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Climate change likely to hit cardamom farming: study

Concern over advancing dry climate in the Cardamom Hill Reserves

The looming threat of climate change could see Kerala grappling with a sharp drop in the production of cardamom, one of the spices that contributes to the State's economy.

A study conducted by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) in the Udumbanchola taluk of Idukki district has expressed concern over the advancing dry climate in the Cardamom Hill Reserves (CHR) and its impact on the ecosystem.

The local economy that depends on the sustainability of cardamom as the staple cash crop could be at risk unless an intervention strategy was chalked out soon, the study warns, citing changes in local climatic conditions.

A report brought out by the project wing of the board says the whole area is hurtling towards an imminent ecological disaster, underlining the need for urgent steps to conserve the biodiversity unique to the CHR. The grasslands and forested areas adjoining the traditional cardamom plantations have become vulnerable to logging, poaching, and land grabbing.

It observes that the loss of evergreen species on the top hills in the area had altered the rainfall pattern and brought down the number of rainy days. The continuous drizzling had changed to occasional heavy downpour, accelerating soil erosion and habitat loss, denuding hills and adding silt to reservoirs.

The study report says that a change of 4-5 degree centigrade in atmospheric temperature could bring catastrophic change to the entire region, turning the once verdant tropical rainforest area to a barren, rocky landscape and causing loss of biodiversity.

Highlighting the importance of vegetation in controlling climate change, it calls for enhancing the forest cover at least in the remaining denuded parts of the hills. “Climate change is a staggering stress in this unusual eco-climatic zone that can aggravate further habitat loss.”

The State's own cardamom ‘‘that launched a thousand ships'' and received very special government concessions right from the year 1822 could end up being included in the list of Rare, Endangered, and Threatened (RET) species unless conservation activities are taken up. The board feels that CHR can be a typical localised climate change model making it eligible for scientific studies.

The cumulative threat posed by logging, changes in land use, and indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides have also played havoc with the unique ecosystem of the CHR. Intensive and unsustainable cultivation of cardamom is equally to blame for the environmental degradation.

The KSBB has recommended strict controls on land use and a participatory method of biodiversity conservation involving Environment Management Committee and local stakeholders. A detailed land survey has also been proposed to demarcate the area under the Revenue and Forest Departments and identify encroachments.

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