Spice cultivation in Kerala boasts a rich history, shaping culture, trade, and the economy. Branded the “Spice Garden of India,” Kerala’s climate and soil foster the growth of numerous spices such as cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This trade made Kerala a pivotal global hub, linking East and West. Today, spice exports significantly bolster Kerala’s economy, supporting the livelihoods of numerous farmers and labourers. The rich history of spice cultivation in Kerala today faces a new challenge due to climate change. Despite its resilient past, the future of spice cultivation in Kerala hinges on embracing innovative approaches that can adapt to the rapidly changing environment and ensure the continuity of this time-honoured tradition.
Considering this concern, a study with a collaborative effort of the European Union, Fairtrade NAPP and the Creativiti Council has been underway. Funded by the European Union, the ‘Climate Change Study on Spices’ project has been implemented by Creativiti Council under the supervision of Fairtrade NAPP. The objective is to investigate the consequences of climate change on spice cultivation within the Idukki and Wayanad districts of Kerala, India. As a part of this initiative, two successive workshops were organized for spice producers from these regions. The workshops took place consecutively in the Wayanad and Idukki districts. These were attended by representatives including managers and farmers from 6 Small Producer Organizations at WSS Auditorium Wayanad, as well as 10 participants from 2 Small Producer Organizations at SRI Auditorium PDS Peermade, Idukki district, Kerala, India.
Conducted as interactive sessions, the workshops featured presentations by the Creativiti Council outlining the key discoveries and study recommendations. This was followed by an interactive discussion that focused on understanding the repercussions of climate change and potential strategies to mitigate its adverse effects. The findings of the study are as follows:
1. Alterations in rainfall patterns and climatic conditions, along with their intricate consequences for spice crops, were extensively examined. The discernible outcome of these changes is a significant reduction—ranging from 30% to 50% in crop productivity and the cultivation of major spices like pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and turmeric due to climate change.
2. Soil fertility degradation has been paralleled by a substantial rise in the prevalence and dissemination of pests and diseases. The convergence of low productivity, crop losses, and market fluctuations has compelled farmers to explore alternative solutions.
3. Despite marginal fluctuations in total district rainfall, the intensity and seasonality of precipitation have undergone considerable shifts. This transformation has adversely affected the flowering and pollination of spice crops, culminating in diminished productivity and an upsurge in pest and disease instances.
4. The escalation of heavy, intense rains has led to the erosion of topsoil and increased soil acidity. Soil analyses from farmers’ fields have demonstrated a significant deviation from average pH levels.
5. The study delved into carbon emissions and sequestration, scrutinizing diverse farming practices’ contributions to emissions and proposing remedies. Remarkably, the investigation revealed that farmers who adopt organic methods exhibit commendable levels of carbon sequestration.
6. The discourse encompassed methodologies for establishing model plots and introduced novel organic products released by institutions like the Indian Institute of Spice Research and the Indian Agricultural Research, all aimed at enhancing soil vitality.
It has been observed that a transformative shift in price support systems is needed to uphold fairtrade farmers and address the volatility inherent in spice crop markets. Present insurance schemes available in the market are conspicuously detached from farmer-friendly designs, failing to cater to the intricate nuances of agricultural realities. Notably, the premium fixed by Fairtrade a decade ago demands immediate revision in light of the prevailing context. Deliberations spanned a spectrum of approaches and protocols for establishing model plots, providing a comprehensive framework for potential implementation.
The comprehensive analysis conducted by the collaborative efforts of European Union, Fairtrade NAPP and the Creativiti Council sheds light on the profound impacts of climate change on spice cultivation in the Idukki and Wayanad districts of Kerala. The findings underscore the urgent need for adaptive strategies to counter the evolving challenges faced by farmers, including altered rainfall patterns, declining soil fertility, intensified pest and disease pressures, and erosive effects of heavy rains. Encouragingly, the study reveals the potential of organic practices in mitigating carbon emissions and enhancing soil health. The insights garnered from this study not only emphasize the fragility of traditional spice cultivation but also offer a roadmap for sustainable interventions that can safeguard this vital sector, ensuring its resilience against the backdrop of a changing climate.
“The workshop was highly informative and insightful and discussions sensitized the farmers on the issues and problems of carbon emission and preventive and alleviative measures to be taken for reducing the emission” – Fr Binu KAFFE from Idukki, Kerala, India.
“The workshop helped us to realize and understand various corrective measures to be taken in the current agricultural practices in the context of climate change and workshop was an eye-opening for us” – Syriac Palakuzhiyil (farmer) from Idukki, Kerala, India.
“The workshop helped to realize ground realities and critically evaluate the impacts of Climate change, possible interventions and policy changes for supporting fairtrade farmers” -Jobins Chacko, Thoprankudy, Farmers Producer company Ltd from Idukki district, Kerala, India.
“The workshop has provided an learning opportunity to understand, discuss and analyse various factors affecting the cultivation of spices in high ranges among small and marginal farmers and possible interventions for tackling climate change impacts” – Fr Filson James, Peermade Development Society from Idukki district, Kerala, India.