About Wayanad

Origin of the Name

The name Wayanad is derived from Vayal Nadu which means the land of paddy fields. It is a picturesque plateau situated at a height between 700 meters and 2100 meters above the mean sea level nested among the mountains of the majestic Western Ghats on the Eastern portion of North Kerala and on the sides of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka States. It is at the southern end of the Deccan plateau. It has untouched woods, misty mountains, and long spread plantations.

The Spice Garden

Often called the spice garden of India, Wayanad is laid with vast orchards of various spices like cardamom, Black pepper, Star Anise, Fenugreek, Black cumin and more. Most part of this district is encircled by forests. The mean average rainfall in this district is 2322 mm. Lakkidi, Vythiri and Meppadi are the high rainfall areas in Wayanad. Annual rainfall in these areas ranges from 3000 to 4000 mm. Lakkidi, nestled among the hills of Vythiri taluk, has recorded the highest rate of rain in Kerala. It is known to be the place with the second highest rain in theworld, the first place being Chirapoonchi in Meghalaya.

Climate

Generally, the year is classified into four seasons, namely, cold weather (December-February), hot weather (March-May), south west monsoon (June-September) and north east monsoon (October-November). High velocity winds are common during the south west monsoon and dry winds blow in March-April. High altitude regions experience severe cold. Noolmazha (yarn rain) a phenomenon in which the rain falls incessantly for hours like thin yarn was unique to Wayanad. This has been the usual climate in Wayanad but currently, Wayanad is in want of rain. The atmospheric temperature has changed visibly. The heavy fog was another natural phenomenon of Wayanad. During winter (from November to February), it is even difficult to distinguish a person close at hand. The vehicles which come slowly down the hairpin bends by negotiating the heavy fog with the help of its head lights were once a beautiful sight at the mountain pass. The presence of the Nilambur forest had confined the fog to places such as Soochippara, Vaduvanchal, Lakkidi and Meppadi but today, rapid changes that have occurred such as intrusion into the forest areas and the ceaseless exploitation of forest resources have resulted in the lessening of the fog. There was a time when the midsummer sun could only peep through the dense forest even at noon but the dense canopy of the forest has been dying due to the destruction of the wilderness.

Landscape diversity

The landscape diversity of the district varies from forests, bushes, thickets, rocky grass lands, fallow fields, springs, streams, canals and wetlands- a fine example of a heterogeneous ecosystem in which a number of highly useful but endangered plants and animals have been reported.The district is rich in biodiversity with a high percentage of endemism; for instance about 300 species out of an estimated 2000 species of flowering plants endemic to Western Ghats are found in this district. Some of the exclusively endemic species of flowering plants of the district are Tephrosia wayanadensis, Hedyotis wayanadensis, Cynomytra bourdillonii and Bulbophyllum rheedei. Many species in this district are included in the Red Data Book of the Botanical Survey of India and a large number of once commonly available species to communities have now become very rare or extinct.

History

According to the available archaeological evidence, the forests of Wayanad are inhabited since 3000 years ago. Evidences from the New Stone Age civilization prove the presence of human settlements inside the hills of Wayanad. The cave drawings and the pictorial writings seen in the caves of Edakkal and Ambukutthi peak are among the important archaeological evidences (Sajith and Janardhanan, 2009). According to Sajith (2009), the Edakkal caves stands as a greatest archive representing the pre-historic art (approximately 7000 years ago) which throws the light on the Neolithic-iron age engravings that made the archaeologists to consider Wayanad as one of the centre’s of earliest human inhabitation which is similar to the findings in European Alps and Africa .
Meanwhile archives of British rule show the existence of historically recorded evidence only from the 18th century and the data related to agriculture from 19th century onwards. Pre-independence history in Wayanad is vividly known for the War revolt of Raja Pazhassi Raja verma of Kottayam against British army known as “Cotiote War” fought between 1793-1805A.D. (Cohn, 1968). Frequent internecine encounters between the British army and Pazhassi raja led to bloodshed, followed by driving out the King of Kottayam into the wilderness where the ethnic tribe Kurichiya (warrior clan) pleaded their loyalty to the King and fought along with him inside the jungles of Wayanad. King Pazhassi Raja Verma is considered as one among the first freedom fighters to revolt against British using guerilla warfare technique. The fall of Veera Kerala Varma Pazhasi Raja, led to British rule in the Malabar of Kerala, including Wayanad. The descendants of Kurichiya warriors who fought along with the King Pazhassi Raja are still living in Wayanad and are rich treasure houses of cultural heritage and indigenous traditional knowledge. Under the British rule the plateau is opened up for cultivation of tea and other cash crops such as coffee and rubber. Motorable roads were laid across the hilly slopes of Wayanad, from Kozhikode and Thalassery (Aiyyapan and Mahadevan, 1990). Henceforth the forested area of Wayanad gets connected to the nearby trade spots of Mysore and Ooty through Gudalur. 3.1.2 Location Wayanad, one of the 14 districts lies in the North Eastern part of Kerala. It is located on an elevated plateau (700-2100m above MSL) in the Western Ghats of India. The district was formed by carving out the portions from Kannur and Kasargode districts in the Northern part of Kerala on 1November, 1980 and was the 12th district in the administrative area of Kerala. Wayanad falls under the verge of two climatic zones: per humid and moist sub-humid zone.

Revenue divisions

The revenue division of Wayanad is comprised of 3 taluks namely, Vythiri, Mananthavady and Sultan Bathery with 49 revenue villages that includes 4 development blocks, Mananthavady, Kalpetta, Sultan Bathery and Panamaram with 25 panchayats. Forests in the Wayanad district are unique and peculiar as it represents the transition zone of moist laden forests of South-Western ghats to the Northern drier forests. Total forest area of Wayanad is 2,131 km2 which represents 83.3% of the total geographical area of the district. Around 1,775 km2 of the total area falls under the forest cover of Wayanad with two forest divisions Wayanad North (134.02 km2) and Wayanad South (66.13 km2) respectively. Besides the forest divisions, the district is comprised of four Wildlife divisions namely, Tholpetty (77.67 Km²), Kurichiyatt (106.45 Km²), Muthanga (74.29 Km²) and Sultan bathery (86.03 Km²) respectively. The district consists of six ranges under the administrative divisions of Kerala Forest Department (KFD).

Forests

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1973, which forms an integral part of India’s first biosphere reserve the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in 1986, which is continuous with the protected area network of Rajiv Gandhi national park and Bandipur National Parks of Karnataka on the Northeast and Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) of Tamil Nadu on the Southeast. The total extent of the sanctuary is 344.44 km2 and is divided into two discontinuous portions with revenue lands and ecologically fragile lands (EFL) in between. The natural vegetation of the Sanctuary is broadly classified on the basis of Champion and Seth (1968) into West-coast tropical semi-evergreen forests, Southern moist mixed deciduous forests and Southern dry mixed deciduous forests. Moist deciduous forest vegetation is the dominant forest type in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Muthanga, Begur, Tholpetty forest ranges). Eastern parts of the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary are continuous with the deciduous forests of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) of Tamil Nadu and Bandipur-Nagarhole National Parks of Karnataka. Besides these vegetation types, presence of edaphic types such as Reed brakes, moist Bamboo brakes and low altitude marshy grasslands (Vayals) also exist in the WWLS. Rich in biodiversity, the sanctuary is an integral part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which has been established with the specific objective of conserving the biological heritage of the region. Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary forms a significant part of the catchment area of Kabani River which flows towards East into Karnataka. Southern portion of the sanctuary is drained by Nulpuzha and Mavinahalla streams which combine to form Nagarhole river. Manjalthodu and other small streams in the sanctuary become dry during peak summer season (February-March). Since Wayanad is a largely montane area that receives high annual rainfall (2300mm) within a short span of 3 to 4 months (May-August) and the lands act as an important hydrological watershed. A large number of people living in the adjoining areas depend on these rivers and streams for water supply. Thus, the livelihoods of these communities were sustained by the soils and waters in this region. Thus, the geographic setting of Wayanad makes it highly sensitive to environmental stresses. The area is characterized by high levels of species endemism. The forests here are globally important as they house endemic flora and fauna, which include 229 species of plants, 31 species of mammals, 15 species of birds, 52 species of amphibians. Among these, 55 species are critically endangered, 148 species are endangered and 129 species are vulnerable as per IUCN classification (Narayanan et al., 2011). Moreover, a number of cultivated food plants have their wild relatives in these forests. Among spices, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and curcuma have their wild relatives largely in these wet evergreen forests. Bamboo, Teak (Tectona grandis) Silver oak (Grevillea robusta) and Pines (Pinus spp.) are cultivated as small-scale plantations in the forests by the forest department. However, this vivid landscape is occupied by the tea and coffee plantations that have resulted in severe fragmentation of the natural forests. Conserving these remaining forests is a big challenge due to fragmentation, monocultures and overexploitation that have increased degradation (Bandhu, 2010). Meanwhile 2,462 ha of forest area falls under the Ecologically Fragile Lands (EFL – ‘Ecologically Fragile Land’ means any portion of land held by any person and lying contiguous or encircled by a reserve forest or vested forest or any other forest land owned by the Government and predominantly supporting natural vegetation; and any land declared to be EFL by the Government by notification in the official Gazette under Section 4 of Kerala Forest Act).

Agriculture and Biodiversity of Wayanad

High altitude agriculture of Wayanad is characterized by the specialized multi-tier cropping system. The gross cropped area of Wayanad covers 97.82% of the geographical area and is dominated by cash crops. The major plantation crops include the perennial crops as an important component in the cropping system such as coffee, tea, pepper, rubber and cardamom that together account for 38% of cropped area. Also, the district of Wayanad is unique for its homestead cultivation at the subsistence level. Paddy is the staple crop of the region and is cultivated on 22,772 hectares. Paddy-based cropping systems involve paddy, vegetables and banana. The uplands adjoining the wetlands are characterized by homestead farming with coffee and pepper. Multitier cropping systems gives major structure for homesteads or homegardens involving coffee, pepper and ginger, along with trees such as mango, papaya, drumstick, jack fruit, jamun, coconut and arecanut are more prevalent land use patterns in this region. The average size of land holdings is very meager i.e. 0.68ha. Coffee, which covers a total area of 67,429 hectares, is grown as under-crop in the homesteads of over 80% of small (1.33 ha) and marginal farmers (0.14 ha) in Wayanad district. Pepper, the second most important crop in the district, is also grown in home gardens. Of the total estimated 155,855 landholdings in the district of Wayanad, 83% belong to either small or marginal farmers (Santhoshkumar, 2010). For many families, agriculture (mostly subsistence) is the main occupation and these families have limited access to alternative sources of income. These families inhabit marginal, less agriculturally productive land, where harvest is more vulnerable to deterioration in soil and water quality. People depend on the forest and homegardens for a variety of needs. Though the nature and the mode of extractive dependence have changed over time, people’s dependence on forests continues. Hence, any deterioration of these resources will have a telling impact on their livelihood. In general agricultural land-use changes have impacted the forest ecosystems of Wayanad in two major ways; first, a conspicuous shrinkage of the forest cover and, second, the loss of structural integrity of the remaining forests (DeFries et al., 2010; Kumar et al., 2010). Due to acculturation, unregulated mass tourism, deforestation, monoculture and the related market/development forces- the habitats in Wayanad are degraded and biodiversity is lost at a rapid rate. Unaware of the age-old traditional agriculture practices of the tribes, the non tribal populations brought the agricultural practices of the plains, the topographical peculiarity and agro-climate, and pursued intensive farming which had a disastrous effect on the quality of soil/water and agro biodiversity (Singh, 1978; Schmidt and Peterson, 2009; Lockie and Carpenter, 2010; Sandhu et al., 2010). Once, Wayanad was known as the land of paddy fields. When these paddy fields gave way to banana groves, the water sources in the fields began drying up. In addition, when farmers, motivated by financial gains, made a shift from the traditional farming systems to crops like rubber, coco, vanilla and areca nut, the area lost its traditional water harvesting structures. This led to the decrease in the water levels which resulted eventually in water scarcity. The immense use of pesticides in the agricultural fields had also contributed to the drought situation in many parts of the district.

Ethnicity

According to the 2011 census report (Isac, 2011) a major part of the population of aboriginal tribes in Kerala is distributed in the Wayanad district, which constitutes 1,36,062 of the total population. It is reported that 36% of tribal population of the state live here and 17.4% of the total population of the district belong to the tribal communities (Indian Council of Social Science Research, 2008). This district has a purely agriculturedependent economy and is among the most underdeveloped regions in India. The tribes of Wayanad constitute Paniyas, Adiyas, Kurichiyas, Mullakuruma, Uralikuruma and Kattunaikas and are distinctive in terms of culture, heritage and living habits. The community varies from hunter-gatherer to farmers and labourers from historical times. They dwell deep inside the pristine forests in the district. Primitive communities of Kattunaikas were hunter-gatherers (presently laborers), Kurichiyas and Kurumas practices agriculture (socio-economically higher communities) whereas other communities are laborers.
Tribals of Wayanad have rebelled against the state a few times. The first outburst was witnessed at the dawn of the 19th century when Pazhassi Raja — the famous ruler of Wayanad region — fought against the British rule in Malabar. The king’s death and defeat in 1805 marked the end of tribal independence in Wayanad. The tribals were forced to work as labourers for landlords and European planters. The second wave of the tribal rebellion in Wayanad was in the late 1960s. The root of this mutiny went back to the 1950s, when the government of the erstwhile Madras State initiated a scheme in Wayanad to provide land jointly to the tribals and migrants. But this experiment proved to be a disaster. It aimed to ‘modernise’ the tribes involved in shifting cultivation to settled agriculture. But tribes, uncomfortable with settled agriculture, leased out their lands to settlers. Taking advantage of Kerala’s tenancy laws, these settlers succeeded in confiscating the tribal’s lands. Even tribes which benefited from land allocations got into debt traps and had to become bonded labourers. The recent incident at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Kerala in February 2003 is the third of its kind. Nearly 165 years after the first wave of rebellion, the Adiya and the Paniya tribals of Wayanad were galvanised by the Naxalite movement to rebel against the landlords. But the movement petered out. Intriguingly, it was left to the national emergency of 1975 and its ’20 point programme’ to accelerate the liberation of bonded labour in the district. However, successive state governments dragged their feet on the issue. The state of hopelessness engendered by these failures was compounded by forest legislations — which reinforced the dictum of singular stakeholdership — initiated by the British. Even the Forest Conservation Act 1980 separated forest lands from the traditional inhabitants. The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the National Forest Policy 1988 too were wedded to the narrow conservationist line of the Forest Conservation Act. Tribals were treated on the same footing as ‘outside communities’, when it came to the issue of relocation and encroachment of forest lands. Huge budgets were made for relocation of tribals outside national parks and sanctuaries. However, in relocation programmes, no special consideration was shown in management plans for the original denizens. Wayanad also did not share the euphoria over the joint forest management programme initiated in the 1990s. Interestingly, in 1990, the Union ministry of environment and forests had issued a set of guidelines on ‘tribal forest interface’. Ostensibly, these guidelines were meant to accord importance to tribal sentiments and tribal rights. In reality, they were cosmetic. Though they touched upon the ‘review of disputed claim over forest lands’ and ‘pattas/leases/grants involving forest lands’, they gave very little away to the tribes. Rather, these guidelines only served to reinforce the principle of singular stakeholdership. A case in point has been the guideline regarding the bonafide claims of tribals over forests in areas, which are not observing due process of settlement. Though the norms provided for resumption of rights to tribes in reserved forests, in practice they gave authorities the muscle to restrict these rights in the larger interest of ‘conservation’. It is this story of neglect of tribals of Wayanad by Kerala’s forestry establishment that led to the third rebellion. This is the first major challenge against forest laws and establishments by the tribals of Wayanad. What has been challenged in the Muthanga forests is the notion that tribals are inimical to forests and wildlife. The Muthanga incident symbolises the second homecoming for Wayanad tribals . It also shows a longing for their habitat, which they had lost to the British in 1805. Finally, they want to move away from the language of globalised India, which considers them as an indispensable raw material providing a source of unlimited labour for multinational corporations. The tribal forest issue in Wayanad thus goes beyond the narrow issue of ‘land ownership’ to the more fundamental issue of ‘cultural identity’ of these members of India’s marginalised civilization.

Change in land use pattern

The massive migration of people from Thiruvithamkoor and other places in Kerala since the 1950s has marked many changes in Wayanad’s landscape. The agricultural policies and methods adopted by the migrant farmers and the abuse done to the Vesting Assignment Act of 1971 have altogether ended up in the destruction of forest resources as a whole. All these developments have inevitably given cause to the current climatic changes in the form of scarcity of rain and water, and increase in the atmospheric temperature. Recently, Wayanad has been added to the list of places affected by climatic changes. Prominent factors which precipitated these climatic changes in Wayanad need to be examined thoroughly.

Tourism

According to the District Tourism Promotion Council, Kerala is regarded as one of the fastest growing centres of tourism. The period between November and February is celebrated as the Tourism season in Wayanad and about 60 lakhs (six million) of tourists are visiting Wayanad every year. The preference given to Wayanad by tourists over Ooty and Munnar has resulted in the incredible growth of resorts in the district. Gulf migration and the expansion of tourism hastened construction works, neglecting the topographical nature of Wayanad. The increasing population and pining for wealth altered the notion of shelter to symbols of luxury. Rise in demand has also compelled builders to change the manner and method of construction. Many paddy fields gave way for buildings. This spurt in construction demanded the incessant excavation of hills and deforestation of the wilderness. The establishment of ‘White Water’ (the first resort in Wayanad) in 1986 inaugurated a new era of resorts in Wayanad. The erection of resorts is an unavoidable outcome of tourism’s expansion and there are about 37 resorts in remote areas and by the side of the national highway from the mountain pass to Vythiri. Unofficial statistics show that about 50 resorts are under construction in and around Vythiri and untold acres of land were bought for the construction of over a 100 resorts there.
Lakadi in Wayanad district of Kerala which is an ecologically fragile area has witnessed many multi storey buildings being constructed off late. Photo: Ajith Bathery The law bans the construction of three storied buildings near the mountain pass and its surroundings. All these laws are vested with the revenue department. At present, the Panchayath Raj Act privileges the panchayaths to control these illegal constructions. However, it is painful to see that there is no timely intervention by the vested authorities concerning these illegal activities. According to the Madhav Gadgil Committee, the mountain pass and its environs comes under Zone-I. To preserve Wayanad, an encompassing law which entrusts the Panchayaths to cease these unscientific construction works is necessary to be promulgated. The Oriental college, which stands with multiple stories near the entrance to the pass and the pools that were constructed for White Water resort are indeed onslaughts on the environment. Most of them are working illegally and even ignoring the rules regarding construction of water ponds. The landslide that occurred in the mountain pass in 2004 should be a stark reminder of the consequences of violating the environment. As M.T Vasudevan Nair, a renowned Malayalam writer says in his ‘Kannanthali Pookkalude Kalam’ (The season when the Kannanthali flowers blossom) that the hills are ready to board on trucks. The condition of Wayanad is also the same. Most of the hills are crushed to the ground and later removed in trucks to some other places for construction. There are construction works in other parts of the world done in accordance with the geographical features of the places. Yet, nothing has been taken into account while building multi-storied flats in the ecologically sensitive areas of Wayanad. A recent comprehensive study conducted by two social anthropologists from Germany has found that nature tourism is turning a severe challenge not just to the Wayanad region’s biodiversity and wildlife but also to its highly vulnerable tribal community. “As per the 2001 census, the population of scheduled tribes in Wayanad district is 17.43 percent of its total population as compared to 1.14 percent for Kerala overall. Introduced as a panacea for Wayanad’s agrarian and ecological crisis, tourism has resulted in ‘zooification’ and ‘exoticisation’ of tribals and that verges on racism,” observed the researchers Daniel Munster of Martin Luther University and Ursula Munster of Ludwig Maximilians. The findings of their six-year-long research activity reveal the other side of nature tourism, which has exploited tribal people and the environment in Wayanad. The tribal hamlets of Wayanad are now turning into ‘ethnic village zoos’ where Adivasi images are preserved on the same conceptual level as elephant encounters and other wildlife adventures, said Sumesh Mangalassery, founder and promoter of Kabani – The Other Direction, a responsible tourism initiative that exposes social and cultural implications of large scale tourism.

Mining

Mining with explosives threatens the basic structure of the environment. The crusher industry of this area also abet in damaging the diversity of Western Ghats. There are 156 crushers working at different parts of Wayanad district. There are 38 crushers working currently at Ambalavayal Panchayath alone where the historically important Edakkal caves are located. Among those, 33 crushers are registered and only 12 are licensed; the remaining crushers work with the support of the granite society which issue explosive licences to them. The consequence is that some of the mountains that are near the Edakkal caves have disappeared. Most of the crushers are situated at Meppadi, Mooppainad, Vellamunda and Padinjarathara panchayaths. On account of the ecological damages the crushers cause, the Forest Department has terminated the operations of 14 crushers at Manikkunnumala, Chooralmala, Kallumala, Chamapara, Bappanmala, Banasura, Chundel and Perunthatta at Muttil which comes under the South Wayanad Forest Division.The condition of sand mining is not at all different from that of mining rock. The number of rivers is comparatively less in Wayanad. Yet, there are people who take sand from the brooks in addition to the paddy fields without licenses. This is a common sight in Wayanad nowadays. The sand mafia in Wayanad has made big carvings of paddy fields by going to the extent of blocking or diverting the water supply and rendering them uncultivable.

Plantations

Vythiri, Chundel and Meppadi are the areas in which the plantations remain at least partially. The damages done to the plantations and the extensive deforestation that took place many times had caused climatic changes in these places. The deforestation at Meenakshi Sundharam estate in Vythiri is the primary reason for the changes in the climate which manifested in gradual reduction in the rate of rainfall.

Deforestation

The native plants of the evergreen forests in Wayanad have a key role in keeping the soil wet but the destruction of these natural forests for cultivating trees like teak for industrial purposes had altered the landscape and the climate.
View of the ninth hairpin bend of the Wayanad Ghats The manufacturing of plywood from trees (these trees are smaller in diameter compared to trees used for lumber) on a large scale resulted in the massive felling and debarking of these trees. The ‘Times of India’ daily (Kochin edition) dated 21st May 2013 reported that the Divisional Forest Officer of South Wayanad certified that there are many illegal removal and selling of trees going on even in the surrounding and enclosed forest areas at Vythiri, Banasura, Chembra, Kurichyar mala and Vellarimala. This unchecked trade will endanger the geographical stability and biodiversity of the area. It must be noted that these areas are parts of the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. For long, the major threat to Wayanad’s ecology was the commercial supply of bamboo to a factory of Gwalior Rayons in Mavoor on the banks of Chaliyar River in Kozhikode. Gwalior Rayons was established in 1963 for the production of pulp and fibre and the Kerala government supplied bamboo at a special price of Re. 1 per tonne for three decades. This had wiped out the bamboo forests of Wayanad. The Gadgil committee report and Kasthoori Rangan report aimed at environmental protection are being discussed heavily nowadays but nature continues to be heavily exploited and damaged. In this struggle for survival, it is feared that environmental protection will remain as ideas in our dreams only.

Shedding the ‘backward region’ tag

Though they have different political perspectives, a number of people in Wayanad are welcoming the arrival of Rahul Gandhi to their constituency hoping that it would help the region shed the ‘backward’ tag attached to it for decades. It is the only district in Kerala that found a place in the list of 115 backward districts of the country under the Aspirational District Programme of NITI Aayog. “The arrival of a heavyweight politician can help us remove the tag. In a way, it is Kerala’s Vidharbha,” said K. Raveendran, a senior official at a public sector enterprise who returned to agricultural practice post-retirement, likening the agricultural situation in Wayanad to that of the drought-ridden region in Maharashtra that is infamous for farmers’ suicides. Hundreds of farmers here had committed suicide in the recent years because of indebtedness caused by the falling prices of cash crops, especially paddy, pepper, ginger and coffee. We are badly in need of a recovery,” he said. Untimely rains, rising heat, vanishing mist, disappearing birds and animals, and dying rivers have made the situation extremely bad in Wayanad.

Farm crisis in Wayanad

The settler cash-crop farmers of Wayanad “who hitherto used environmentally destructive capitalist farming processes, struggling against wildlife, Adivasis and the forest department, are now partially shifting to a post-agrarian economy that includes non-agrarian livelihoods and large-scale investment in tourism.” “In their practice of nature tourism, they ironically value and commodify the same forests, wildlife and tribal people. These three elements were seen by them for many decades as obstacles to capitalist development,” said the study. The prevailing agrarian crisis in Wayanad is the outcome of ‘de-peasantisation’ or transition from land-based livelihoods to market-based ones, say experts. The low productivity of degraded agricultural fields forces small holders to sell their land, making it available for real-estate investors, who have been responsible for the mushrooming of cottages and resorts that block elephant corridors and water sources. Moreover, ginger cultivation has brought new agrarian capital which is further invested in tourism that has landed up being exploitative to local communities. Ginger cultivators from Wayanad have expanded their cultivation to southern and western Karnataka regions (especially Kodagu, Hassan, Mysore and Chikmangalur regions). They take land on lease there to cultivate and it takes just about six months for a bumper harvest of ginger. The profit they earn in these places returns to Wayanad in the form of investment in tourist resorts. According to multiple studies, the land reforms initiated by successive governments in the state had very little redistributive effect in Wayanad. “It legalised large-scale land grabbing by settlers and bypassed claims of the Adivasi population. Now tourism is helping commodification of Wayanad’s nature and culture for middle-class consumption,” reported Daniel Munster in his study. Farmers committing suicide is not even news here anymore. It happens every year. The latest one was that of 55-year-old Krishnakumar at Kattikulam on March 24. Only large-scale coffee growers are assured of a safe crop. Unlike in the past, Wayanad is now prone to large scale landslides, landslips and land subsidence which result in disfiguring slopes and making large tracts of land unstable. The last year’s flood was the first of its kind that thrown normal life out of the gear in almost all parts of the district. Geological experts confirm that the nature and intensity of the calamity last year in the district was alarming. According to soil conservation officials, analysis of the geological calamities shows the vulnerability of the 80 km-long Western Ghats mountain ridge from Brahmagiri in the north to Sugandhagiri and Vythiri in the west. These reaffirm the findings of the Madhav Gadgil Committee report which said that unscientific constructions had caused enormous damages to the flora and fauna of Wayanad. Majority of the areas deluged in last year’s flood in Wayanad were cited as fragile by the Madhav Gadgil Committee report eight years ago, recommending a complete ban on mining, construction activities and use of land for non-forest purposes. But the report of the committee, known as the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), was junked by the policymakers. Post floods in Kerala, what is most worrying is the large number of land subsidence, or sinking or settling of land due to loss of sub-surface support, which has destroyed houses and caused long cracks on hill slopes. While land subsidence is caused by the high-intensity rainfall during monsoon days, landslides were exacerbated by man-made factors like unscientific land use and cutting the toe of the hills for construction and land mining, making them unstable. Additionally, first and second order streams, 70 percent of which have vanished over the past 45 years due to encroachments, also contributed to the occurrence of natural hazards, according to Wayanad district soil conservation officer P.U. Das Indiscriminate construction, road formation and filling up of paddy fields is also contributing to the worrying situation in Wayanad. According to district officials, Wayanad used to receive 2,322 mm average rainfall annually. Now it has reduced significantly. The tea and coffee plantations over pristine forests, started by Britishers post Second World War, had started altering the land use patterns in Wayanad. The migration of settlers from central Travancore since 1950, searching for agriculture land, had turned the situation worse.

Human wildlife conflict

Increasing human-wildlife conflicts are another matter of concern in Wayanad. Large scale protest marches were organized in the last three years demanding government permission to shoot down tigers and elephants. The riskiest job in Wayanad is now that of animal trackers under the forest department, who set out to locate raiding elephants and tigers that threaten human settlements inside Wayanad wildlife sanctuary. In the last eight months, half a dozen people were killed in tiger attacks in Wayanad. Lone tigers were sighted in human areas 18 times and nearly a score of cattle was reported lost to them, according to environmental organization Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy.

An elephant herd crossing the Wayanad-Mysore high way

Toxic hub

“Many plantations in Wayanad remain toxic hubs due to the indiscriminate spraying of hazardous pesticides. It has been found that the use of banned pesticides has gone up considerably in the ginger farms of Wayanad,” said S. Geetha, a social worker in Kalpetta. Even as the Agriculture Department had laid down guidelines on the safe use of pesticides, plantation owners tend to ignore this. Vengoor in Sulthan Bathery Municipality, Varayal in Muttil panchayat, Periya, Thavinjal and Alattil in Mananthavady Municipality are reportedly some of the localities where excessive use of toxic pesticides is common place.
The widespread use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has resulted in irreparable damage to Wayanad’s fragile ecosystem, resulting in a plethora of problems ranging from health issues to toxic pollution of local water bodies, soil, air and groundwater. Incidentally, Wayanad tops the state’s infant mortality and maternal death rates and a study had revealed that the overuse of pesticides was the major reason for the infant mortality rate. Additionally, the use of pesticides is linked to disappearing wildlife prey. Many farmers confirm that foxes which once roamed around in the region have simply vanished from Wayanad. “Overuse of pesticides in banana plantations might have killed the prey of foxes resulting in their disappearance. We have not seen foxes in local forests for 20 years,” said P.V. Dinesh, a farmer in Kalpetta. According to him, certain species have vanished but some new varieties of birds and animals, normally seen only in warm weather, have arrived.

Sources

https://wayanad.gov.in/
https://india.mongabay.com/2019/04/an-environmental-catastrophe-is-lurking-in-wayanad/
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/coverage/what-happened-in-wayanad-12804
http://climatesouthasia.org/wayanad-a-case-of-keralas-environmental-degradation/
https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/195354/11/11_chapter%203.pdf

 

 

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