Sunday, June 2, 2013

Making biodiversity a corner stone


The first pillar of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala’s Fair Trade + 3 is biodiviersity. The aim: that every FTAK’s farm should be like a tropical rainforest boasting a rich, dense, diversity of crops. The Western Ghats area, where many of FTAK’s farmers work, has recently been declared a world heritage sight. This was in recognition of the sites biophysical and ecological processes, which also help to regulate India’s monsoon rains. It is the 8th most biodiverse place on the planet, in fact there are 325 globally threatened species of flora, fauna, birds, amphibians and reptiles and it’s one of the few places left in the world where new species are still being discovered!

A rare frog found only in Eravikulam National Park, Kerala

Despite the world wide recognition that comes with the World Heritage Site award, there was local opposition from the Kerala local government and in particular Karnataka local government who voted unanimously to oppose the status.  The local authorities were not alone in their opposition and were joined by the church and the vast majority of farmer organisations (FTAK being the exception to the rule)! The reason? There is a perception that the rules and regulations which come along with status would hinder the development opportunities of the area.

Madhav Gadhil, with input from an expert panel, put together a controversial report  outlining about how to conserve the Western Ghats in line with its new status. The recommendations included to cancel damaging hydroelectric projects and move towards organic agriculture. The report was met with lots of opposition, but not to from FTAK and if you read it you will see why as there are many echoes of FTAK’s philosophy. Here are some snippets of common ground from the report:

In support of organic agriculture “The need for curtailing the use of chemical pesticides and fungicides is of greater priority in the Western Ghats than elsewhere, as application of these poisons in the higher hills gets carried downstream polluting the entire wetland systems.”

“Use of chemical manure has not only killed the soil biota but also has even changed the soil structure affecting soil fertility in the Western Ghats. This leads to application of an increasing quantum of chemical fertilizers without any scientific basis.”

In support of mixed crops “The large extent of monoculture plantations such as tea, coffee, and cardamom needs to integrate more indigenous crops, especially food crops and edible fruiting trees best suited to the locality, to help reduce soil erosion, improve water holding capacity of the soil, enhance productivity and, improve economic returns from unit area. ”

However some do see the opportunity for farming and for the planet that this status brings, V. Oommen the chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board said the status could be used as a leverage to access funds from the United Nation to revive traditional farming methods and promote organic farming. For FTAK the report justifies many of their existing policies and practices and could open up new opportunities.

A trip to look at the biodiversity of the area

To make a convincing case to persuade farmers to sign up to the concept of biodiversity FTAK are busy assessing the economic case. If they can prove that greater biodiversity = a greater income for farmers then they will win the argument. I will report back on how this goes as they gather evidence to make their proposition!
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