The major occupation in Kuttanad is farming. Rice is the important agricultural product, giving Kuttanad the moniker of “The Rice Bowl of Kerala”. Three crops are grown every year now instead of the traditional two per year. Large farming areas near vembanad Lake were actually reclaimed from the lake. The history of the paddy cultivation in Kuttanad can be traced back to centuries. The evolution of paddy cultivation in Kuttanad was correlated to the technological advancement and changes in the regulatory frame work existed during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the earlier times, the reclamation was done mainly from the shallow part of the Vembanad Lake or from the periphery of river Pamba. These reclamations constituted small areas of paddy fields called “Padsekharams”.The bailing out of water from those fields were done manually using water wheels named “Chakram”. Gradually the manual method used for bailing out of water gave way to steam engines.
Kuttanad region and its community were facing severe agrarian distress for the last 5 decades owing to a variety of factors. Based on the request of the Govt. of Kerala to address the perennial problems faced in Kuttanad, the Union Govt. entrusted the Dr. M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai to conduct a scientific study of the region and suggest suitable measures to mitigate agrarian distress in Kuttanad. The MSSRF recommended a variety of interventions to be implemented as a Package with a total cost outlay of Rs. 1,840 crore which was accepted by the Govt. of India for funding under ongoing Central Sector Schemes. Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) prepared by the State Govt. for different activities envisaged in the Package are under different stages of implementation.
Kuttanad meaning ‘low lying lands’ is one of the most fertile regions of the world spread over the district of Alappuzha, Kottayam & Pathanamthitta which is crisscrossed by rivers, canals & waterways. Four major rivers namely Achenkoil, Pampa, Manimala & Meenachil originating from the High Ranges discharge their water into the Arabian sea through the Kuttanad region. The Kuttanad Wetland System (KWS) inclusive of the Vembanad lake is now receiving global attention because nature is at the peak of its beauty in this Ramsar site. The KWS comprising of 32 Panchayats of Alappuzha district, 27 Panchayats of Kottayam district and 5 Panchayats of Pathanamthitta district is a predominantly agriculture belt of Kerala where people are dependent on farming & allied sectors like fishing, animal husbandry etc for their livelihood. This is the only part of the world where rice is cultivated below sea level and this will be of great importance in view of the projected sea level rise caused by global warming. It is a unique wetland which permits one good crop of rice and one harvest of fish and an area of thriving water tourism. Kuttanad is a biodiversity paradise. The area is also popular for its coconut cultivation, duck rearing & coir industry. The soil is silty clay which is highly impervious facilitating paddy cultivation but is extremely acidic in reaction due to microbial oxidation of organic matter resulting in iron / aluminum toxicity. Cultivation is taken up along contiguous blocks or padasekharams or polders bounded by rivers & canals. Extent of padasekharams range from few hectares to 1000 ha, each padasekharam is owned by several cultivators and group farming is practiced. The main season is the Punja crop (Rabi season) when sowing takes place in November / December immediately after the North East Monsoon and harvesting is done in March / April. A second crop is taken in selected areas as Virippu crop (Kharif season) when sowing takes place in June / July immediately after the South West Monsoon and harvesting is done in September / October. Paddy fields are flooded with water to reduce the soil acidity and to control weeds & pests. This period of flooding is used for duck rearing also. Before sowing, the flooded water is pumped out through centrifugal force using engine pumps after the bunds are repaired. After monsoon, cultivation is taken up on lands bounded by waterways by erecting bunds along the flow of water. When the flow of water increases, the bunds are breached causing floods in the paddy fields. Paddy cultivation is taken up in about 40,000 ha out of which double cropping takes place in 10,000 ha. The Kuttanad region has been under intense and increasing anthropogenic pressure over the years, which has adversely affected its ecology as well as the livelihood of the people. This has resulted in loss of flora and aquatic fauna, particularly the fish species and population, eutrophication of water bodies promoted by nitrate and phosphate leaching from farm fields, high level of pollution with organic, inorganic and toxic material locally generated and brought in by the rivers, aggressive spread of water hyacinth, poor drainage due to choked water ways, increasing intensity of flooding, shortage of potable water and proliferation of water borne parasites and predators affecting human health.