Developing Land - The Baker Way
|During the 1840s, A G Baker approached the government with a request to grant him 500 acres of wetland in Kumarakom. A man of many ideas and a farmer at heart, Baker wanted to develop the land for paddy and coconut cultivation. The King of Travancore, finding him to be an able farmer, granted him the land in 1847.
Once the land was sanctioned, Baker, with the help of native workers, levelled the wetland with earth. He planted coconut trees in about 150 acres of the newly filled land; the rest of the wetlands were kept apart for cultivating paddy. A lot of effort was then expended to level the land for paddy so that irrigation would be easy. To facilitate the passage of water between the fields, Baker constructed connecting canals about 20 to 30 feet wide.
Bunds were also made around the fields to prevent the salt water of the surrounding area from mixing with the water in the fields. The mud taken out for constructing the connecting canals was used for creating these bunds. Local canoes were used for moving through the canals and to reach the bunds.
Though he was modern in his approach to farming, his methods were eco-friendly and did not destroy the natural habitat of the flora and fauna of the area. During a time when every farmer in the neighbouring villages was using wooden rotary wheels to dry fields, he introduced pump sets. The visionary that he was, Baker took every precaution to prevent possible soil erosion from the sides of the land. To this end, he introduced mangrove (kandal) plants in the area. The plants also prevented strong winds blowing in from the lake from destroying the crops.
Baker left 10 acres of land completely untouched. This land gradually became a haven for local and migratory birds. Today, this land of A. G. Baker’s, the 19th century visionary, is the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary.