Exploring linkages between the agricultural sector and the environment - Report on the Kerala Environment Congress organised by the Centre for Environment and Development at Thiruvananthapuram, between 16 -18 August 2012

The Congress was jointly organised by Centre for Environment and Development (CED), Thiruvananthapuram and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram 

Inauguration of the conference

Around 350 participants including eminent scientists, agricultural experts and students participated in the event. The conference was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Kerala, Sri. Oommen Chandy. Speaking on the occasion, the Chief Minister, highlighted that development and environment were linked and that the approach to the cause of agriculture and environment needed to be realistic since the state could not neglect both development and environment. He also pointed out that Kerala was one state having a very high reputation in preserving and protecting the forest cover, which was much  higher than the national average in the state. This was possible due to the will and awareness of the people of Kerala. He emphasised the need for a more realistic approach to deal with issues related to the agriculture and environment.

KEC inauguration

Inaugural speech by the Chief Minister of Kerala

He highlighted the current agricultural situation in the state, which was showing a decrease in productivity and production and attributed non availability of work force, less income generation from other crops, increased labour etc to this decrease. He informed that the Kerala Government was placing high importance on hi-tech farming and was planning for budgetary provisions.  The central as well as the state government were thus providing subsidy for hi- tech farming and organic farming was also to be promoted to save the environment. The Chief Minister promised that his government was willing to implement the recommendations of the congress.

Professor V N  Rajasekharan Pillai, Ex officio Principal Secretary & Executive Vice President, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), released the proceedings of KEC 2012, handing over a copy to Dr Radha Krishna Pillai, Director of Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB). The keynote address was delivered by Professor V N Rajasekharan Pillai who advocated for sustainable agriculture incorporating environmental health, economic profitability and equity.  He also directed attention at the environmental degradation caused by modern agriculture and ways to overcome the degradation. Mr Jyothilal, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Government of Kerala and the Vice-chancellor, Kerala Agricultural University (KAU), highlighted the relationship between the global warming, climate change and agriculture.  Professor V K Damodaran, Chairman, CED in his speech referred to the need that may arise in the near future in the agriculture sector namely, agriculture for energy development. Dr M Radhakrishna Pillai, Director, RGCB felicitated the function.

The conference was organised into XI technical sessions, comprising of the key note address, special address, invited presentations, general presentations, young scientist award presentations and the poster presentations. A total of sixty papers were selected for presentations of which forty were presented in the XI technical sessions including fourteen in the young scientist award category and seven under poster presentations.

Agriculture and water management - A presentation by Dr Kamalam Joseph, CWRDM

The conference presentations on Day 1

Session I: Special address

  • Food security, biotechnology and environment: Need for a balance between natural capital and man-made capital by Dr M Radhakrishna Pillai, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Thiruvananthapuram

Session II: Invited presentations

  • Agriculture and soil resources management in Kerala by Dr N P Premachandran, Director, Department of Soil Survey, Government of Kerala
  • Role of integrated watershed management programme (IWMP) in agriculture development by Dr A S K Nair, Emeritus Scientist & R&D Director, CED
  • Agricultural water management: Need for a paradigm shift by Dr Kamalam Joseph, Scientist & Division Head, Central Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), Kozhikode

Session III: Invited presentations

  • Agriculture and environmental pollution by Dr P S Harikumar, Scientist & Division Head, Central Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM)
  • Towards a sustainable system of innovation: The case of plantation sector in Kerala by Dr K J Joseph, Ministry of Commerce Chair, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram
  • Climate warming in the plantation belt of Kerala and its impact on natural rubber productivity by Dr James Jacob, Director, Rubber Research Institute of India, Kottayam
  • REDD+ and agriculture: Looking back to realities by Dr T R Vinod, Programme Director, CED

Dr M Radhakrishna Pillai in his presentation highlighted the role of biotechnology in attaining food security and sustainable environment. Dr. P. N Premachandran, Director, Soil Survey gave a detailed account of the soils of Kerala and how the information available in soil survey department could be made use of by farmers.   Dr A S K Nair, CED talked of how integrated watershed management could be profitably engaged in  NREGAS and the agricultural sector and how a revenue boundary based development could be shifted to watershed boundary based development.  Dr Kamalam Joseph, Scientist, CWRDM in her presentation,  talked about agriculture water management and provided the details of the various techniques of water conservation and emphasised the fact that water management needed to start from the point where the rain drops started falling. 

In the afternoon session,  Dr P S Harikumar, Scientist, CWRDM provided information about the pollutants in the environmental sectors produced as a consequence of agricultural activities. Dr K J Joseph, Professor, CDS, in his presentation explored the relation between ecology, economy and innovation on the sustainable development of the plantation sector in Kerala. Dr T R Vinod, Program Director, CED, explained the REDD+ concept and explained how it extended beyond the conventional aspects of deforestation and forest degradation to sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.

Session IV: General presentations
The following papers were presented during this session:

  • Effect of organic manure and chemical fertilisers on growth of pisum sativum by Dr Anila George
  • Vermicompost as a seed inoculant for reducing the fertiliser requirement and minimising environmental pollution by Meera A V
  • Synergistic effects of earthworms and effective microorganisms on vermicomposting by Dr Susha S Thara
  • The impact of lime application on lime requirement of soil under long term fertiliser experiment by Moossa P P
  • Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria for reducing the use of chemical fertilisers in transplanted rice by Dr Sheeja K Raj
  • Quality assessment of a single cell protein from vegetable waste by Lea Mathew
  • Distribution and diversity of bacterial population in the agricultural fields of Kuttanad by Dr Bindu M V

The conference presentations on Day 2

Session V: Special Address

  • Extent of climate change over India and its projected impact on Indian agriculture by Dr Y E A Raj, Director General, Regional Meteorological Centre, Chennai

Session VI: Invited presentations

Energy management for agriculture in a sustainable scenario - A presentation by Dr R V G Menon

  • Sustainable energy management for agriculture by Dr R V G Menon, Former Director, Agency for Non-Conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT)
  • Wealth from waste potentials in agriculture by Dr George Chakkachery, Director, Suchithwa Mission
  • Food for all: Alternatives to organic farming by Dr George Thomas, Professor of Agronomy, KAU
  • Homegardens as a distinct agro-ecological entity in Kerala by Dr Allan Thomas, Assistant Professor, KAU


Session VII: Invited presentations

  • Aquaculture and environment: Sustainability issues by Dr K G Padmakumar, Professor and Associate Director of Research, KAU, RARS, Kumarakom
  • Marine fishery development and climate change by Rani Mary George , Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Kochi
  • Rice based farming systems in Kerala by Dr N K Sasidharan, Associate Professor, KAU, Regional Agricultural Research Station, Kumarakom
  • Kuttanad below sea level farming system (KBSFS): A plan for its sustainable management by Dr N Anil Kumar, Scientist in Charge, Community Agro Biodiversity Centre, MSSRF, Wyanad

Day two of the congress started with the special address by Dr Y E A Raj on climate change over India and its projected impact on Indian agriculture where he discussed in detail the variations in rainfall observed over the three states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka. This was followed by a presentation by Dr R V G Menon, a noted social and environmental activist and  the former Director of ANERT who emphasised the prospects of solar energy in agriculture on the back drop of the recent black outs experienced by different states in India. Dr George Thomas, KAU, in his speech proposed that productivity, profitability and equity needed  to be the basis for sustainable agriculture. Dr Allan Thomas, KAU, elaborated on the relevance of home gardens as a distinct agro- ecological entity. 

Dr N Anil Kumar of MSSRF, presented a paper on sustainable management of the Kuttanad farming system. Dr  K G  Padmakumar, KAU, RARS Kumarakam, explained the possibilities of different fish farming practices relevant to Kerala.  The next presentation by Dr Rani Mary George of CMFRI highlighted the impact of climate change on marine fishery development. Dr N K Sasidharan, KAU, gave a detailed account of the importance of integration of fish with rice farming. Another highlight of the congress included a poster presentation and seven posters were presented on in the focal theme. The afternoon session was devoted for the presentation of papers in the young scientist award category.

Marine fishery development and climate change - A presentation by Dr Rani Mary George

Session VII: Poster presentations

  • Effect of bio-inoculants on composting and its effect on soil chemical and biological regimes for sustining soil health by Dr Aparna B
  • Ecologically sustainable intercropping system for summer rice fallows of Onattukara tracks by Bindhu J S
  • Physiological response of female workers during operation of a rotary weeder for paddy by Dr Bini Sam
  • Performance of rice varieties under aerobic conditions in Kerala by Dr Deepa Thomas
  • Ecofriendly management of plant diseases using Ganoderma sp. The medicinal mushroom by Dr Sajeena A
  • Variability in flowering and seeding behaviour of Neelayamari (Indigofera tinctoria L.) Accessions under open and shaded conditions by Dr Sarada S
  • Evaluation of traditional mango (Mangifera indica L.) Varieties of southern Kerala by Dr Simi S

Rice based farming systems in Kerala - A presentation by Dr Sasidharan

Session VIII: Young scientists award presentations

  • Aromatic rices adapted to unique environmental conditions of Wayanad District by Adheena Ram A
  • Impact of cuelure traps in the reduction of insecticide usage in farmers field of Malappuram by Dr Berin Pathrose
  • Occurrence and isolation of organophosphorus pesticide degrading bacteria from the Agricultural by Bindhya R
  • Status of traditional and other methods of pest management in paddy fields of Panamaram by Dileepkumar A D
  • Addition of secondary and micronutrients improves the soil productivity parameters in the by Dr Jeena Mathew
  • Selection of Plant species suitable for green belt Areas and in Polluted Areas by Jency Nadayil
  • Studies on the effect of eco friendly organic sources on crop yield and soil health by Kiran K R
  • Assessment of soil quality of rural and Urban areas with different land use patterns in Thiruvanananthapuram byLakshmy K S
  • Evaluating composite ecosystem value of agricultural landscapes in Kochi metropolitan region by Lolia Mary
  • The socio-economic impact of geographical indications: Kerala Scenario by Maithily P R
  • Study of the status of usage of non cultivated leafy vegetables with emphasis on traditional by Priyanka M
  • Effect of ex vites conditions on survival of micropropagated gladiolus (Gladiolus grandiflorus)  by Sheena A
  • Geospatial technology for drought monitoring in panchayaths with special reference to kasargod district by Shery Joseph Gregory
  • Impact of elevation of atmospheric CO2 on biomass production, yield, terrestrial carbon and nitrogen dynamics and residue quality and decomposition in rice and wheat and modification of mineralisation subroutine of ceres-N by Thulasi V
  • Impact of weather factors on the population dynamics of sucking pests in Coccinia ecosystem by Vijayasree V

Kuttanad below sea level farming system (KBSFS) - A plan for its sustainable management

The conference presentations on Day 3

Session IX: General presentations

  • Banana bract mosaic virus, a new threat to small cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton) by Dr Dhanya M K
  • Evaluation of temperature tolerant tropical cauliflower varieties in plains of Kollam district by Dr Geetha Lekshmi P R
  • Assessing the vulnerability of farmers to water stress: A methodological exercise by Rinu T Varghese
  • Valuation of wetlands and ecosystems: A concept note by Aswathy Vijayan
  • Agricultural land use pattern and the flowering plant diversity of Cardamom Hill Reserve (CHR), Southern Western Ghats, Kerala by Dr Jomy Augustine,
  • Scientific rationalisation of indigenous technology knowledge on environmental resource by Rajesh P

Session X: Special address

Potential fishing zone (PFZ) advisories: Technology perspective by Dr Shenoi S S C, Director, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad

Session XI: Invited presentations

  • Sustainable Animal Husbandry Practices for Kerala by Dr Prem Jain, Deputy Director of Animal Husbandry, Kerala
  • Remote sensing Application in Agriculture and Forestry Dr A R R Menon, Emeritus Scientist & Program Director, CED
  • Information communication technologies for sustainable agriculture: Pre requisites and policies for practice by Dr Jiju P Alex, Associate Professor, College of Horticulture, KAU, Thrissur
  • Geographical indications – A marketing tool for unique goods from specific environments by Dr  C R Elsy, Professor Head (Genetics and Plant Breeding) and Co-ordinator, IPR Cell, KAU, Thrissur

The technical session of day three of the Congress started with the general presentation by Dr Dhanya from KAU who gave valuable information on banana bract virus, which has been found to be a new threat to cardamom plantations. Dr Geetha Lekshmi demonstrated how the temperature tolerant cauliflower could be cultivated in the plains of Kerala. Rinu Vargese, KAU presented a study on vulnerability of farmers to water stress in Wayanad area while Aswathy Vijayan gave a concept note on the valuation of wetland ecosystem to be adopted in Kerala. The session ended with the presentation by Dr Jomy Augusitine, Professor St Thomas College, Pala about the change in agriculture land use pattern and flowering plant density in cardamom plantations (CHR).

The second session of the day was followed by the special address by Dr Satheesh Chandra Shenoi, Director, INCOIS who gave valuable information on potential fishing zone advisories  for the benefit of the fishing communities in Kerala. He also brought out the economic importance of saving fuel practices for consumption by boats in the fishing zone.  Dr E V Prem Jain  gave information on sustainable  animal husbandry practices for Kerala. The last pre lunch session of the day was delivered Dr A R R Menon, Emeritus scientist, CED on Remote Sensing applications in agriculture and forestry. Dr Jiju P Alex, KAU, explained the use of information and communication technologies for sustainable agriculture and the prerequisites and policies for practice. Dr C R Elsy, KAU explained the geographical indicators as a marketing tool for unique goods from specific environment zones of Kerala.    

The  post noon session was entirely devoted to the panel discussion of KEC 2012. The panel  discussion was focused on “The agricultural development paradigm for Kerala". Professor V K Damodaran, Chairman, CED chaired the panel discussion. The session started with the special address by Dr N  C Narayanan, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Powai , Mumbai, who enriched the audience with his visionary views on the policies for agriculture and environment and explained the need for academic knowledge linking societal problems and research. He also provided details on the evolution and emerging questions in Kuttanad and also expressed the need for a curriculum incorporating interdisplinary insights in ecology, equity, policy and field orientation.

Dr N K Harilal, Associate Professor, Centre for Development Studies (CDS) presented his views on the crisis faced by agriculture in Kerala. He noted three major causes for the crisis namely, globalisation of agriculture, atomisation of farm holdings and prohibitive pricing of the land. He also pointed to some of the drastic measures to be adopted like complete prohibition of conversion of paddy fields for other purposes such as infrastructure etc. Dr Bhaskaran, Professor of Extension, KAU, Vellayani talked about the various conflicts existing in the agricultural sector and highlighted the ones specifically relevant for Kerala and argued that  steps undertaken to resolve these conflicts would go along way in revitalising the farming sector in the state.

The young scientist award for the best paper presentation was awarded to Thulasi V of the Regional Agricultural Research Station, Pattambi, for her work on "Impact of elevation of atmospheric CO2 on biomass production, yield, terrestrial carbon and nitrogen dynamics and residue quality and decomposition in rice and wheat and modification of mineralisation subroutine of CERES-N".

CED 2012 Declarations to be submitted to the policy makers

CED came up with a set of declarations that were planned to be submitted to policymakers. These included:

  • It was highlighted that Kerala had a tradition of homestead farming, which was highly relevant and useful for producing required vegetables and other agricultural products for household level consumption and also for conserving the agro biodiversity.  Unfortunately, the homestead farming system had almost vanished from home gardens.  The eighth Kerala Environment Congress stressed the need for homestead and integrated farming and requested the government to take necessary steps to encourage and bring back homestead and integrated farming in the households
  • There were many new technology applications, which could support the fisheries sector for increasing the fish catch and fish production through regular information dissemination and fishing zone advisories. This support system could be effectively made available from Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, Hyderabad, which was not fully utilised by the fisheries sector in Kerala.  The Congress took note of this major lacuna and requested the Government of Kerala to strengthen the information and advisory services for the benefit of fishermen community.  This has been already envisaged in the 12th Plan of Government of India
  • Aquaculture production had an increasing role to play in making the demand for fish and other fishery products.  Environment friendly aquaculture needed to be promoted in the state for sustainable development in the fisheries sector
  • Though the Government had implemented many watershed management programs, there was no single model for integrated watershed management through the integration of different departments and agencies.  The Congress requested the government to take initiatives to develop a model for integrated watershed management bringing together different stakeholders
  • The congress argued that the state of Kerala urgently needed a land policy that spelled out the extent and spatial utilisation of different agricultural activities.  This could be carried out using the latest science and technology tools like remote sensing, GIS and GPS
  • Reclamation of paddy lands and wetlands had to be arrested with immediate effect so that the rice farming system could be conserved
  • The Agriculture policy of the state, which was under consideration needed to incorporate the above mentioned aspects to deal with the issues and potentials related to agriculture.  The policy needed to cover important aspects in fisheries sector, irrigation, soil conservation, horticulture and animal husbandry and also needed to include perspectives from farmers and other people involved in these sectors

The resolutions formulated in the KEC 2012 included the following:

  • CED will take the initiative to develop a model or a successful example for integrated watershed management with participation of all the stakeholders
  • Time tested and integrated farming systems are being practised by farmers successfully in various parts of the state.  These need to be scientifically documented, analysed and extended for their applications. Once this has been done, it has to be integrated with the policy of the state  and then to the institutions like KAU, Agriculture Department etc. CED will play an important bridging role by attempting to document and integrate this knowledge at the policy and institutional levels
  • CED will work in the interface to facilitate the implementation and dissemination of potential fishing zone advisories in the State, co-ordinating with INCOIS on one side and the organisations working in the fisheries sector

The KEC concluded with vote of thanks by Dr Babu Ambat, Executive Director, CED, and with the announcement that CED had planned to initiate similar Environment Congress initiatives in different states  of India.

The presentations from the conference and the detail proceedings of the conference can be downloaded from below:

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