Pilot project by biodiversity board, KAU in 100 acres

The Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) has joined hands with Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) for a project to restore the ecology of the Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR) in Idukki, a region blighted by the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides.

The project involves promoting organic farming of cardamom. The pilot phase will be implemented by KAU in a demonstration plot of 100 acres on the campus of the Cardamom Research Station at Pambadumpara.

Waterbodies affected

The project is part of a programme to phase out the use of pesticides in the CHR. “Toxic pesticides sprayed in the cardamom plantations get washed down the slopes during rain, leading to pollution of waterbodies. Pesticides also hinder survival of animals, including pollinators,” says K.P. Laladhas, member secretary, KSBB. K.P. Kuriakose, head, Cardamom Research Station, said the thrust of the Rs.8-crore project would be to demonstrate that organic methods of cultivation would help reduce the use of chemical pesticides and make farming more remunerative. He said it would focus on bio-intensive pest management. KAU has developed bio-control methods for management of nematodes, root grub, and shoot borer, three major pests in cardamom plantations.

Based on a survey in the Udumbanchola taluk, KSBB has mooted a package of participatory schemes to conserve the biodiversity of CHR which is under threat from logging, poaching, encroachments, and climate change.

Promotion of orchid cultivation in cardamom plantations is one of the proposals for augmenting the biodiversity of the CHR region, home to about 40 native orchid species. Dr. Laladhas said commercial orchid cultivation could be taken up by farmers without any additional infrastructure for irrigation and plant protection. The climatic conditions and irrigation facilities were conducive to growing orchids as a multi-tier canopy in cardamom gardens.

Another proposal is to promote apiculture (bee keeping) in cardamom plantations. The report prepared by KSBB notes that indiscriminate application of pesticides had virtually converted the plantations into a ‘no insect land,’ depriving the cardamom of higher levels of pollination and better yield. It estimates that apiculture could result in a 30 to 50 per cent increase in cardamom yield through better pollination.

KSBB proposes to take up an apiculture project in an organically cultivated cardamom estate. It estimates that the spicy honey from cardamom would fetch a good market for farmers.