A farmer scientist in Wayanad sets a model for black pepper conservation

Updated - June 15, 2024 08:09 pm IST

Published - June 15, 2024 07:51 pm IST - KALPETTA

A. Balakrishnan in his small nursery with the pepper varieties developed by him.

A. Balakrishnan in his small nursery with the pepper varieties developed by him. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When the black pepper crop in the State faces a serious depletion for various reasons, a veteran farmer in Wayanad is trying out an innovative approach to address the issue.

K. Balakrishnan, 75, from Kammana in Wayanad conserves as many as 52 varieties of black pepper (Piper nigrum) on his one-acre farm, including three new varieties developed by him.

He has conserved 12 black pepper varieties endemic to Wayanad such as Kalluvally, Valankotta, and Uthirankotta. The most prominent among them is the Wayanadan Bold variety that has bigger berries compared to the other varieties.

Varieties such as Karimunda, Chumala Namban, and Kuthiravaali were collected from the Travancore area. Mr. Balakrishnan has meticulously collected pepper vines from across the State and maintains their germplasm on his farm.

Mr. Balakrishnan’s passion for pepper vines made him a farmer-scientist and plant breeder. ‘Aswathy’ is the first of the hybrid varieties developed by him by cross-pollinating Uthirankotta and Cheruvalli. ‘Suvarna’ is the second one developed by crossing-pollinating Karimunda and Cheruvalli, while ‘Preethy’ is the third that was developed by crossing Uthirankotta and Kuttikodi.

All the three varieties have the qualities of their parent plants and are high-yielding and disease-resistant, says Mr. Balakrishnan. The plants have the supreme ability to resist foot rot disease caused by a dreadful fungus and have drought tolerance capacity also.

The success of breeding in pepper enhanced Mr. Balakrishnan’s confidence, and he tried the same experiment with other crops. He attempted the breeding experiment in turmeric and made a distinct variety namely ‘916’. He also developed a new paddy variety ‘GS-1’ by crossing the Wayanadan Gandhakasala with North Indian Sona rice.

His work on germplasm conservation and plant breeding won him prestgious awards such as the National Innovation Award in 2009. He bagged the Farmer Scientist Award from the Kerala Agriculture University in 2008 and the Best Organic Farmer award from the Kerala State Biodiversity Board last year.

Mr. Balakrishnan is a passionate conserver and a proficient plant breeder too, said Joseph John, scientist, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation.

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