Today the Agricultural Systems and Rural Infrastructure groups visited two farms in Manjaly village in Cochin. At the first farm we were able to see a common planting practice of intercropping cowpeas in the banks between the rows of banana plants. We were also able to see and understand the importance of plant breeding and the effects that it has on a community basis. Two fields of cassava were planted no further than 50ft apart from each other- the first was stricken with cassava mosaic virus that caused the plants to be dwarf and have yellow blotches across all of the foliage. The second field had large and lush foliage that had very little presence of the disease. Cassava Mosaic Virus actively infects susceptible cassava plants and can reduce yields up to 70-80%. Little can be done once the virus takes hold of a plant, therefore preventative measures such as planting resistant varieties is key to controlling the disease. We learned that the second field with little disease was a farmer breed variety of cassava! With a concentration in plant breeding, I think that this is absolutely amazing that farmers have gained the knowledge of simple genetics and selection processes and have created a variety of cassava that combats the threatening diseases of the areas. Naturally with simple genetic breeding and selections, there are trade-offs that impacted the flavor and yield in exchange for disease resistance and storage quality. Even with these trade-offs, the farmers are able to get almost the same market value for their resistant cassava in comparison to the susceptible cassava.
The second farm that we visited focused mainly on elephant’s foot, one of the many staple tubers that are high in carbohydrates. One of the main problems with eating elephant’s foot is the high levels of calcium oxalate that causes some people to have an allergic reaction from eating the tuber. Some varieties are present that have lower levels of calcium oxalate, but these varieties are not always available to farmers to purchase due to high demand. One of the things that resonated the most with me with this visit is the resilience and dedication that these farmers have to their community and occupation when faced with adversity. In August 2018, these farmers and many villages in Cochin were flooded up to 3 meters high and were evacuated to shelters. One farmer said that when he returned, there was a foot of mud in the first level of his house and snakes and other animals made it their home with the family’s absence. It was astonishing and inspiring to hear that the community came together to help each other with cleaning and repainting to make the muddy houses a home again. Without being told about the flooding, I would have never had guessed that there was a natural disaster three months ago in the village that has bight blue and green houses in the midst of vibrant banana plants and freshly planted fields. I think this is a prime example of how a community can bond and overcome many obstacles- an act of kindness and unity that can be overlooked or forgotten in the states.