People have been cultivating bananas in Kerala for the last few thousand years. Over time, observations and small scale experiments by farmers have led to the evolution of indigenous agricultural practices. A. Sakeer Husain from the Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur and M. Sundaramari from the Gandhigram Rural Institute, Dindugal recently looked into the scientific basis of these crop production practices.
Banana is cultivated on more than 100,000 hectares in Kerala. Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Malappuram, and Wayanad districts are the major producers. The research team selected two blocks from each district and two village panchayats from each of the selected blocks. In consultation with the agricultural extension workers, they identified 10 elderly and experienced farmers from each village panchayat. Using informal interviews, participatory rural appraisal and focus group discussions, the team elicited the details of 111 indigenous practices from the farmers.
When they removed region specific and agro-climatic zone specific practices from this list, 35 practices remained. They took the details of these to agricultural scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes besides those from the Kerala Agricultural University, the Gandhigram Rural Institute. They asked the scientists to rate these practices on a scale of one to four based on their understanding of the scientific basis behind them. Eight practices were thus identified as irrational. Then the researchers held a scientists forum with 12 multidisciplinary scientists to discuss the rationale behind these 27 practices.
With this background information on the rationale of the practices, they went back to farmers – a different set this time – to check their knowledge of these practices and whether they have adopted them and whether they found these practices effective in the field.
Only those practices that were known to at least 50% of the farmers and had been adopted by at least 50% of the farmers that had knowledge of the practices were thus selected. That left 21 crop production practices acceptable to both farmers in general and to agricultural scientists.
The researchers are not completely satisfied. Some of the practices adopted by farmers are found to be useful in the field, but scientists cannot find any rationale!
So further research is needed to find the scientific principles behind some of these supposedly irrational indigenous practices, they say.
Biol. Agricul. Horticul., 35 (2): 96-109 (2019);
K P Madhu
Freelance science writer, Pune
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*This is a revised form of a news item first published in Kerala Karshakan, an e-journal from the Farm Information Bureau, Kerala.
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