Nestled high among the most-capped mountains of the Western Ghats of Kerala, with altitudes ranging from 700 to 2100 m, is the woodlands region of Wayanad. The district of Wayanad extends over an area of 2125 sq.km. Wayanad is known for its tropical climate and lush green valleys and forests. The district is emerging as a major location for eco-tourism. It is also the inheritor of ancient religious & cultural heritages. These are reflected in the very old and diverse religious institutions, festivals & tribal ballads.
Wayanad is also one of the tri-juncture districts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu & Kerala known as the Nilgiri Biosphere. An area known world-wide for its bio-mass resources, environment richness and scenic beauty. This tri-juncture is also known for its rich flora & fauna resources.
Indigenous or tribal people make about 20% of Wayanad’s total population. They are made up of 14 different communities officially recognized by the state as scheduled tribes. The Kurichia, Paniya, Adiya, Thenukuruma and Mullukuruma are the major communities. Historically, these indigenous communities had maintained their time-tested patterns of self-governance, social institutions and cultural heritage living in symbiotic relationship with nature & the forest.
The post independent governments followed a development model of extraction of natural resources followed by intensive cultivation & plantation that soon led to depletion of natural resources as well as productivity of the land.
Wayanad or ‘vayal nadu’ literally meaning paddy fields, transformed itself into a place rich in cash crops like coffee, pepper, tea, cardamom, etc. Vast forests were cleared. Food crops gave way for cash crops. Unemployment grew by bounds. Starvation & seasonal water shortages increased & the marginalized suffered the most. The erratic trends in the global market led to wide fluctuation in the price as well as demand for cash crops. The intensively cultivated land could not sustain the production. Crisis in the agricultural sector began to take its toll. The traditional sustainable subsistence agriculture became a thing of the past. The farmers looked for alternative means of income.
Despite the rich natural endowments & the wealth generated for the state, Wayanad remained uncared for by successive governments. Even after the formation of a separate political division of Wayanad district in 1980, there have been only some focused developmental efforts mostly centered on infrastructure development. The district continues to be one of the most backward districts in the state in all respects in terms of the physical quality of life - especially of the indigenous people, labourers and small farmers of the district.