Alternative farming techniques to cope with changing climate conditions highlighted

With recurring natural disasters causing enormous losses to the agriculture sector and forcing several farmers in Kuttanad to abandon farming, experts have called for strict adherence to the crop calendar and adopting alternative farming techniques to cope with changing climate conditions.

K.G. Padmakumar, Director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea level Farming, Thottapally, says there is a need for serious thinking on the way forward for agriculture in Kuttanad. “As entrusted by the State government, we prepared a crop calendar for Kuttanad and the same was accepted and released by the Chief Minister last year. Kuttanad consists of six zones and they are all highly heterogeneous. People practice different farming patterns in these zones. The crop calendar was prepared after considering all the factors. But the government is yet to take meaningful steps to implement it,” he says.

A resident of Kuttanad, he says recurring floods have dashed hopes of the people of the region and many are contemplating leaving the place altogether. “Farmers feel they can’t go on like this. They have realised the importance of following the crop calendar. Various departments and agencies need to work together to implement the calendar by providing farmers seeds on time, construct/repair bunds, dewatering, among other things,” he says, adding implementation of the calendar will help standardise the operation of the Thanneermukkom barrage to a certain extent.

Apart from following the calendar, Mr. Padamakumar also recommends practising alternative farming — one paddy one fish, cage and pen fish farming, floating agriculture, and so on as part of adapting to the changing conditions.

G. Nagendra Prabhu, associate professor and principal investigator of the Centre for Research on Aquatic Resources at SD College, says alternative farming strategies need to be identified and adopted after necessary research and development. “Climate change will soon make it difficult to carry out traditional farming activities. We need to think out of the box. One such technology is floating agriculture or modified hydroponics. In flood-prone countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, people use it to grow more than 20 different types of vegetables,” he says.

Floating agriculture is a way of utilising areas that are waterlogged for long periods of time in the production of food. A few years ago a team led by Mr. Prabhu successfully completed a research project on this aspect at SD College.

As part of the study, aquatic weeds, mainly water hyacinth, were collected and allowed to rot in a pond creating floating beds. Seeds of ladies finger, chillies, and cow pea were planted in balls made of decayed hyacinth. The germinated plants were later transplanted into the water hyacinth beds. “Their growth was normal and without any obvious problems. Using aquatic weeds can also help minimise its impact on the waterbodies,” says Mr. Prabhu.

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