Pollution threatens kole lands, says expert panel

Urban sewage, hospital waste, and pesticide residues are polluting kole lands, the ecologically fragile wetland ecosystems in Malappuram and Thrissur noted for the integrated farming of rice and fish.

An expert committee appointed by the State government has found that sewage pollution from urban areas was being directly discharged into the main canals in the kole lands. This, it observed, often led to mass mortality of fish. Organic waste from urban areas, hospital waste, and pesticide residue from paddy fields were identified as other sources of pollution.

The 12-member committee headed by B. Madhusoodana Kurup, Vice Chancellor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean studies, has proposed the enforcement of the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle by local bodies to bring the problem under control.

The committee was set up last year to propose policy interventions for sustainable farming in pokkali and kole lands. According to the report of the panel, the pokkali and kole fields had undergone an alarming decline from 24,000 hectares to 5,000 hectares over the last two decades. Only 1,000 hectares was currently under paddy cultivation, it says.

In its report submitted to the government, the committee has called for technological support to promote integrated farming of rice and fish on a rotational basis in pokkali and kole lands. A fish health management system focussing on a disease monitoring and surveillance mechanism and quarantine service has been proposed for kole fields.

The report proposes construction of outer bunds, deepening of feeder canals, and renovation of sluices in kole lands to ensure supply of water. It also calls for mechanisation to overcome the acute shortage of labour for paddy and fish farming in pokkali and kole lands.

The committee proposed the establishment of hatcheries under the State Fish Seed Authority to provide kole farmers with quality fish and scampi seeds. It also called for setting up low-cost, species-specific fish feed units in the public and private sectors. Infrastructure facilities for value addition of fish and establishment of a cold chain for marketing are other major recommendations.

Heritage value

The committee has mooted steps to preserve and conserve the declining pokkali fields in Alappuzha, Ernakulam, and Thrissur and maintain them as heritage farming villages. It calls upon the government to protect and preserve the salinity-tolerant pokkali land races and promote integrated farming of rice and fish on a rotational basis for nutrient recycling.

The panel proposes the establishment of a Pokkali Park at Kadamakudy panchayat equipped with facilities for processing and marketing of pokkali rice and value-added products. It also stresses the need to set up a seed bank for conservation and preservation of pokkali germplasm resources. Noting that multiple cropping of shrimp had resulted in ecological damage, crop failure and biodiversity loss, the committee has urged the government to issue a licence for shrimp farming only for pokkali fields raising one crop of paddy. The panel has mooted a policy for long-term leasing of pokkali fields for aquaculture to ensure ecological and economic sustainability. Crop insurance for pokkali rice and aqua farmers is another major recommendation. The report said that discharge of effluents from industrial units in and around Kochi, dumping of sewage and agricultural run off in the adjoining backwaters had led to crop loss in pokkali fields.