Conservation of Traditional Varieties of Tuber Crops by Shaji.N.M in Wayanad District, Kerala
The Wayanad district, of the north eastern State of Kerala, is a steep mountainous plateau in the Western Ghats with vast forest cover, extensive paddy fields and high concentration of tribal communities. It is an agro-biodiversity hotspot with several indigenous varieties of crops, legumes and tubers. Starchy roots and tuber play a pivotal role in the human diet by adding variety and contributing to anti-oxidant, antimicrobial, and immune-modulator properties.  In Asian countries, some edible tubers are also used as traditional medicine. A variety of foods can be prepared using tubers.
Need for the Initiative
Tuber crops had the advantage for hunter-gatherer societies in that they were available over extended periods of time due to their ability to be left in-situ until required. Therefore, in earlier days, farmers and tribes would cultivate tubers extensively and were dependent on it for food and nutrition. However, this changed with easier access to rice and a variety of fruits and vegetables, and increased purchasing power. With the gradual drift from ethnic food habits, the tribes stopped the cultivation or collection of tubers from forests. Eventually, tubers and related traditional knowledge started disappearing from tribal households.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
Shaji. N. M., a traditional farmer who belongs to Mananthavady in Wayanad district, was inspired by his ancestral farming practices which consisted of cultivation of tubers amongst other varieties. He started with in-situ conservation of 6-7 varieties of tubers crops. However, after learning about the role of tubers in food and nutritional security, he intensified the collection process by visiting farmers, tribes, institutions and forests across different parts of India. Popularly known as ‘the Tuber Man’, Shaji. N. M has collected more than 100 varieties of tuberous plants, including a few wild varieties. These are displayed to tourists and the local community in his farm that is spread across approximately 25 acres, that he has named as ‘Kedaram’, which translates as, ‘a distinguished place for cultivation’. Close association with the tribal groups enriched his collection of tubers as well as the associated traditional knowledge regarding essential medicinal properties. Some of the tuber varieties conserved by Shaji N.M are- elephant foot yam (7 traditional varieties), greater yam (34 traditional varieties), arrowroot(4 traditional varieties), sweet potato (15 varieties of which 4 are traditional varieties), cassava (14 traditional varieties), colocasia (47 traditional varieties), Chinese potato (3 traditional varieties) etc. ‘Kotha Kizhangu’ collected from ‘Jarawas’ of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is a unique item in his collection. He learnt that tubers can be cultivated with relatively fewer farm inputs. He uses organic fertilizers to enhance its medicinal qualities. Shaji has also planted local varieties of paddy (52 traditional varieties), vegetables, fruits, spices and rare medicinal plants in Kedaram. His list of species has been included in the People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) prepared by the Edavaka Grama Panchayat in the Wayanad district and the germplasm is being conserved by Research and Development institutions in India, such as the Kerala Agricultural University and the Central Tuber Crops Research Institute in Trivandrum. Shaji is actively involved in spreading awareness regarding the importance of tuber crops in nutritional and food security, amongst farmers and agricultural institutions, through exhibitions, mass media programmes, exposure visits and farm schools. The message of, ‘Go for cultivation of tubers’ is spreading to wider sections of the society. In order to attract more attention towards consumption of tubers, he prepares new dishes using such roots and tubers and shares these dishes and recipes with others. Shaji’s efforts to preserve wild and domestic varieties of tubers have won him several accolades, including Plant Genome Savior Farmer Reward 2014 from PPV&FR Authority.
Recognition in India Biodiversity AwardsShaji NM received WINNER in India biodiversity awards in 2021 under the category of Conservation of Domesticated Species (Individual) Earlier he received Special Mention in the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Conservation of Domesticated Species’ in 2018.
Contact- Shaji NM Tel. +91 9747853969 Email: email@example.com