Paddy in brine

When the devastating floods in August submerged large tracts of farmland across Kerala, the Pokkali paddy variety, which grows to a height of up to 2 m, survived the rising waters. The GI-tagged Pokkali is a saltwater-tolerant paddy grown in the coastal fields of Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts. Endemic to central Kerala, the variety is now grown in only over 5,000 hectares, a drop from over 25,000 hectares a few decades ago, due to high labour cost and poor returns.The single-season paddy is raised in saltwater fields between June and November followed by a season of fish-farming. After the harvest, the paddy stubble in the fields acts as food and shelter for shrimp and small fish. Fish excreta and scales, along with the decomposed stubble, provide excellent natural manure for another season of Pokkali.Today, this farming tradition is under threat. While Pokkali rice fetches a good Rs. 110 a kg, the production does not compensate the farmer for the strenuous, labour-intensive cultivation. Lack of labour has forced farmers to try using mechanised tillers and rice planters for cultivation lately, but harvest remains labour-intensive.Pokkali rice is consumed locally. With just a few farmers growing the crop now, local societies, cooperative banks and MGNREGA groups have stepped in to protect this variety of rice, which the local people believe has medicinal properties.

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