Government extends time for shrimp farming in Pokkali fields.

An extraordinary gazette notification by the Kerala government fixing the yearly season for shrimp farming in Pokkali fields between November 15 and April 30 has raised eyebrows. “This is clearly in favour of aquaculturists who are lobbying hard to influence the government and extent the period of shrimp farming against the traditional practice of ‘one rice and one shrimp’ cycle in a year,” says Francis Kulathungal, convenor of Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi, a group engaged in trying to bring back the hey days of Pokkali cultivation.

Baby Joseph and her two children own about six acres of Pokkali fields in Maruvakkadu, near Chellanam. She says the extension of time for shrimp farming in these fields will not help rice cultivation.

She says that she has been doing the farming even after her husband’s death for 24 years because she wants to continue the tradition. The losses being suffered by Pokkali farmers does not deter her from continuing with the farming. She says she wants to continue with it as long as possible. Pokkali rice is a salt-resistant and tall variety grown in the coastal areas of Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts. The variety has received Geographical Indication Registration and is considered the primary crop in these fields though some farmers maintain the fields primarily for shrimp cultivation.

Panel report

Mr. Kulathungal says the government decision is totally against the spirit of the report of the 12-member expert committee that studied the problems pokkali farmers are facing in the State. He says the committee wanted to have uniform dates for ending shrimp cultivation in a season. The panel had suggested that April 15 be fixed as the last day for the shrimp season.

However, the decision to shift the date to April 30 is clearly to help the shrimp lobby, Mr. Kulathungal alleges as he points out that shrimp farmers in Paravoor taluk traditionally end their business on April 15 and those in Alappuzha district and Kochi taluk end their operations on March 30.

Shrimp farming usually ends early enough for the fields to be drained, dried and readied for the Pokkali rice cultivation in tandem with the arrival of the monsoon showers.

State president of Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi Charles George says the gazette notification is against the traditional practice of using Pokkali fields to cultivate shrimp.

A statement issued by Mr. George says that ending shrimp cultivation on April 30 will not leave enough time for preparation of the fields for rice cultivation.

The statement also calls for widespread resistance against the alleged move by the shrimp lobby to grab Pokkali fields exclusively for aquaculture.

Mr. Kulathungal says the government is not strictly asking the aquaculturists to procure licences and obtain clearance certificates from the Pollution Control Board.

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