Conservation of Agrobiodiversity: Lessons from Kerala

This study has received funding from UN FAO India. This article assesses the effectiveness of the institutions (laws), programs, and organisations to conserve agrobiodiversity in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the most biodiverse states in the country. The people in the state grow 142 crop plants belonging to 104 genera and 43 families. Though there are studies on the agrobiodiversity of Kerala, the current policy/​institutional situation in this regard is yet to be analysed.

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Agrobiodiversity can be understood as the diversity within and among species found in an agro-ecosystem that contributes to food and agriculture, including planned (domesticated) biodiversity (i.e., the diversity of crops and livestock genetic resources), as well as all other plant and animal genetic resources (i.e. crop wild relatives)’.1 It can increase productivity, food security, and economic returns; reduce the pressure of agriculture on fragile areas, forests and endangered species; make farming systems more stable, robust, and sustainable and so on.2

In general, a higher level of agrobiodiversity provides three kinds of values. First is the use-value – some of the diverse variety of flora, fauna and genes could be directly useful for people (including cultivators). The agro-diversity might have served the function of portfolio diversification to address risks in less developed societies which do not have formal institutions for insurance or risk minimisation (Kontoleon et al., 2009). Second is the option value, which means that though some of the varieties are not known to be useful with the current information, they may turn out to be useful based on future knowledge. Hence, there is a value in protecting these currently. The use of genes in traditional or wild varieties of grains for enhancing the pest resistance of hybrid ones is an example. This is also the basis of the argument that decreased diversity may affect food supplies by limiting the availability of genes that confer resistance to pests, pathogen and environmental change (Jarvis et al 2016 as quoted in Gauchan 2017). Third, there are also what can be called non-use values. Certain varieties which may not be useful currently or in future, due to the availability of substitutes, may have certain heritage value. We may want our future generations to have a glimpse or exposure to such entities or practices which require these.

The need for a collective or state action for the protection of agrobiodiversity is well recognised (Friis-Hansen, 1999). Farmers may not have adequate incentives to protect agrobiodiversity. Though there is an option and non-use values, each farmer may not internalise these in their decision on the use of agrobiodiversity. There could be a mismatch between the private conservation costs and wider social benefits, or the latter cannot be captured by private conservationists (Bellon, 2004). There could be a shift in agricultural production towards less diverse (sometime monocrop) systems. In certain cases, the productivity (in terms of the market value) of monocrop (or less diverse) system could be higher, especially when some of the useful attributes of a diverse crop system may not have an appropriate market. Or the absence or thinness of market for certain products may aggravate the situation. For example, the absence of a market for hay encourages farmers to use shorter varieties of paddy or wheat leading to the disappearance of taller ones. The economic attractiveness of less-diverse versus more-diverse farming systems depends on agro-ecological and market conditions.

There can be government failures too leading to the decline of agrobiodiversity. This could be due to the non-consideration of the impact of these policies and programs on agrobiodiversity. Subsidies provided as part of government schemes for the promotion of agriculture can distort private incentives to protect agrobiodiversity (Perrings, 2001). The breeding programs of research organisations may favour the establishment of less-diverse farming systems (Gruere et al., 2009). For all these reasons, there is a need for informed collective and state actions for the protection of agrobiodiversity, and different governments have created policies and institutions for this purpose. However, the effectiveness of these steps depends on a number of contextual factors. There are studies which assess the effectiveness of such policies and programs in different contexts (for example, Nagarajan et al., 2007; Smale et al., 2008; Varela, 2001, Gauchan et al, 2017).

This article assesses the effectiveness of the institutions (laws), programs, and organisations to conserve agrobiodiversity in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the most biodiverse states in the country. The people in the state grow 142 crop plants belonging to 104 genera and 43 families (Nayar, 2011). Though there are studies on the agrobiodiversity of Kerala (Santhakumar, 1996; Padmanabhan, 2011), the current policy/​institutional situation in this regard is yet to be analysed.

Institutional mechanisms for conserving agrobiodiversity

Kerala has followed the Biological Diversity (BD) Act, 2002 passed by India and its Rules 2004, through state-level BD Rules, 2008. There is a State Biodiversity Board (SBB), which has been establishing Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) in all the Local Self Governments (LSGs) beginning in 2008. By 2015, it managed to form BMCs in all its LSG Units. The BMC prepares People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) in consultation with the local people. The PBR contains comprehensive information on availability and knowledge of local biological resources, their medicinal and other uses or any other traditional knowledge associated with them. Such PBRs are seen as an instrument to protect agrobiodiversity globally (Smale et al., 2004).

The PBRs document local community knowledge of status, uses, history, ongoing changes and forces driving changes in biodiversity resources, gainers and losers in these processes and people’s perceptions of how these resources should be managed. A number of PBRs have been prepared in different parts of India beginning 1995 through initiatives of NGOs and educational institutions working with local communities and village councils. Kerala has one of the best records with respect to the preparation of PBRs as about 85 percent of the BMCs have prepared PBRs. See Figure 1. Seven districts have all their LSGs preparing their respective PBRs. Nevertheless, 60 local self-governments are yet to prepare PBRs.3 This means that Kerala has the highest PBR rate at 94.19 percent (as of (July 2019) as shown in Figure 1. Although Kerala’s LSGs have a good record in forming BMCs and preparing PBRs, it remains to be seen if the PBRs are properly framed and the data contained in PBRs is subjected to an annual review to see if the biodiversity that exists in an LSG is maintained.

PBR rate across states in India (as on 18/02/2019)

Source: National Biodiversity Authority,,,

There is also a Kerala State Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan which has several action points related to conservation of agrobiodiversity. This is the framework policy for promoting agrobiodiversity in the state. There are three specific strategies that deal with agrobiodiversity management. These are: (1) Develop a database of agrobiodiversity and domesticated biodiversity; (2) Promote conservation of indigenous varieties and their commercial production; and (3) Prevent contamination of natural biodiversity of the state from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Our discussions with experts reveal that of the three strategies only the second seems to have been implemented. Of course, the PBRs can act as a database, provided these are digitised and available online. Since GMOs have not been authorised to be released in any of the agricultural crops, except cotton, which incidentally is not cultivated in Kerala,4 strategy number 3 is yet to be of relevance for Kerala.

The Kerala State Environment Policy, 2001 has a number of provisions to maintain biodiversity in general and agrobiodiversity in particular. Especially its section 11 has 17 such provisions. However, there are a number of strategies and action plans envisaged in the Kerala State Environment Policy and also by the KSBB, the details on financial allocations for these actions and how these are being implemented, are not clear. Hence, some of these strategies and action plans may remain as wish statements. Given the broad climatic characteristics of the state, the same plant species or variety may be prevalent in multiple locations. Some of these may be useful to individuals and households, and hence, they may have the incentive to conserve these. There is a resource-cost in both the provision of subsidies and regulation. It is not clear whether such costs are estimated, and whether provisions are made to allocate public resources for this purpose. The attempt seems to be a wishful effort to protect agrobiodiversity in all places wherever these are available, which may not be a realistic target. If the enforcement effort of the state is going to be targeted to all such localities, then it may get diluted, and there could be land-use changes that may destroy biodiversity in many localities. It may be noted that agrobiodiversity prevails mostly on private lands, and the reach of the state is limited on such lands compared to forests which are owned by the government. Hence, it may be desirable to have a prioritization of the agrobiodiversity to be protected.

The Organic Farming Policy of Kerala is to protect its rich biodiversity and thus sustain various livelihoods dependent on this precious resource’. In that sense, the connection between the protection of agrobiodiversity and organic farming is envisaged before the formulation of this policy. The policy was proposed and initiated by the KSBB, notes the positive side of agriculture in Kerala in terms of the already low levels of consumption of hazardous chemicals and, therefore, chances of redeeming farmers to organic agriculture are quite high’ (p.5). The fact that farmers in Kerala use less amount of pesticides and other chemicals in growing crops make them much more amenable for shifting to organic farming than farmers elsewhere.

In the policy, a farmer is defined as Organic Farmer’ if he/​she adheres to and follows three essential practices of organic farming: (1) practices mixed farming including food crops; (2) ensures the conservation of soil and water; (3) conserves the biodiversity of the farmland’. This has interesting implications. One, the conventional idea of avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides as the core-focus of organic farming is given less importance and two, the definition of organic farming itself is connected to the preservation of agrobiodiversity.

The following strategies of the Organic Farming Policy can, in principle, help the conservation of agrobiodiversity:

  • Ensure seed sovereignty of the farmers and the state
  • Strengthen soil and ensure water conservation measures (by following organic approaches)
  • Promote a mixed farming approach for livelihood security and ecological sustainability
  • Conserve and improve agrobiodiversity and undomesticated biodiversity
  • Ensure availability of quality organic manure to the farmers
  • Develop model’ sustainable organic farms in the state

In addition, the model organic farms’ (to be) developed by the state as part of the Organic Farming Policy can be used for the in-situ and live conservation of agrobiodiversity in different agroclimatic zones of Kerala.

On the other hand, the Organic Farming Policy in its present form has several limitations, and these may affect the achievement of the goal of protecting agrobiodiversity too. It has not taken into consideration the economic incentives of the farmers to move towards organic farming policy; the ways by which the state must encourage farmers to move towards organic farming overriding the economic incentives, if any, to continue with non-organic farming (the costs that the government has to bear in facilitating the shift towards an organic policy are yet to be assessed; the administrative mechanism beyond outlining the nature of a state-level committee for the purpose.

There could be a case where biodiversity enhancing farming may become economically advantageous for certain farmers in Kerala. This is when we consider the opportunity cost of family labour, including that which is needed for the supervision of farm operations. This is so since the conventional (chemical and mono-crop) agriculture may become economically unviable due to the increase in the cost of labour or the opportunity cost of family labour. Hence, a Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) may become the default option for a set of farmers.

The Organic Farming Policy has not taken into consideration the existing state and central policies in agriculture that may work against the shift towards organic farming. These may include the subsidies for fertilizers. Some of these policies cannot be changed by the state government. Certain policies that prevail at the national level (say, subsidy for fertilizers) may benefit Kerala too since it has to import food grains from other states which practice chemical agriculture. These ambiguities may reduce the effectiveness of an organic farming policy within Kerala and hence, may work against the shift towards an agrobiodiversity enhancing agriculture in the state.

The shift towards an organic farming policy also depends on the consumers or buyers of agricultural products. The analysis of this aspect and the strategies required in this domain are weak in the policy. It has considered farming mostly from the perspective of supply. This is problematic when we see that a major part of the consumption of agricultural products within Kerala is imported from other states. There may be a possibility of developing an interest among Kerala consumers in organic products, but that may not be adequate. It may be that a part of the organic production in Kerala should be able to meet the needs of national/​international markets. (In fact, the integration of Kerala’s agriculture with the national and global markets is much higher compared to that of other states, and this has been the situation historically, and not due to the current phase of globalization.) There may be a need to use national and global markets to facilitate the shift towards organic farming in Kerala, which cannot be substantiated by the rhetorical arguments for self-sufficiency and against trade given in the policy document.

As far as considering the certified organic farming area in Kerala, an organic farmers’ directory has been prepared by the Farm Information Bureau of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of Kerala. The data contains the contact and other details of farmers for five districts viz., Wayanad, Kottayam, Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Idukki (Figure 2). As per this data, the area under certified organic farming works out to only 0.18 percent of the net sown area.

Figure 2: Distribution of certified organic farming area in Kerala
Source:State Information Bureau (undated), Organic Farmer’s Directory, Government of Kerala,

Although the policy on organic farming has defined an organic farmer, hitherto the state has not evolved any specific indicators or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for organic and aquaculture farms. These need to be specified so that the objective definition of an organic farmer and the area under organic farming can be computed and its diffusion in the state’s agriculture can be easily measured.

Another policy having a bearing on agrobiodiversity is the Agricultural Development Policy 2015 of the state. The policy has 46 sub-policies. Although none of these is specific to biodiversity despite the fact that one of the much-asserted objectives of the policy is to make Kerala a biodiversity paradise’. However, the authors have identified 10 sub-policies that have the potential to either support agrobiodiversity or have a negative impact on it. Of the 19, 8 have a positive impact, and 2 may have a negative impact. Policies 1, 13, 20, 29, 122, 126, 141, 179 are directly or indirectly supporting agrobiodiversity promotion. These policies mention protection of farmlands, enhancing bio-manure production, promoting homestead farming and popularisation of vegetable gardens, protection of the traditional germplasm, rearing indigenous and accepted breeds of cattle for conservation purpose etc. However, Policy 4 dealing with the cultivable waste and Policy 162 for the promotion of contract farming have been identified as ones that may have a negative impact on agrobiodiversity.5

Though there is an organic farming policy, we do not see that getting reflected in the Agricultural Development Policy, 2015. It is mentioned only once.6 The focus of the latter seems to be on the mainstream input-intensive agriculture. This shows how different policies can be at cross-purposes with respect to mainstreaming agrobiodiversity. Most of the policy statements in Kerala Agricultural Development Policy, 2015, are wish statements, without consideration of costs and mechanisms for their enforcement.

Another policy having a bearing on agrobiodiversity is the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy of the state. This policy is formulated in consonance with the provisions of the Indian Patents Act and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. However, the focus is on what it calls traditional knowledge’. The main purpose of the policy is to create legal property rights on such knowledge to avoid misappropriation’ by corporate and capitalist enterprises and to the create what are called knowledge commons’. We need to think theoretically about the potential of such a legal right’ on traditional knowledge on the conservation of agrobiodiversity. It may be better to compare a with’ and without’ situation here. We may consider a legal right to the farmer useful for the protection of agrobiodiversity if there is an actual or probable under-use of traditional knowledge, (hence, a decline in the use of the diverse variety of genetic, plants and animal varieties, and a decline in the effort to conserve/​protect these varieties), and if the newly instituted right can reverse the trend. We need to evaluate the Intellectual Property Rights Policy of Kerala’ with such a perspective. As far as Plant Variety Protection (PVP) is concerned, the important plant varieties registered from Kerala since 2005 are Chennellu, Ghandhakasala, Jeerakasala, Chomala, Veliyan, and Thondi.7 In Table 1, the grant of IPR law, namely, geographical indications (GIs) is also summarised.

Based on this perspective, we see only one clause (No.6) directly contributing to the conservation of agrobiodiversity. This is the one which entrusts the Kerala Traditional Knowledge Authority (KTKA) with the responsibility to carry out promotional activities such as the formation of traditional knowledge cooperatives in order to enable such users to access larger markets for their practices and products’. The policy also gives a strong role to the SBB. Such access to larger markets may enhance the incentives to use traditional knowledge and hence, preserve agrobiodiversity (as long as, it is required for the use of such knowledge).

Table 1. Geographical indications granted to agricultural products from Kerala

Geographical Indications


From April 2004 – March 2005


From April 2005- March 2006


From April 2006-March 2007


From April 2007- March 2008

Alleppey CoirHandicraft
Navara RiceAgricultural
PalakkadanMatta RiceAgricultural
Malabar PepperAgricultural
Spices – Alleppey Green CardamomAgricultural

From April 2008- March 2009

Maddalamof PalakkadHandicraft
Screw Pine Craft of KeralaHandicraft
Brass Broidered Coconut Shell Crafts of KeralaHandicraft
Pokkali RiceAgricultural

From April 2009- March 2010

Vazhakulam PineappleAgricultural
Cannanore Home FurnishingsHandicraft
BalaramapuramSarees and Fine Cotton FabricsHandicraft

From April 2010- March 2011

Kasaragod SareesHandicraft
Kuthampully SareesHandicraft
Central Travancore JaggeryAgricultural
Wayanad Jeerakasala RiceAgricultural
Wayanad Gandhakasala RiceAgricultural
Payyannur Pavithra RingHandicraft

From April 2011- March 2012

Chendamangalam Dhoties & Set MunduHandicraft

From April 2012- March 2013


From April 2013- March 2014

Kaipad RiceAgricultural

From April 2014- March 2015

ChengalikodanNendran BananaAgricultural

From April 2015- March 2016

KuthampallyDhoties& Set MunduHandicraft
Maddalam of Palakkad (Logo)Handicraft
Brass Broidered Coconut Shell Craft of Kerala (Logo)Handicraft
Screw Pine Craft of Kerala (Logo)

From April 2016- March 2017


From April 2017- March 2018

Nilambur TeakAgricultural

Source: Patent Information Centre, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment

It remains to be seen whether GIs and PVP have led to an increased cultivation of these crops. This is an area where future research is required.

There are two specific issues that have a bearing on the management of agrobiodiversity in Kerala. These are (a) Role of custodian farmers, and; (b) Access Benefit Sharing.

Biodiversity International, a CGIAR research centre, defines custodian farmers’ as those farmers (men and women) who actively maintain, adapt and disseminate agricultural biodiversity and related knowledge, over time and space, at farm and community levels and are recognized by community members for it’. Given the fact that existing gene banks and other ex-situ conservation measures are not sufficient to conserve agrobiodiversity, it is recommended that custodian farmers should be the main focus of agrobiodiversity conservation as they are functioning as a farmer-cultivators as well as farmer-conserver. So, the policy on agrobiodiversity management must include identification, support and promotion of custodian farmers. Examples of custodian farmers include Cheruvayal Raman or Ramettan‑a Kurichiya, a tribe farmer by birth, who is leading a battle to preserve age-old traditions of cultivation that were prevalent among the Adivasis of Wayanad; N. M. Shaji, who had won the national Plant Genome Saviour Award in 2015, is conserving a wide spectrum of tuber crops, including wild tubers, paddy, and vegetables using the organic cultivation method.

The Nagoya Protocol on Biodiversity emphasizes the access to the genetic resources and its fair and equitable benefit sharing of genetic resources. This is known as Access Benefit Sharing (ABS). As per Section 7 of Biodiversity Act 2002 and Section 16 of Kerala Biological Diversity Rule, 2008, any Indian citizen or body, corporate or association or registered organization, should seek approval of the KSBB for access to the collection of biological resources in Kerala for commercial utilization. The transition to an ABS régime is a priority area for the government of Kerala.8 It proposes a state-wide scheme for documenting commercially tradable bio resources and industries utilising the resources. The report calls for equipping panchayat-level Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) with negotiating skills to maximise the returns from trade in bioresources under the ABS régime. The BMC would be authorised to levy collection fee for accessing biological resources for commercial purposes. The levy would be deposited in a local biodiversity fund and utilised for conservation activities. According to press reports,9 the KSBB had identified 2,694 industrial units, including Ayurvedic drug companies, tea and coffee manufacturers, agro-based units, food and fruit processing centres, leather, cashew, textiles, paper, rubber, coir, spices, wood and bamboo-based industries and exporters of these products who were liable to pay a part of their sales revenue for access to bioresources and associated traditional knowledge into a fund to be denoted as Local Biodiversity Fund. We could not find out whether the fund has actually been created and whether the rules for operationalising the fund have been created. This is one of the policy instruments for agrobiodiversity management that needs immediate attention.

Kerala has a wide network of public research institutes which have been engaged in the generation of formalised knowledge for ensuring agrobiodiversity. These are owned by the central and state governments. Further, there are a limited number of NGOs which are disseminating knowledge on agrobiodiversity. Of these, the work of five PRIs (national and state level) and two NGOs which are actively engaged in the promotion of agrobiodiversity, and two more PRIs that are active in the promotion of biodiversity, in general, are assessed as part of this study. The key insights of this assessment are the following:

  • Institutions are maintaining germplasm conservation of various kinds of crops, including traditional varieties with the vision of future needs.
  • New varieties have been developed through crop improvement for high yield, disease resistance, etc.
  • Institutions are facing challenges and limitations in the extension services. Only passionate farmers or interested agencies are utilising the services of these institutions. Lack of proper knowledge about these institutions and the importance of agricultural practices among the public are serious concerns.
  • In view of the extension possibilities, NGOs are seen to be performing better as compared to the government institutions, by collaborating with local governments and intervention at grassroots level through community mobilisation. Collaboration with local governments is more significant in the promotion of agrobiodiversity.
  • The absence of a central monitoring system in order to promote agrobiodiversity in the state, to coordinate all the research outputs from the public research institutions has been noticed.

The extent of agrobiodiversity in Kerala – An indirect assessment

It is essential that we have a summary measure to quantify the extent of agrobiodiversity and its changes over time. Ideally speaking, it should be constructed at the level of the BMC. But detailed data for such quantification at the BMC level is hard to come by, but the KSBB may develop it. As a first step, we compute the area of those agricultural crops that allow intercropping with other crops. The share of the area under such bio-diverse crops in the total cropped area is computed. It shows that about 77 percent of the cropped area in the states is under bio-diverse crops in 2016 – 17, although it has shown some slight reduction in 2016 – 17 compared to 2007-08 (Figure 3). This is essentially due to the fact that – Natural Rubber- one of the primary commodities and the main monocrops in the state has increased its share of cropped area (Figure 4), although all other monocrops have been reduced. However, Natural Rubber continues to occupy an important position in the cropping pattern of the state (Figure 5).

Figure 3: Trends in Agrobiodiversity Index, 2007-08 and 2016 – 17

Source: Based on data contained in Economic Review, Kerala State Planning Board (various issues).

Figure 4: Changes in area under monocrops during 2007-08 and 2016 – 17

Source: Based on data contained in Economic Review, Kerala State Planning Board (various issues)

Figure 5: Cropping pattern of the state (as on March 312018)

Source: Based on data contained in Economic Review, Kerala State Planning Board (various issues)

Case studies of model’ Local Self Governments

In this section, we analyse the role of four LSGs from across Kerala which can justifiably be termed as model grama panchayats’ as far as the appreciation and maintenance of agrobiodiversity and indeed biodiversity, in general, is concerned. Our selection of these panchayats has been guided by the fact that they have either been selected as the best BMCs either by the National Biodiversity Authority or the Kerala SBB (Table 2). Besides, one of the four has been hailed as a model panchayat for organic vegetable cultivation and has a long history of being the only panchayat in the state of Kerala that is self-sufficient in vegetable cultivation. The purpose of conducting these case studies is to understand and place on the table those practical points that other panchayats can emulate.

Table 2. Rationale for selecting and the major achievements of, the four LSGs

Sl​.NoGrama PanchayatRationale for selecting Grama panchayatsMajor Achievements
1Kanjikuzhi· Self-sufficient in organic vegetable production and promoting agrobiodiversity1. Only panchayat in Kerala that is self-sufficient in organic vegetable production

2. Promoting livelihood opportunities through vegetable cultivation

2.Eraviperoor· Selected for the Best BMC award from National Biodiversity Authority in 20181. Rejuvenation of Varattar river

2. Conducted Eco-Gramasabha for environment protection 

3. Promoting Eraviperoor Rice to meet the local needs

3.Meenangadi· Selected for the best BMC award from the Kerala SBB in 2018 · Received Special Mention from the National Biodiversity Authority in 20181. Conducted carbon-neutral study to become India’s first carbon-neutral panchayat

2. Created an artificial forest 

3. Conserving biodiversity spots in Kolagappara hill, tribal areas etc. 

4.Marancherry· Selected for the Best BMC award from the Kerala SBB in 20191. Biodiversity richness of Kole wetland has been documented

2. Conserving water bodies by planting bamboos and mangroves

Source: Authors’ compilation

Generally, there is no separate fund for the Action Plans of BMC except special funds from SBB for model BMCs. Such paucity of funds for BMC was overcome by integrating selected conventional projects of panchayats which are directly or indirectly related to environment assets into the Action Plan of BMC. Effective use of MGNREGS (the rural employment guarantee scheme) is a pivotal factor for the best performance in the selected four grama panchayats. A majority of the heads under MGNREGS like afforestation, water conservation, drought proofing, and renovation of water bodies etc., directly benefit environmental conservation. Therefore, MGNREGS, along with employment generation, can be considered as a scheme which contributes to the environment protection at the local level. The grama panchayats ensure the monitoring of BMCs in the implementation of such projects. In other words, the majority of the activities of BMCs in accordance with the Action Plan can be implemented through MGNREGS.

Measures of Meenangadi to become India’s first carbon-neutral panchayat and creation of artificial forest, efforts of Eraviperoor in the rejuvenation of Varattar river, conducting Eco-Gramasabha and promoting Eraviperoor Rice, attempts of Marancherry in the conservation Kole wetland have all been observed as exemplary steps in the context of biodiversity conservation.

The Kanjikuzhi grama panchayat is renowned for the vegetable cultivation and it has been observed as a life culture of the people of Kanjikuzhi. Providing seeds and all other supports to promote vegetable cultivation in all households, identifying barren land to cultivate vegetables using MGNREGS labourers monitored by the panchayat, maintaining vegetable shops to promote marketing, are the major activities of Kanjikuzhi grama panchayat in this context. The attempt of Kanjhikuzhi grama panchayat to promote vegetable cultivation can be considered as a unique step towards agrobiodiversity promotion.

The Role of NGOs, stakeholders, activists, etc., is very crucial and inevitable for local development, particularly in environment conservation. Active involvement of NGOs was significant in the selected grama panchayats, and it was the backbone for the performance of these panchayats.

The approach of grama panchayats to identify NGOs, stakeholders etc., in connection with the focussed area and to create a platform to involve them can be considered as a foremost step in the development process. Political coordination in the development of grama panchayat has been noticed as a vital factor for their performance.

It is also seen that all the four panchayats have adopted a different strategy towards agrobiodiversity thus, bringing home the point that there is no one model that fits all. Each of the panchayats has improvised strategies that are specific to the needs of its respective area. These range from rejuvenation and maintenance of water bodies to vegetable cultivation to maintenance of forest cover. We also see that success in the maintenance of agrobiodiversity is linked to the presence of two important factors. These are: (i) a strategy for agrobiodiversity is basically a function of whether it is inexorably linked to a livelihood strategy. If it is, then there can be widespread acceptance of management of agrobiodiversity as it can bring immediate tangible benefits to the inhabitants of the villages. Otherwise, the notion of agrobiodiversity can remain as a theoretical concept, the benefits of which are understood only by a few people; (ii) successful implementation of the agrobiodiversity strategy requires the presence of well-informed and active leaders whose leadership is widely accepted and who are extremely resourceful. It is very often the presence of such individuals that will make a big difference to the successful implementation of agrobiodiversity policies and not institutional mechanisms such as the BMCs. This, of course, has the danger of the whole strategy fizzling out with the eclipse of this mentor from the horizon.

Concluding observations and recommendations

There seems to be an awareness of the importance of protecting agrobiodiversity at the government level as also among a number of non-governmental and civil society stakeholders in Kerala. The state has also put in place a number of legal and policy instruments aimed at protecting biodiversity in general (which include agrobiodiversity too). There is also an organisational mechanism (Kerala SBB) to steer the agenda in this regard. The research institutes are by and large aware of the impact of their actions on biodiversity. A significant share of local governments has completed the formal requirement of preparing PBR as advocated by the KSBB. A few of them consider the conservation of local biodiversity as an important agenda and take various steps in this direction.

The other important aspect with regard to Kerala is that a more-diverse cropping system seems to be economically attractive compared to a less-diverse or mono-cropping system. This could be due to agro-climatic and economic conditions. The latter include the need for more labour for mono-cropping systems, which makes it less attractive in Kerala where the cost of labour is higher, and where there are possibilities of nurturing profitable multi-crop systems. This gives certain economic incentives to the farmers and landowners to sustain a relatively diverse farming system, which in turn helps the conservation of agrobiodiversity.

Though there are legal and policy instruments, there is not enough clarity on the mobilization of resources and mechanisms for their enforcement. Hence, some of these legal/​policy provisions remain as wish statements. One can interpret this as an outcome of a situation where there is an awareness on the need to protect agrobiodiversity at the state level, but that is not translating into workable strategies for its protection due to other constraints of the state government.

Kerala is yet to put in place a system of auditing all policies which can have potential negative impacts on agrobiodiversity. These include the policies and programmes for the promotion of agriculture and plantation crops in general. However, the growth in the area of most of the plantation crops has been limited by adverse market conditions.

Though PBR is the main instrument and a major share of local governments has prepared it, it is seen as more of a task to be completed at a point of time and not the basis for building up agrobiodiversity by local governments. This may be seen as an outcome of a top-down approach towards conservation where the awareness at the state level has not translated to the level of local governments and communities.


  1. Pascual et al. (2011:191) provide this definition by using use different sources.

  2. See What is agrobiodiversity?’,http://​www​.fao​.org/​3​/​y​5609​e​/​y​5609​e​01.htm (accessed on July 82019)

  3. According to the KSSB (as on July 112019)

  4. Cotton is grown in a small area in Attappadi in Palghat district.

  5. According to Policy 4, the cultivable wastes should be brought under plough with immediate effect for augmenting the food production. This may work against agrobiodiversity if such wasteland sustains such diversity and bringing these into cultivation would lead to mono-cropping. Likewise, the promotion of contract farming and forest farming to ensure the steady and constant supply of quality raw materials for drugs according to Policy 162 has negative impact on agrobiodiversity.

  6. Policy 245: Kerala is having a well-defined policy on Organic Farming’, and on this light, organic pesticides are to be made freely available, and the recent technology developed by CTCRI needs an intensified production.

  7. Reg.Nos:56 to 61 of 2013 Applicant Details: SEED CARE, C/​o M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation Community Agrobiodiversity Centre, Pothoorvayal, P.O. Kalpetta, Wayanad, Kerala- Source: Patent Information Centre, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment.

  8. It is identified by the State Planning Board, in its working group report on biodiversity for the 13th Five Year Plan (Kerala State Planning Board, 2017). Chapter 9 of the working group report deals with ABS.

  9. See Nandakumar T (2017).


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Sunil Mani, Corresponding author, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum
S M Mohanakumar, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum
V Santhakumar, Professor, Azim Premji University, Bangalore
T Abhilash, Assistant Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum