Noted agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has called for the setting up of a below sea-level farming research centre in Kuttanad in the backdrop of climate change-induced rising of sea water levels.

Delivering the keynote address at a workshop on climate change and agriculture, organized by the Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi (KVS) here on Sunday, and addressing media persons later, Dr. Swaminathan said farmers in Kuttanad, which is only the second place in the world where cultivation is done below sea level, had mastered the technique over the past 150 years.

However, with sea water levels across the globe rising steadily due to climate change, there was a need to strengthen and develop the technique of below sea-level farming and to evolve efficient methods to deal with soil and pest-related problems faced by farmers apart from learning to manage flood and salinity threats.

The training and research institute, which would require about 15 acres, could be set up by the State Government. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) was willing to extend all technical support for the institute, which would benefit not just Kuttanad, but also other coastal regions and places like Lakshwadeep, the Maldives, the Sunderbans and a number of SAARC countries as well.

The centre, apart from researching on both sea water farming and below sea-level farming, could train scientists, focus on capacity building and also help preparation of contingency plans and alternatives to help coastal climate change refugees. Computer simulations of different weather conditions would be used for the studies.

Earlier, at the workshop, Dr. Swaminathan said that with the Copenhagen Summit failing to bring out a legally binding document with firm commitments from the governments, hope was now on the summit planned at Mexico in December this year. Reduction of green house gas emissions, financial compensation to countries that had not made any ‘contribution’ to atmospheric pollution, but who were the worst sufferers of its impact, and how technology transfer could be made to these countries should prominently figure in the discussions at Mexico, he said.

The ecologically fragile Kuttanad would have to be prepared for a new era of climate change. Climate-resilient crop varieties would have to be developed while climate literacy through mass media should be ensured. With South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa to suffer severely from climate change, and food and water security, to be the biggest casualties, productivity and profitability of small farms had to be enhanced along with livelihood security. The future of food security would be based on home-grown food, he said.

Suggesting that Kuttanad be developed in order to be selected as a Globally Important Agriculture Heritage Site (GIAHS) under the United Nation’s Food Agriculture Organization’s new initiative, Dr. Swaminathan also stressed on the need for a larger movement to conserve agricultural heritage.

MSSRF Advisor S. Balaravi, KVS executive director Fr. Thomas Peelianickal and a number of environmental activists and experts also participated in the one-day workshop.