Key Result Area I : BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION AND ENHANCEMENT
Wayanad is quite rich in species that are important for food security, which, over the years, have fallen into disuse due to a multitude of reasons. Wayanad is also well-known for a high degree of endemism and species richness of the flora which is also at great stress. The landscape of Wayanad is an interspersing of valleys and hills with forests, coffee and tea plantations, paddy fields, vegetables and other crops. Recently, paddy fields are facing the increased onslaught of replacement with commercial crops that are sprayed with pesticides and insecticides which destroy the well-balanced ecology of the area.
CAbC understands the importance of agrobiodiversity, which plays a major role in maintaining the ecological balance of the area. Hence, our work has been focused on conserving and enhancing the agrobiodiversity through a wide range of projects. The Centre started its efforts with a Community Agrobiodiversity Conservation Movement in the District for empowering local communities in chronicling and documenting bio-resources and associated traditional knowledge. The movement was a success as it brought out People's Biodiversity Registers (PBR) for four Grama Panchayaths and inspired the Panchayat Raj Institutions and local community to implement conservation oriented programmes in their localities. The major conservation programmes of CAbC fall under the following key areas of biodiversity.
Neglected and Under-utilised Crops
(Under utilised plant diversity of food and nutritional value and establishing home gardens)
In 2000, CAbC initiated the programme on conservation of neglected and under-utilized food crops with the aim of enhancing the household food security of tribal groups through sustainable use of wild and traditionally cultivated species. A major research study in this regard sought to focus attention on the different approaches and pattern of utilization and conservation of such under utilized and neglected food plants.
The cultural and spiritual importance of yam diversity as well as their value as food is well recognized by the indigenous communities. However, many cultivars of the edible Dioscorea are being discarded due to erosion of cultural values and popularity of potatoes. To redress the issue, CAbC established Community Seed Banks and integrated it with on-farm conservation through farmers' groups. Identification of traditional farmers, collection of planting materials of 23 cultivars, collaboration with research institutes like Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (CTCRI), Thiruvananathpuram, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore and Regional Research Laboratory (RRL), Thiruvanathapuram through their technical inputs for nutritional analysis as well as value-addition and also, establishment of market linkages marked the initial years.
Highlights of the year 2009 - 2010
By 2007, the work on the under utilized food crops led to the launch of a pilot initiative of establishing home gardens in tribal hamlets. Currently, it is being implemented in five tribal hamlets (250 tribal households) at Ponkuzhy, Kadambakattu and Kuzhimoola (Kattunaikka as inhabitants); Ponkuzhy and Kuttimoola (Paniya as inhabitants), as a result of the success of the first intervention at Ponkuzhy Kattunaika Colony, Muthanga.
The programme, though slow in spreading, has made impressive strides as the usually reluctant tribal communities are now enthusiastically preparing the cultivation space well in advance and assembling the seed materials on their own. A remarkable change is in the scenario of people who are now cooking tubers in the lean months in contrast to the earlier years when it was difficult for them to get food. This is attested by the local teachers as school children are no longer clamouring for food by 10 in the morning!
One of the notable results of this intervention of this year has been the incredible harvests in the tribal colonies 9,121 kg yams with 4,527 kg of Dioscorea, 2,140 kg of Elephant Foot Yam and 2,462 kg of Colocasia. To continue and upscale the programme, seed materials of 1,325 kg of Dioscorea, 720 kg of Colocasia, 600 kg of Elephant Foot Yam and 100 kg of arrow root, and 3 varieties of sweet potato and 7 varieties of plantain has been given to a new set of tribal hamlets. Another positive progress has been the facilitation of community level germplasm centres at Puthoorvayal and Madakki to ensure convenient and sustainable supply of seed materials. In the campus of CAbC, a rich collection of the neglected and under- utilized crops not only serves for germplasm conservation but also to communicate the richness of such food crops:
CAbC's effort for the capacity building of tribal people has resulted in the formation of a plant nursery group consisting of 7 women and 5 men at Kuttimoola Tribal Colony. The group, with the financial support of Tribal Department, has established a 2,000 sq. feet nursery structure to raise 25,000 seedlings at a time and has made a steady progress in their profit margins. This is a notable development as members of the tribal groups usually do not come forth for such activities.
The Department of Tribal Welfare and District Panchayath has requested CAbC to design and implement tuber crop based food security programme for tribal groups at various parts of the District and towards this, a tuber crop diversification programme has been initiated at the Vattakundu Kattunaikka colony in collaboration with the Tribal Department.
Speciality Rice Varieties
(Specialty rice varieties of Kerala and promoting on-farm conservation of traditional rice varieties)
Recognizing the importance of rice fields and landraces of rice for the richness of agrobiodiversity, the socio-economic background and the ecological as well as economic value of paddy fields, CAbC began its work on rice conservation programmes in 1998. Specific programmes for promoting economically important specialty rice varieties were launched in 2005, under which thrust was given to validate and commercialize medicinal and aromatic rice varieties of Wayanad. A survey on rice cultivation showed that around 100 traditional rice varieties were cultivated in the past, but has now dwindled to about a mere 16 varieties.
The key activities included awareness generation, training and capacity building for farmers, production and distribution of quality seeds of rice varieties, introduction of advanced technologies for increasing rice yield, promotion of economically important traditional rice varieties, market linkage & value addition and promotion of organic rice farming. Awareness creation by means of posters, write-ups, popular articles, documentary, radio talk shows, and publication of a regular magazine `Vayal' was adopted.
Seed multiplication programmes were initiated for production of quality seeds of economically important traditional rice varieties for distribution and multiplication amongst farmers. Participatory mode of seed purification, wherein scientists work to strengthen farmers' informal research and development system, was adopted.
System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was introduced to the farmers in 2001 to boost rice yield. Traditional rice varieties like Veliyan, Gandhakasala, Chennellu, and Navara were used for the experimentation. Suitable modifications were made to System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to suit the field conditions of Wayanad.
Due to our efforts, an additional five varieties were collected and distributed to the farmers, which has now resulted in the cultivation of 21 traditional varieties. A traditional short duration (60 days) rice variety Arupathaam cheera was also identified. An interesting landrace traditionally known as 'Kaliyan' was collected which is mixed and sown along with 'Veliyan' to increase the yield of the latter.
CAbC in consultation with farmers, political leaders, Government officials, members of Panchayath Raj Institutions, NGO representatives, agricultural professionals and scientists prepared a policy document on the possibilities of promoting rice cultivation in the District. The report was widely circulated among all Panchayath Raj Institutions for taking measures to arrest the decline of area under rice cultivation.
Adding efforts to the preliminary interventions, specialty rice varieties like Navara, Chennellu (medicinal), Gandhakasala, Mullanchanna (aromatic) etc., with good market potential were selected for mass multiplication and market linkages were created for generating economic stake in conservation. Among the specialty rice category, the prime one - Navara, the medicinal rice of Kerala, has qualities of a drug and is used internally in many ailments and externally as an application to muscle-wasting, burns and scalds.
Highlights of the year 2009 - 2010
The project, in its final year, is conducting clinical trials with Navara rice in collaboration with the Institute of Applied Dermatology, Kasaragod. In this period, Wayanad District Tribal Development Action Council (WTDAC) facilitated by the Centre applied for the Genome Saviour Award instituted by the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmer's Rights Authority under the Ministry of Agriculture for recognition of Kurichiya and Kuruma tribal communities in conserving traditional varieties. As a result, these tribal communities have received national recognition with the 2nd Plant Genome Saviour Award for conserving 20 traditional rice varieties, a major boost to the tribal communities for their conservation ethics and for CAbC which hopes to intensify the work with communities for their legal and genetic literacy.
Reinforcing the need to preserve valuable ecosystems like paddy fields, CAbC has been continuously conducting meetings amongst the Padasekhara Samithies of the District to communicate the importance of paddy ecosystem. Paddy fields harbour enormous plant and animal diversity that are of importance not just to communities for their food needs but also for the ecological services they render and hence, a research study to understand the biological diversity of the paddy fields of the District has also been undertaken.
(RET plant species and promoting integrated conservation)
Since its inception in 1997, CAbC has been focusing on conservation of the Rare, Endemic and Threatened (RET) species of Western Ghats. The efforts in this regard started with documentation of the floristic diversity of Wayanad region and the whole programme has operated in three distinct phases each with a specific target. A floristic study to unravel the angiosperm diversity of the area highlighted the biological significance of the region that provides habitat for about 25% of the Rare, Endemic and/or Threatened flowering plant species of Western Ghats. A total of 1,950 flowering plants have been documented, with 32 Red Data Species and 550 endemics of Western
Discerning the reality that poor natural regeneration is posing severe threat to a good number of RET species in Wayanad; attention was drawn towards adopting suitable ex situ conservation measures at the Centre. It led to the establishment of a conservation garden with 125 orchid species, 30 fern species, 156 endemic tree species and 60 accessions of wild tuber crops and a CAbC herbarium with more than 8000 specimens of flowering plants of Wayanad.
As a follow up, the second phase was implemented in the year 2004, paying attention to the conservation of ten selected RET plant species of Wayanad by way of integrating conservation and livelihood security of the community. The species were selected giving thrust to the demand of the forest dwelling people for their food, health and livelihood. The target was achieved through the community-oriented multiplication of selected species and by adopting both in situ and ex situ conservation measures towards ensuring their subsequent availability.
The third phase of the programme was initiated in 2005 to mark the 80th birthday of Prof.
M. S. Swaminathan, envisaged to accelerate the Center's conservation efforts through an increased number of target species and an expanded outreach beyond the boundaries of Wayanad. Towards this, a novel approach was adopted by means of partnership building in conservation as well as research by initiating fellowship schemes providing opportunities to meritorious candidates in the field of conservation. Sir Dorabji Tata Trust was open to this novel idea and supported this innovative project.
Targeting the conservation of 80 RET plant species, eight doctoral programmes were initiated in collaboration with five multi-disciplinary institutions viz. CAbC, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi, Centre for Medicinal Plant Research, Arya Vaidya Sala (CMPR, AVS), Kottakkal, Sree Narayana Mangalam (SNM) College, Maliankara and Centre for Research in Indigenous Knowledge, Science & Culture(CRIKSC), Kozhikkode. Each research fellow was entrusted with the responsibility of collection and conservation of ten target species, and to take up complete study of the species giving emphasis to their distribution, taxonomy, ecology and conservation biological aspects.
The forum for RET formed in 2007 to ensure open-ended participation of organizations and individuals working for the cause of conservation of RET species has been conducting workshops and discussions on themes that will equip people to work efficiently towards research and outreach for conservation. Environmental education and awareness campaigns have been the major outreach methods for enhancing and ensuring a concerted action towards RET Conservation.