Wayanad has a long history in agriculture. Shifting cultivation was in practice by the tribal communities such as Kurichiyas and Kurumas with Muthari, Chama and Thina were the main crops. Settled agriculture started with the paddy cultivation. A study conducted by M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation shows more than 75 traditional varieties were cultivated in various parts of Wayanad District during 1970s. Among the traditional rice varieties, a good number of rice cultivars like Gandhakasala, Jeerakasala, Veliyan, Kayama etc are believed to be evolved in this place.
More than 80% of the people in Wayanad depend on agriculture either directly or indirectly for their livelihood. Coffee, pepper, tea, banana, paddy, cardamom, ginger, vegetables etc are the main crops presently cultivated in Wayanad.
A notable feature of Wayanad District is the Coffee based farming system where other cash crops like pepper, ginger, cardamom, and vanilla are integrated. Wayanadan pepper is most important because its property, size and dry weight are strikingly different from that of produced in other areas of the state. The humid tropical forest environment and the optimum altitude of 700-900 m of the district that is ideal for luxuriant growth of this species has contributed to this geographical significance of the cultivated pepper. Piper nigrum, P. galeatum. P. sugandhi and P. wightii co-exist in many localities in Wayanad, which also may have contributed to the special properties of Pepper in Wayanad.
Wayanadan Ginger and Wayanadan Nendran (Banana variety) earned high appreciation and admiration in the market in India and in Gulf Countries. Wayanad produces largest quantities of these two crops in the State. Species diversity and varietal diversity of these two are very high in the district as evidenced by the presence of its many Farmer Varieties like Wayanad local, Mananthody and Maran in case of Ginger in this region. Four species of wild ginger are seen in the district, apart from many varieties of the cultivated species, Zingiber officianale.
In Wyanad district ‘Wyanad Pepper’ has cultivated in most part of the district as it has distinct characters and is preferred by overseas market. Nearly 1 lakh families are involved in pepper cultivation. Pepper is the major source of income and employment to the rural households in the hilly tracts of Kerala State. Kerala State accounts for nearly 97.4% of the total area and pepper cultivation in the Country. As Wayanad is a traditional pepper growing area the inputs for cultivation and processing are readily available within the district.
Out of the total coffee area in Kerala, more than 80% is in Wayanad. Robusta coffee is the major variety, which is grown in more than 99% of the total area under coffee. The yield potential of robusta coffee in Wayanad is reported to be 1400 and 2500 Kg./ha. Under rain fed and irrigated conditions respectively. Quality of well-processed Wayanad robusta coffee is found to be good. Robusta is generally used as a blend in the brew with Arabica. Besides, there is a good demand for washed robustas in international market.
The centre could document 52 varieties of cultivated legumes from the district and 13 varieties of Taros (including cultivated and wild). Nutritional studies reveal that taros are the excellent source of Vitamin-C and E, Potassium and Magnesium. They are the significant components in the traditional dish of the small and the marginal farmers of this region.
Conservation through cultivation has been envisaged in the satellite community gardens through custodian farmers. MSSRF in last few decades were in close association with these communities and the custodian farmers for ensuring the cultivation of the traditional crop cultivars. This effort contributes to the (i) Plant Diversity-Research that aimed to unravel the keystone plant diversity (ii) Biodiversity Conservation with regard to conservation of the wild and cultivated diversity of ecological value (iii) Biodiversity-Education area with awareness, communication and capacity development projects in biodiversity conservation (iv) Biodiversity-Recreation with the goal of inspiring people to achieve vision and mission of the garden.
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and Botanic Garden (MSSRF and BG) actively involved in training programme for farmers to develop the skill and replicated a model of Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) in MSSRF to ensure low cost production, high profitability and less environment harm. It is a practical business model portrait rural-urban continuum.
The Seed Fair is an effective forum to spread message of conservation, cultivation and consumption of diverse, safe and healthy plant and animal genetic resources, and to exchange seeds. A variety of community forest seed diversity is being exhibited to raise awareness of the range of species.
The garden aids to mainstream the biodiversity in agriculture with collections and cultivations of intra-specific variability in plant genetic resources (PGRs) of food, nutrition, income and cultural value. Apart from that the garden focuses on the rural and tribal farm communities to cultivate and conserve the traditional varieties, which are climate resilient in reference with protection of the culinary and curative diversity of the region. The garden will promote climate-smart biodiversity conservation and cultivation methods by linking the field gene banks, sacred groves, agro forests, and the protected areas in the bio-valley of the Western Ghats with the support of a trans-disciplinary scientific team.