Board planning to set up a seed bank to preserve traditional crop varieties
Kerala could leverage the World Heritage Site status for the Western Ghats to tap the United Nations for funds to revive traditional farming practices, chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB), V. Oommen, has suggested.
Talking to The Hindu here on Monday, Dr. Oommen said the introduction of the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Kerala would encourage cultivation of traditional crops, revive the practice of conserving seeds and promote organic farming. PES is a practice under which farmers or landowners are offered incentives in exchange for sustainable management of natural resources.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) could be approached for funding the mechanism, he suggested.
Dr. Oommen, who took over as chairman last month, said KSBB was drawing up plans to set up a seed bank equipped with with cryo preservation facilities. “A large number of traditional rice varieties in Kerala have become extinct over the years. It is time we did something to arrest this trend,” he said.
The Board, he said, had submitted a project to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for assistance to take up organic farming in 100 acres of land at Udumbanchola in Idukki district.
Dr. Oommen said the Board was working on a project to set up biodiversity parks in plantations located in hilly areas like Munnar. “We have identified about 4,000 to 5,000 flowering plants in the Western Ghats. Even if half of that number could be planted in the parks, we could ensure their conservation. A portion of the land belonging to estates could be used for the purpose. The government could take steps to restrict admission to the parks for genuine nature lovers. Only eco-friendly structures should be allowed in the parks,” he said.
He said KSBB would focus on biodiversity exploration and creation of an inventory of the flora and fauna in the State.
“Unless we know what we have, we cannot have a strategy to conserve it. About 500 km of the 1,490 km-long Western Ghats belt, stretching from Gujarat to Kanyakumari, is in Kerala. Much of this region harbours unknown rich biological treasures that have to be protected at any cost,” he said.
Dr. Oomen said the creation of a biodiversity inventory would be taken up as a flagship project with the cooperation of local bodies, biodiversity management committees and local experts. “We need to constitute a pool of taxonomists to identify diverse species at the local level. Documentation of traditional knowledge systems including health practices is another programme we are planning to take up,” he said.
Dr. Oommen, who was a member of the Biodiversity Board before becoming its chairman, said the deterioration of water quality was a matter of concern for Kerala. “We need an action plan to revive dying water bodies like ponds and rivers, especially in the light of the truant monsoons and the heavy pollution from farms and urban sources. Conservation of water has to be given top priority,” he said.
He also said Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC) could be strengthened by giving them statutory powers.
“As the last link in the implementation of conservation programmes, BMCs constitute a crucial element. Strengthening them will naturally give a fillip to the programme.”