Dr. Swaminathan to meet farmers, scientists in Kochi on Monday
Pokkali rice farming, hurtling towards extinction in the State, looks set for a revival of fortunes with renowned agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan taking the initiative in convening a meeting of Pokkali farmers and scientists here on Monday.
Sources in the State Department of Agriculture said that Dr. Swaminathan's initiative was likely to lead to a package for revival of the unique rice variety and farming practice that are part of the heritage and culture of coastal Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts.
Sources said that a plan submitted under ‘Niravu' programme in Paravur constituency is likely to form the blueprint for a potential Pokkali package. ‘Niravu' is a comprehensive plan for tapping funds available for development of agriculture and allied activities in the constituency.
Among other things, the package has suggested providing a sense of security, substantial incentives and health insurance cover for harvesters.
A bonus of Rs. 10,000 per hectare for the farmers; funds for building infrastructure and a corpus for marketing Pokkali rice are among other suggestions.
Dr. Swaminathan's initiative, sources said, was the result of his interactions with Pokkali farmers, who were in New Delhi in May to receive the Plant Genome Saviour Community Award instituted by Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers' Rights Authority of India.
The award, comprising Rs. 10 lakh and a citation, was received by a group of farmers under the aegis of Varappuzha-Kadamakkudy Jaiva Pokkali Society. Kerala Agricultural University nominated the group for the award, given to rural communities instrumental in preserving and improving genetic resources.
Once spread over nearly 10,000 hectares, acreage under the salt-resistant and tall Pokkali has sunk to about 1,000 hectares.
Severe shortage of workers across the farming areas, especially for harvesting, has forced hundreds of farmers to abandon their fields.
Lack of mechanisation and relatively low yield from the traditional varieties of Pokkali are other reasons.
Besides, the money-spinning business of conversion of fields has lured many farmers, especially in Ernakulam district, to sell off their holdings. Pokkali gene has played a significant role in researches on evolving varieties that will survive under conditions created by climate change.
It is important that the variety is preserved and improved upon, said C. R. Elsie, a professor at Kerala Agricultural University, who coordinated the work to get GI registration for Pokkali in 2009.
Keywords: Pokkali rice farming