Market-savvy farmers in Ezhupunna panchayat have floated Pokkali Bonds to meet part of the expenses in bringing 165 acres in the Puthankari paddyfields collective under pokkali sowing. The fields had been under round-the-year shrimp farming for 25 years.
The Rs. 1,000-per-unit bonds have so far been subscribed to by around 30 well-wishers of a broad-based movement, which took more than four years to fight off a tenacious shrimp farming lobby to revive the traditional pokkali cultivation under the long-standing ‘Oru Nellum Oru Meenum’ tradition.
Though called bonds, they are an informal arrangement by which friends of the movement have come out to lend a helping hand. They will get their money back in six months along with a part of the harvest, depending on how the fields flourish.
The Pokkali revival group also received a gift of 350 kg of tapioca from a former judge of the High Court of Kerala, K. Sukumaran Nair. It is being used as snacks for the volunteers who have been working in the fields on holidays or being deployed as barter for those who agreed to work in the fields at reduced wages.
“It is a historic victory for farmers and their supporters,” said Francis Kulathungal, general convenor of Pokkali Samrakshana Samara Samithi, which gave a formal shape to the long-standing demand to get rid of round-the-year shrimp cultivation.
K.G. Padmakumar, former director of the Regional Agricultural Research Centre in Kumarakom, who is an expert on Pokkali rice, a salt-resistant variety, said the farmers in Ezhupunna had taken a big initiative in helping a long tradition revive.
Pokkali cultivation is virtually on the verge of extinction because farmers have abandoned the labour-intensive cultivation practices.
Around 5,000 acres come under Pokkali sowing these years against a total available land of 20,000 to 23,000 acres. Dr. Padmakumar calls it our “heritage”, he said on Thursday.
He said the practice of bringing Pokkali fields under round-the-year shrimp farming had resulted in widespread diseases in shrimp farms in Kerala. If we heeded to tour tradition it would be better for both the Pokkali rice farmer and for the shrimp farmer, he added.
Mr. Francis said though the initiative under the Samithi was entitled to subsidies that go into bringing fallow land under cultivation, they had not got anything so far. He said they expected the local Krishi Bhavan to provide free seeds but that too was not forthcoming. The farmers then sourced 4.5 tonnes of Pokkali seeds from a cooperative in Varappuzha for Rs. 25 a kg.