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National Biodiversity Award for Wayanad farmer

Ajith Kumar V R
Ajith Kumar V R

It is again a day to rejoice for N.M.Shaji of Illathuvayal, near Mananthavadi in Wayanad district of Kerala state. The National Biodiversity Authority ( NBA), the Statutory Body which performs facilitative, regulatory and advisory functions for the Government of India on issues of conservation, sustainable use of biological resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources, headquartered in Chennai, has decided to honour Shaji with a special citation as part of National Biodiversity Awards 2018.The award would be presented to him at a ceremony at the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University (PJTSAU) , Hyderabad on May 22, 2018.  NBA selected Shaji for his lifetime engagement in protecting genetic diversity of tuber crops. In addition to wild tubers and domestic tubers, he conserves a wide spectrum of paddy and vegetables using organic cultivation methods.

As many as 102 varieties of edible tubers, including medicinal and aromatic varieties, many species of trees, herbs, medicinal plants, and local fish varieties find a place on his plot. Shaji says as he belongs to a settler farmer family, agriculture is part of his culture. A few decades back, tubers including cassava, sweet potato, greater yam, taro, and elephant foot yam were the major energy sources of settler farmers and the tribes in Wayanad and they used to cultivate tuber varieties.

However, tuber cultivation has drastically declined owing to various reasons. While the new generation of the farm community is abandoning cultivation of traditional tuber crops, Shaji and his family have been conserving tuber seeds for the next generation.

He has also established a network of farmers through an informal seed distribution mechanism by which a farmer transfers seeds to another on condition that he should return the same amount next year.

He welcomes visitors, including students, farmers, and researchers, from various parts of the country to learn about his germplasm collection, which has been christened Kedaram. Shaji has visited different parts of the country to collect new varieties of tuber seeds.

Kerala Agriculture University (KAU) which mentors Shaji to do the organic farming of traditional crops is the agency that recommended his name for the award. In 2015, KAU recommended his name for National Plant genome Saviour Award instituted by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Right Authority, India  and that made him popular among the conservationists. KAU Vice Chancellor R.Chandrababu felicitated Shaji for his achievement at a function held at Thrissur campus. “ I am happy to see a Kerala farmer guided by the KAU getting this award. KAU has been constantly supporting the farming fraternity and hence this is a matter of pride for us as well”, said the Vice Chancellor.

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