The Kerala Paristhiti Aikya Vedi, an umbrella organisation of environmental groups in the State, has proposed a support system for small farmers to help them play a major role in conserving the Western Ghats ecosystem.

A meeting of the Vedi, attended by representatives of various environmental organisations here on Wednesday, sought steps to prevent farmers from being exploited by vested interests trying to foment trouble in the name of the Kasturirangan report.

Highlighting the need to view farmers as guardians of the Western Ghats ecosystem, the meeting recommended a fund as payment for ecosystem services rendered by farmers.

Briefing the media, B. Sugathakumari said the meeting had proposed a cess on the power generated by hydel projects including the Idukki dam and the water from irrigation dams.

She said the fund would also mobilise resources from the levy of cess on the revenue generated by tourist resorts and industrial establishments. It would be set apart exclusively for the welfare of farmers who worked the land in the Western Ghats.

Former Agriculture Minister Mullakara Ratnakaran proposed a separate fund created by the State and Central governments to finance the switchover to organic farming and environment-friendly construction proposed by the Kasturirangan committee.

The fund, he said, could also be used to introduce a crop, health, and life insurance scheme for small farmers with landholdings less than five acres. “Farmers on their part, should recognise the need for certain controls to protect the ecosystem,” he said.

Vedi leaders stressed the need to impose strict controls on quarrying. “The unchecked proliferation of unauthorised quarries threatens to upset the equilibrium of the Western Ghats environment. The government has to crack down on this menace,” Ms. Sugathakumari said.

The meeting urged the State and Union governments to issue title-deeds to small famers who had settled in the Western Ghats region before January 1977.