"When I wake up in the morning, I am welcomed by sunlight reflecting through dewdrops in the paddy leaves of the vast fields. This view is one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences of my life", says 32-year-old Bino, an aspiring young farmer.
The story of Korangatti, a little hamlet in Adimali Panchayat of Kerala, is an inspiring one. A rare wetland region in the state of Kerala, Koranagatti had nearly 100 acres of paddy field at one time. Excessive cultivation using hybrid varieties of paddy left the lands fallow over time and paddy cultivation dwindled to less than 10 acres. This year, indigenous rice cultivation returned to the region with 42 acres of fallow land being converted into fertile fields, under the India High Range Mountain Landscape (IHRML) Project supported by GEF and led by UNDP.
Building trust among communities
Fixing small issues at the community level help to build trust and bring people together. For Korangatti this began with the issue of a small waterlogged canal. With their main source of water impaired, the people of Korangatti faced many issues, and the pandemic added to their woes. The IHRML team initiated cleaning the waterlogged canal and sought help from the Agriculture Department, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Haritha Keralam Mission, and the Minor Irrigation Department, and with their coordinated efforts ensured the clean up the canal in an expedited manner. This garnered the trust of the local, largely tribal, community.
With the sowing season approaching, the IHRML team also decided to conduct an exhibition of indigenous seed varieties in Korangatti. The exhibition was aimed at bringing to the local farmers’ attention the more viable alternatives like IR8 and Jaya that they had been working with in the past instead of hybrid varieties of paddy. Rice varieties of the high range landscape, like Koottu Mundakan (Malabar), Malli Kuruva, Thavala Kannan were re-introduced to them. The farmers were made aware of the importance of conserving the indigenous seed varieties and how that would in turn help in conservation of the wetlands.
This initiative drew robust participation from the locals, and 42 farmers decided to collectively plant indigenous rice varieties in the reclaimed fallow lands. For this, high quality indigenous rice seeds were supplied to the willing farmers through the Haritha Keralam Mission, with the help of the Agricultural Department and 27 acres of land were tilled and sown in June. The fields were lush with healthy crops ready for harvest in late December and early January. The Kuttu Mundakan variety has shown great promise, both in terms of produce and growth. While the overall yield seems to be somewhat less than for the hybrid seeds, the benefits reaped from the sowing of indigenous varieties are far greater: The fallow lands could be reclaimed for agriculture, the seeds can be used for replanting, and it helps conserve the rare wetlands of the region which were previously on the path of degradation.
Successful Land Use, Sustainable Conservation
"I have been cultivating paddy regularly for the last 50 years. In the last seven years, paddy cultivation in Korangatti has been limited to mere seven acres. But now, it is back and my heart fills with joy when I see ripe paddy waiting to be harvested", shares seventy-two-year-old Raghavan from the Korangatti tribal settlement. The responses of the farmers involved with the pilot project are filled with their enthusiasm. They understand the significance of their role in wetland and seed conservation. Though at present, the harvest is mostly intended for domestic consumption, the farmers are hopeful and have plans of establishing a Korangatti brand in the future. The immediate plans of the Farmers Committee include bringing more of fallow land under indigenous crop cultivation, next season.
The collective farming project has not only inspired a feeling of togetherness among the community but has also grown into a successful conservation venture. The reclamation and conservation of the paddy fields of Korangatti is of vast significance as it has not only helped to promote and conserve indigenous varieties of rice, but has also been integral in fostering stronger communities and evolving into a sustainable model for wetland conservation.
This blog was written by Karthika S. and Liji M. George in Malayalam and translated by Anupama Suneja. The Korangatti field activities were carried out by Tony Jose and Karthika S.