Though the government is keen on promoting organic paddy farming, large tracts of Pokkali fields, where the organic practice of cultivation is in vogue, remain fallow. The government-supported One paddy, one rice scheme, intended to raise organic paddy varieties and aquaculture alternately in the same crop year, is fudged by vested interests, virtually threatening organic farmers’ survival.
“The State had about 25,000 hectares of fields under Pokkali cultivation a quarter century ago. It has declined to less than 5,000 hectares now,” says Francis Kalathungal, general convener, Pokkali Samrakashana Samithi. He attributed the situation to the neglect meted out by authorities, coupled with the manipulative actions of a lobby in fisheries. The higher monetary benefits from shrimp farming have enticed farmers to embrace it, discarding paddy.
The government envisaged a scheme of organic paddy farming, hand in hand with aquaculture, with a view to protecting wetlands and paving the way for cleaner environment.
“Pokkali farms do not need fertilizers or pesticides. The government provides pumping subsidy to padasekharams to prepare the fields.
But the subsidy is being misused by those farmers who take up farming for namesake. Such farmers are hand in glove with the fisheries lobby and indulge in activities to discourage Pokkali farming so that aquaculture can be taken up for the entire crop year. There is no level-playing field for the paddy farmers,” Mr. Francis said.
The outer bund of the Pokkali fields at Maruvakkad, bordering Alappuzha, was recently breached. It was a deliberate activity by the fisheries lobby, according to farmers.
“Alappuzha district has over 900 hectares of Pokkali fields. Farming was taken up last year in about 100 hectares only. The plan is to extend it to 630 hectares this year,” says Principal Agricultural Officer A.G. Abdul Karim.
The fisheries lobbies were apparently active to denigrate the cause of Pokkali, he said. A committee headed by the District Collector has been set up to facilitate Pokkali farming.
One of the issues faced by the farmers is scarcity of seeds. The traditional farmers used to retain the seed for the subsequent crop, but the practice has been discontinued by many under the prevailing distressing situation. The farmers are forced to depend on the Seed Corporation of India for their requirement. But the seeds have reportedly been found to contain a mix of weeds beyond permitted levels, resulting in poor yield.
It needs a coordinated activity by various agencies and departments such as Revenue, Police, Fisheries and local bodies to protect the interests of the Pokkali farmers at large to make it a successful practice, according to the farmers.