Biodiversity and Food: Tuber Man

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He is known as ‘Tuber Man’ because of his unusual passion. Shaji N.M has had no formal education, yet he is an expert on tuber crops. He has collected a large number of tuberous plants from all over India, which he displays to tourists and the local community in his farm in Kerala’s Wayanad District.

Shaji has also planted local varieties of paddy, vegetables and fruits in the small landholding he has named ‘Kedaram’, which means ‘cultivation’ in Malayalam. His inspiration was a childhood phase when there was a drought, and his parents sourced tubers from the forest to keep the family alive. His aim is to conserve tubers and yams so that people will have enough to eat in the event of droughts in the future. He appreciates that climate change could affect food crops adversely, and stresses that the problems can be offset by tuberous crops which can survive such changes.

Shaji’s efforts to preserve wild and domestic varieties of tubers have won recognition. He has educated thousands of people on the value of tuber crops. He does all this work voluntarily. His wife cooks and sells traditional food made from crops grown on his lands to visitors at a low cost.

Currently Shaji has 88 types of tubers in his collection, including six wild varieties. His list of species has been included in the Edavaka PBR of Wayanad District. He has educated other farmers and students of various agricultural institutions too on the value of his crops. He encourages school children to come and see his collection and explains to them the nutritional and medicinal properties of the tubers. Shaji is a passionate individual and a great conservationist.

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