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‘Below Sea Level Farming’ Transforms Kerala Agriculture

MS Swaminathan, a revered scientist in Kerala's Kuttanad region, devised a renowned agricultural package. While it earned global recognition, its implementation disappointed local farmers. Nonetheless, it led to Kuttanad's wetland agriculture system receiving FAO's Global Agricultural Heritage System status.

Shivangi Rai
It was because of Swaminathan’s relentless efforts that Kuttanad’s wetland agriculture system got the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Global Agricultural Heritage System status in 2013. (Image Courtesy- Twitter)
It was because of Swaminathan’s relentless efforts that Kuttanad’s wetland agriculture system got the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Global Agricultural Heritage System status in 2013. (Image Courtesy- Twitter)

MS Swaminathan, a distinguished scientist with a deep understanding of agriculture and a friendly demeanour, was a source of pride for the people of Kerala's Kuttanad region.

He dedicated his efforts to revive indigenous agricultural practices and gaining global recognition for them.

However, when devastating floods struck Kuttanad, the state and its residents recalled Swaminathan's invaluable contribution—the 'Kuttanad package.'

This comprehensive initiative aimed to safeguard and restore the fragile ecology of the area situated below sea level. It not only addressed livelihood concerns but also proposed the construction of elevated roads to facilitate the smooth flow of water from canals during floods and monsoons.

Despite the meticulous planning and hard work put into the 'Kuttanad package,' experts criticized the state for its inadequate implementation.

To the farmers of Kuttanad, it is known as the 'Swaminathan package,' and they believe that no one else could comprehend Kerala's unique agricultural ecosystem as he did.

Swaminathan's unwavering dedication led to Kuttanad's wetland agriculture system being recognized as a Global Agricultural Heritage System by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2013. When the state government sought his assistance in designing a plan for Kuttanad, Swaminathan personally toured the region, engaging with farmers to gain a deep understanding of their needs and challenges. K G Padmakumar, the director of the International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea Level Farming in Kuttanad, fondly recalls spending several days with Swaminathan as they travelled and planned the package together.

Swaminathan recognized the interplay between ecological changes and agriculture, food production, and security. He had a personal connection to Kuttanad, as his ancestors had played a role in pioneering this unique farming system. His work on the 'Kuttanad package' was holistic, addressing the intricacies of nature, crop cultivation, and the economics of farming.

Unfortunately, despite the allocation of funds to various departments and institutions, the initiative did not yield the expected results, a fact lamented by agri-climatologist C S Gopakumar, who referred to Swaminathan as the "father of the green revolution."

In essence, MS Swaminathan's dedication and expertise left an indelible mark on Kuttanad's agriculture, earning it global recognition, but the full realization of his vision faced obstacles in implementation.

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