: decayed pokkali stems feeds prawns, whereas prawn shell waste nourishes the paddy.
Padmakumar additionally explains that prawn farming is profitable whereas pokkali rice productiveness is low. “Many farmers opt to shift to prawn farming completely but this poses the danger of turning the soil entirely saline.”
Tharakan remarks that ADAK (Agency For Development of Aquaculture), a mission of NABARD, presents 80% subsidy to pokkali farmers. “After the Paris Agreement on climate change, reviving pokkali cultivation gained impetus. These drew me to its cultivation.” Marketing stays an issue, he admits, however the demand for its seeds is vibrant.
First line of defence
Padmakumar feels pokkali cultivation must be inspired for its ecological profit. He explains that paddy attracts recent water, whereas the crop itself prevents the entry of seawater. The fields are used for rainwater harvesting. This, he says, is important in occasions of climate change. “Pokkali is the primary line of defence in opposition to seawater entry. This ecological angle shouldn’t be being taken severely,” he laments.
Francis Kalathungal, a farmer from Chellanam who shaped ‘Samrakshana Samithi’ to guard this, says, “Cropping in pokkali fields performs the important operate of letting rainwater percolate into the subsoil. This recent water offsets salinity strain on the water desk. The advantages are innumerable and palpable. Often, growth planners choose paddy cropping solely on the premise of productiveness. True, the per-acreage yield of pokkali is low, however its profit to ecology is deep and lengthy.”
Pokkali farming can also be lowered as a result of its harvesting is labour intensive. Getting labourers is an issue as most pokkali farms are close to cities and individuals are drawn to extra profitable jobs. Ranjith, nevertheless, is optimistic. Post the pandemic, he’s prepared with plans to advertise the rice, emphasising its potential for meals safety and combating climate change. “We have guided tours and souvenirs,” he says, hoping that farmers will profit from this reinterpretation of the heritage rice.