Farmers at the Puthenkari paddy field collective in Ezhupunna, about 20 km south of Kochi, celebrated a symbolic victory over great adversities on Sunday when they began harvesting 140 acres of pokkali rice fields that were brought under cultivation after a gap of 25 years.

The harvesting operations were launched officially by Laha Gopalan, the leader of Sadhu Jana Vimochana Samara Vedi, which is at the head of the historic Chengara struggle for agricultural land in Pathanamthitta district. Around 100 people from the Chengara also participated in the harvesting operations on Sunday.

Francis Kulathungal, convenor of the Pokkali Samrakshana Samiti, which led a group of activists in wresting the paddy fields collective from the grips of the shrimp farming lobby, said that about 20 acres of farmland was harvested on Sunday and that the rest of the area would be harvested over the coming days.

He said the yield from the fields would be lower than expected because of the bad weather that immediately followed sowing, launched by the Alappuzha District Collector N. Padmakumar early in July.

Large swathes of paddy field were inundated in heavy rain in the months of July and August but most of it survived through the rains. “The yield is likely to be a little over 2.5 tonnes a hectare,” said Mr. Francis.

The Puthenkari paddy fields used to be under shrimp cultivation throughout the year. However, the efforts by Pokkali Samrakshana Samity saw the fields being brought under rice cultivation under the traditional practice of ‘one rice and one fish’ cultivation in a year.

Exhibition

An exhibition of the traditional practices involved in cultivating pokkali rice, a salt resistant and tall variety of rice unique to the marshy parcels of land in Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts close to the backwaters, will be organised at the Puthenkari fields from Monday.

The exhibition comprising posters, live animals, fishes and reptiles from the fields and tools used in pokkali cultivation was supported by the Vyttila Rice Research Station of Kerala Agricultural Univeristy, said Mr. Francis. The show is on for seven days.

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