The tuber man of Kerala

Shaji NM, often known as “the tuber man of Kerala,” has travelled round India over the previous 20 years, checking bushes in tribal settlements and finding out the bottom of forests nearer to residence among the many lush hills of Wayanad in Kerala. His sole goal, and what has earned him his title, is to assemble unusual indigenous tuber crop varieties.

“People call me crazy, but I do what I do for the love of tubers,” Shaji explains. “I’ve formed an emotional attachment to the tuber.” We had tubers once we didn’t have the rest to eat.”

Shaji’s 8,000 sq. metre (2 acre) farm is residence to a various vary of tubers, a few of that are on the hazard of extinction and others that yield record-sized fruits. Better-known sorts together with yams, candy potato, cassava, taro, and Chinese potato flourish there as effectively. Shaji, like many Keralites, like dioscorea – he grows over 60 varieties on his property – and he particularly enjoys white yams.

Occasionally, phrase of mouth assists him in finding unusual tubers, and Facebook and WhatsApp teams preserve him updated on potential discoveries. He explains when he discovers a brand new variation, “I contact the elders and farmers of the various tribal communities, and we try and name the tuber one thing nearer to the tribe’s identify.”

Shaji’s work in defending and popularising the tuber has earned him quite a lot of honours on the state and nationwide ranges, together with an India biodiversity award for the safety of domesticated species in 2021.

Shaji believes that tubers are necessary not simply as a meals supply, but additionally for his or her therapeutic traits. “We used to eat food as medicine; now we consume medication as food,” he explains. “It must have been the tubers that kept my grandparents healthy even at the age of 110.”

Shaji’s valued assortment now consists of over 200 species of untamed and indigenous tuber crops. In his opinion, information needs to be simply obtainable. “I raise these crops on my land and then provide the seeds to farmers and anybody else who wants them.” In alternate, I urge them to broaden the crops and incorporate them into their weight loss plan,” adds Shaji, who prefers to refer to himself as a “cultivator” quite than a farmer.

However, because the surroundings warms, it is going to be tougher to protect a few of the rarest tubers. Kerala’s biodiversity is dwindling as unseasonal rains sweep away lush farmland. When Kerala noticed one of many worst recorded rainfalls in its historical past in 2018, Shaji’s land was submerged for 15 days.

“The experts warned me that everything would go bad, and I believed them. “I believed it was effective to lose every little thing and begin once more, as I had completed earlier than,” he provides.

But, a lot to his – and the village’s – amusement, “everything started sprouting again after a month or two,” Shaji provides. “I have never, ever put a chemical on my land.” Perhaps it is as a result of my land is so great that nature does not destroy my farm.”

Researchers said in analysis revealed in 2018 that tuber crops “are adaptable to climate change due to their potential to surge over harsh conditions by falling dormant and resuming tuber development during favourable conditions, hence reducing crop failures.”

According to the researchers, the tuber’s capability to resist shifting local weather circumstances makes it “extremely essential for the food security and income of people in this region as well as in many other regions of the country.”

Farming, nonetheless, means way more to Shaji than merely supplying meals. “Agriculture should begin in our hearts, not on the ground,” he argues. “And then, simply by looking at it, we know how to take care of it.”

First revealed on: 25 Apr 2022, 05:00 IST



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