As Kuttanad becomes vulnerable to climatic variations, the most disastrous impact will be on food production and the people depending on paddy cultivation for their livelihood.
The recent flood has crippled the rice bowl of Kerala with a devastating effect on paddy cultivation. The second crop has been washed out and the fields are in no shape to yield harvest.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared Kuttanad’s below sea level farming system a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS), and the practice of farming is largely based on both flood control and salinity management through the Thanneermukkom saltwater barrier and Thottappally spillway.
Time for new calendar
Experts say it is time to prepare a new crop calendar in response to climate variability.
“Kuttanad is at a critical juncture due to floods and sinking of land. It is a place sandwiched between sea and mountains and is vulnerable to climate change. We have already started witnessing signs of climate change. Beyond damage to crops, floods are destabilising the lives of people in the region. As far as agriculture and livelihood is concerned, we should ponder making changes to the crop calendar. The calendar should be linked to the climate pattern,” K.G. Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea level Farming, Thottapally, told The Hindu.
Dr. Padmakumar says people need to be oriented to sustainable development.
Part of an ecosystem
“Kuttanad is part of a wetland ecosystem and we should not create a Dubai or Singapore in Kuttanad. We should find a balance between economic and environmental sustainability,” he added.
At present, farmers produce two crops a year, with sowing for the puncha season taking place between October and November and additional season between May and June. Last year, sowing during the puncha season, which witnesses the largest acreage of paddy cultivation in the district, was delayed due to unseasonal rain that forced farmers to defer their plans.
However, farmers seem sceptical about bringing drastic changes to the crop calendar.
“Other than kayal fields and a few other padasekharams, paddy cultivation is taking place only once a year in Kuttanad. This is due to floods inundating fields, especially in upper Kuttanad. At the same time, we cannot make any major changes to the crop calendar as delay in sowing during the puncha season will affect the harvest due to summer rain,” P.A. Thomas, secretary, Mulavanakary Padashekara Samiti, says.
Mr. Thomas, however, said sowing in an area should be conducted on different dates.
“We should bring some order during the sowing period. As sowing generally takes place between October 15 and November 15, farmers under a Krishi Bhavan should sow seeds on different dates as this will help avoid issues such as shortage of labour and availability of paddy harvesting machines in that area.”