Starting in 2017 with 10 close-knit farmers, TAPCo. now works with 85 farmers over a collective paddy landholding of about 193 acres.
But why we got to this place had to largely do with the following realities panning out across the district over the years.
Role of TAPCo.
Given this unsettling backdrop, TAPCo. felt a real need to create an extension support system that would establish a strong sense of faith and equity between producers and consumers. In the process, set up a farm enterprise that is ecologically sustainable, economically viable, and socially just.
To be able to get anywhere close to these triple values, it had to be done collectively and expansively. The idea was to disrupt the long journeys of many farmers across acres of farmland into renewing the social contract: that of ensuring safe food, safe water, and good health to all. In turn, farmers in the least had to be assured a fair price for their commitment to the society at large.
Appropriating Paddy/Wet Lands
The personal agony of paddy farmers in Wayanad of being denied a fair price while offloading their produce to procuring agencies has had deep agro-ecological and social ramifications. And so, the prevailing sentiment against paddy cultivation as a loss making occupation/enterprise. Farmers continue to shift to more promising crops, such as banana, ginger; in turn unbunding vast paddy lands to let-out standing water.
Wet/paddy lands, that serve as major soakpits for ground water recharge, are consequently diminishing in the district. (Wayanad has seen a reduction in paddy cultivation from approximately 40,000 hectares until 30 years ago to 8,026 hectares as of 2017-2018 (Dept. of Economics and Statistics, Kerala). Thirunelly Panchayath, where we work, has seen paddy cultivation reduce to about 1/3rd in the last 10 years, from 1100 hectares to 440 hectares).
The other big lucrative interest is filling and sizing up wet/paddy lands for construction. And evidently so, Thirunelly panchayath, famed for its vast forest reserves and extensive valleys of paddy lands, now ranks third as the most water stressed panchayaths in the district.
Dwindling Traditional Paddy Varieties
The cultural heritage, weather hardiness, and nutritional qualities of the famed traditional paddy varieties not withstanding, lab developed varieties over the years have become the mainstay crops in the region, much like everywhere else. A systematic promotion of seeds and practices by the Green Revolution extension system has played a huge role in cutting into time and nature-tested varieties and practices.
Apart from farmers losing control over their seeds, their preferences for short stalks, shorter life cycles, big yields, everything quick and flush, has led to an extensive use of chemicals on the farmland. Crops are fertiliser propped and pesticide/weedicide managed on an enormous scale.
Compromising Soil and Ground Water
Apart from being reservoirs of both surface and groundwater, paddy lands are also a treasure trove of biodiversity and nutrition. The paddy land ecosystem provides a range of leafy vegetables and additional sources of nutrition like crabs, snails, and fish that are an integral but steadily disappearing part of local diet. Published studies point to nearly 95 species of leafy herbs that communities living around paddy lands consume either as food or medicine.
But the indiscriminate use of chemical nutrients, pesticides, herbicides-weedicides in paddy lands is wiping off this nutrition base, besides posing health and environmental hazards. Standing crop on a scale of hundreds of acres is pumped with any number of agri-chemicals to ensure a flush crop, while tales of a million frogs croaking and a very busy mud crab population in paddy lands is becoming part of folklore.