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Pokkali Rice: An Age-Old Crop Facing Modern-Day Challenges

How policy of cultivating fish is risking traditional rice variety

by Azra Alware
Banner of Pokalli rice advertisement on display

The traditional rice variety known as Pokkali is cultivated along Kerala’s coastline in India. It is a distinctive crop that has adapted to grow in the region’s salty, wet soils, making it an enduring crop. For regional farmers, it is a crucial food crop given that it can withstand flooding and salty water. 

The distinct flavour, fragrance, and texture of Pokkali rice set it apart from other kinds of rice. It is cultivated in a traditional method called Pokkali farming by flooding the fields with brackish water. The coastal ecological systems of Kerala have benefited considerably from this traditional farming method. In order to grow Pokkali rice, seawater must be allowed to enter the fields during high tide and then be drained away during low tide. This process creates a distinctive brackish water habitat by preserving the natural balance of saltwater and freshwater. Farming practices rooted in centuries of tradition and knowledge are deeply ingrained in local customs and culture. These methods have become an integral part of the community’s way of life.

Health and Environmental benefits of Pokkali Rice

Pokkali rice is a nutrient-dense crop and has a number of advantages for human well-being. Firstly, this rice is a nourishing food source because it is packed with vital components including proteins, carbs, and minerals like iron and zinc. Secondly, Pokkali rice is also low in fat and cholesterol, making it a great option for health-conscious people.

In addition to being highly nutritious, Pokkali rice is noted for its environmentally beneficial qualities. Pokkali rice is a saltwater tolerant crop that helps in minimising soil salinity, a significant environmental issue in coastal areas. Also, Pokkali rice cultivation requires minimal investment in fertilisers and pesticides.

How Is Pokkali Rice Cultivated?

Pokkali rice is grown using traditional farming techniques that are particularly suited to the specific ecological conditions of coastal areas. Farmers use ecological pest-control techniques and prefer organic manure to chemical fertilisers. Here are three traditional pest control methods used:

  • Biological Control: Farmers rely on natural predators and beneficial organisms to control pests. They encourage the presence of beneficial insects, such as spiders and ladybugs, that prey on pests like aphids and caterpillars. 
  • Crop Rotation: Crop rotation is practiced to disrupt pest cycles and minimize pest infestations. Different crops are grown in succession, alternating with Pokkali rice, to break the life cycle of pests that specifically target rice plants. 
  • Companion Planting: Farmers often interplant Pokkali rice with other crops or plants that have natural pest-repellent properties. Certain herbs and aromatic plants are strategically placed to repel insects and pests that could damage the rice crop.

A multi-stress management strategy is implemented for Pokkali rice cultivation in order to facilitate the crop’s adaptation to the stress conditions. The approach incorporates seed treatment, nitrogen management, and water management to boost the crop’s resistance to a range of biotic and abiotic obstacles: seed treatment techniques enhance seed resilience, nitrogen management optimizes plant growth and resistance, and water management ensures ideal soil moisture levels. These strategies collectively help the crop adapt to challenging conditions, improve disease resistance, and increase yields.

Grains of Pokalli Rice

Credits: Hakai Magazine

Fish culture in Pokkali fields to impact Pokkali rice cultivation

A recent government policy proposes allowing fish culture in the Pokkali fields. It is likely that the fish culture in the Pokkali fields will have detrimental effects on rice farming and the environment. Farmers and experts agree that increasing the amount of water diverted from the rice paddies in order to grow fish culture in the Pokkali fields will decrease the amount of water available for rice growth. 

  • Poorer rice yields: The spread of fish culture in Pokkali fields could lead to lower rice yields, impacting the livelihoods of farmers and communities that depend on rice cultivation for their financial and nutritional security.
  • Environmental contamination: The use of pesticides and antibiotics in fish farming may contaminate nearby water supplies and soil, causing harm to the environment and potentially affecting the health of ecosystems.
  • Loss of traditional knowledge: The introduction of fish farms could challenge the traditional cultivation practices. It could eventually lead to a loss of traditional knowledge and practices that have been passed down through generations.
  • Cultural heritage: The modification of the traditional agricultural system may result in the loss of cultural heritage associated with Pokkali cultivation, further diminishing the cultural identity and traditions of the local community.
  • Need for thorough evaluation: Prior to implementing any changes to the traditional agricultural system, it is crucial to thoroughly assess the potential effects on rice yields, the environment, traditional knowledge, and cultural heritage to ensure sustainable and responsible decision-making.

What is the Road Ahead?

If fishing is allowed in pokkali farms, the cultivation of Pokkali rice can be challenging. It is necessary that the government resolves the conflicts of fostering economic growth and protecting the environment and conventional methods of farming. It also needs to address the social and economic concerns of farmers relying on Pokkali cultivation for their livelihood. The possible effects of any suggested modifications, on rice production and the regional ecosystem must be thoroughly considered.

Finding strategies to encourage ecotourism and sustainable agriculture in the area is one potential answer. These strategies can help address harnessing economic benefits while simultaneously protecting the region’s natural and cultural legacy.  Farmers who use conventional farming techniques can be provided with additional support for marketing their produce.  It can help farmers sustain their practices and livelihoods while preserving local traditions.

To ensure that any modifications and initiatives are socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable, it is crucial to involve all the stakeholders like farmers, and experts in the decision-making processes. Such comprehensive strategy can not only address the concerns and aspirations of all the stakeholders but also preserve ecological diversity.


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1 comment

Carroll Barnett September 11, 2023 - 5:00 pm

I do trust all the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for newbies. May just you please lengthen them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.


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