When you stop for a meaty snack along the Alleppey-Changanassery road in Kerala, spare a thought for traditional duck farmers who walk for six months, braving errant weather.
In Kuttanad, Kerala’s rice bowl, fields turn gold. Harvesters are abuzz, hurrying to reap the field before the summer rains strike.
But as soon as the noises die down and the fields are empty, massive flocks of winged visitors take over. Thousands of ducks quack through the canals of Kuttanad to occupy the pre-designated harvested fields for their feed. Once the ducklings are out, they are constantly on the move, for upto six months, from one field to another until they are finally sold for meat. The long-winding feeding tour leads them up to the borders of Tamil Nadu or even beyond, by the end of the season.
Aby, a 38-year old duck farmer calculates that his 10,000 ducklings are worth around Rs. 24 lakh. According to him, if the ducks survive through the period, one can save up to Rs. 5 lakh a season, despite expenses for medicine and daily wages for his helpers.
Benoy has a flock of about 1000 egg-bearing ducks that fetch him 400 eggs a day. He sells them locally at a wholesale rate of Rs. 6 per egg. He sells some of the birds for meat during the Easter season at a market rate of Rs. 250 per duck.
The Alleppey -Changanassery road, popularly known as AC road, is the hub for duck delicacies. Here, establishments ranging from local toddy shops to motels serve Kuttanadan duck dishes from breakfast hours through dinner.
Duck farming provides indirect employment to many who live around the canals. Ponnachan, a helper to one of the vendors on AC road and a duck farmer himself, pointed out that duck farming in Kuttanad is on the wane because of its demands on one’s time. His children abhor this job. Even he doesn’t want them to take this up for a living.
Reji rues that there have been very few measures to improve duck farming. He adds that complete neglect could irreversibly affect this traditional vocation.