Challenges to Pokkali Farming

Pokkali cultivation continues to face a plethora of challenges. Palliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank has been working tirelessly to address these issues. Some of the challenges Pokkali farming continues to face are:

Loss of Pokkali Lands:

Due to a variety of reasons there has been a drastic decline in paddy cultivation throughout Kerala. According to State Planning Board data, the state lost over 500,000 hectares of land under paddy cultivation between 1980 and 2007 to various other sectors. As of 2010- 11, there were only 213,000 hectares under paddy cultivation. The case is not different in Pokkali lands. From more than 25,000 hectares of Pokkali fields two decades ago, only about 5000 hectares remain and actual cultivation takes place in less than 1000 hectares. Shortage of labor, usage of land for development purposes, general apathy towards agriculture, and conversion of Pokkali farms to monoculture have contributed to significant reduction in land.

Lack of sustainable agricultural practises:

Due to the higher returns on monoculture of prawns many prefer to raise prawns in Pokkali fields. This has proved to be a short term fix, but in the long term it is turning out to be unsustainable due to the condition of soil, water and resultant prawns being impacted. Based on the data collected from 50 rice farming households, the economics of Pokkali farming was calculated. The cost-benefit analysis indicated that short-run economic incentives form the primary reason for this shift to monoculture of prawn (2001. Krishna, V.V. et al). There is conflict of interest between paddy farmers and an aquaculture lobby, and people are more interested in growing only prawn because of higher returns, according to Francis Kalathungal of the Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi.

Impact on soil and land:

Unsustainable farming practices had led to the land becoming more acidic, drinking water sources becoming more brackish, reducing availability of cultivable Pokkali land. Eventually this has led to the fields being left fallow, disrepair of tidal embankment, and the incursion of sea water into freshwater sources.

Unavailability and high cost of Labor:

Pokkali is a labor intensive farming process, 150-200 days of labor for rice cultivation and an additional 350-400 days of labor for prawn farming is needed. Due to the lack of mechanisation and availability of jobs in more economically viable industries in the city, most young people have left the work in agriculture.

Kerala has a large immigrant population that has propelled massive societal changes in the state, along with a very high cost of living. All of this makes the choice of farming Pokkali a tedious task for the farmer. Proportionate increase in prices for farming tools and supplies, labor cost is not reflected in the yield or the prices for the yield. Palliyakkal has been working towards bridging this gap by investing in farming practises, labor supply and remuneration, ensuring better prices for the produce etc.

Industrial Pollution:

Pokkali fields have been impacted severely by the unrestricted industrial pollution along the backwaters. Vembanad lake, Kochi backwaters from the nearby cities and towns have caused considerable harm, especially the oil from the engines of boats that ply on these waterways.

Mega development projects:

Being in an economically viable area, Pokkali fields have been acquired for many large infrastructure projects, Vallarpadam container terminal road, and the railway link are examples of this. These development projects have hindered the flow of tidal waters into the Pokkali fields, and impacted the traditional way of Prawn farming.

2018 Floods- A moment of reckoning

The year of 2018 is one of indelible significance in the history of Kerala, the floods ravaged the state and caused widespread damage. Yet Pokkali sustained through this natural disaster. This resilience of Pokkali has caused a renewed interest among climate change and food security researchers and policy makers. There have been some efforts towards revitalization and advancement of Pokkali agriculture.

Support extended to Pokkali:

Listed below are some of the Government interventions to support farming styles similar to Pokkali:

Punja Act: This act provides monetary support of Rs. 25,000/- per acre to farmers willing to take up Pokkali cultivation in the abandoned fields and Rs. 5000/- for continuing Pokkali cultivation. It also enforces the traditional system of prawn culture for only six months, and the remaining six months are to be compulsorily used for paddy cultivation.

FFDA (Fish Farmers Development Agency): Encouraging an integrated fish farming approach, the FFDA supports farmers with Rs. 4000/ per cage and Rs. 20,000/- per hectare. This agency supports prawn farming as well, by encouraging the paddy-prawns cage culture integrated farming system. These schemes have received national attention, and created employment opportunities, and were able to attract a new generation of farmers into the integrated farming model.

Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK): Facilitates the formation of new marketing avenues in collaboration with local self-government agencies and farmer groups. A survey by KVK in 2011 help identify the key issue of income support as detrimental to the farmers, and KVK was able to create significant measures to successfully support cage fish farming of pearl spot, mullet and sea bass.

PLDA (Pokkali Land Development Agency): Set up in 1996 by the Kerala State Government, PLDA works towards promoting paddy cultivation in the wetlands. PLDA also provides highly disaggregated analysis of the activities of Pokkali fields.

Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi (PSS): By floating informal ‘Pokkali bonds’ the PSS has leased 140 acres of marshy Pokkali fields and revived them.

Mechanization: The National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC) has provided Rs. 337.3 million towards the restoration of 600 hectares of low lying wetlands for Pokkali cultivation. However the program ignores mechanisation of agriculture altogether, most agricultural experts of the state agree that this will be an insurmountable hurdle to the technical advancement of Pokkali cultivation. Some efforts by Kerala Agricultural University towards mechanisation in the form of a prototype amphibian harvesting machine are yet to show results.

GI and Markets for Pokkali Rice: The PLDA and Kerala Agricultural University jointly applied for and received Geographical Indications Tag in 2008 for Pokkali. GI works as a trade copyright and helps with a higher domestic and export trade status for Pokkali.

Cooperative Banks: Palliyakkal Service Cooperative Bank has been taking an active role in the revival of Pokkali farming. PSCB is also working towards a rice mill in the area to support Pokkali rice processing. Food Security Army and Self Help Groups are other initiatives supported by PSCB.


1. CPGD – Kerala, Report for National Adaptation Fund, ‘Promotion of Integrated Farming System of Kaipad and Pokkali in Coastal Wetlands of Kerala 2015-2016 TO 2018-2019’.

2. Dr. Venugopal B., ‘Study of the Indigenous Method of Agriculture Practice called Pokkali’. Centre for Intangible Heritage Studies, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.