Recognising and providing small incentives to these protectors of the genetic wealth is one good step, but what is the use if we don't put these traditional varieties back in the public domain by conserving them in situ. The public sector research and development infrastructure must be used in promoting these strains before these are lost to posterity.
Meet the rice saviours
Four farmer communities from different parts of the country were recently felicitated by the Government for their efforts at preserving different original varieties of rice genomes. The communities are Vrihi Beej Binimoy Kendra (Bankura, West Bengal), Kuruchiya and Kuruma tribal communities (Wayanad, Kerala), tribal communities from Jharkhand, and P Narayanan Unny (Palakkad, Kerala).
At a time of depleting bio-diversity and the need for new varieties to sustain against climate change, the role of these farmer groups, who have preserved different original varieties of rice, is important as the genomes from the original varieties preserved by them can be used by scientists and private seed companies for development of new plant varieties with high productivity, heat tolerance, early maturity and superior quality.
The Vrihi Beej Binimoy Kendra, which is a consortium of farmers and scientists, has been actively engaged in conservation of several varieties of rice for over a decade. They were felicitated for their preservation of Jugal and Sateen varieties, which are multiple seeded rice land races. In fact, researchers at Kolkata’s Bose Institute had confirmed the unique original property of these varieties that could be useful for future development of rice varieties.
“We have been working for the preservation for different varieties of rice for over 13 years now. As a consortium, we sensitised the farmer communities in and around Bankura about the uniqueness of the varieties and thus the need for preserving them,” says Debal Deb of Vrihi, who along with colleagues Debu Dulal Bhattacharya and Subroto Das was felicitated for their active role in preserving rice varieties important for preserving the bio-diversity.
While Vrihi was a consortium engaged in preservation of rice varieties, P Narayanan Unny of Palakkad has been a kind of one-man army engaged in preserving the traditional Navara rice land races, which has been grown since long for its nutritional and medicinal value.
“I have been consciously engaged in preserving Navara variety in a family-owned farm for over 10 years. In fact, now over 30 farmers, covering a total of about 60 acre, have taken up Navara rice cultivation,” Unny said after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar awarded him last month. He said he would also try to sensitise farmers growing other crops to undertake conscious efforts to preserve plant varieties and contribute in maintaining the rich-biodiversity of the country.
The Kuruchiya and Kuruma tribal communities from Wayanad, who were felicitated, have conserved drought tolerant, flood tolerant and scented varieties of rice in their fields. Their varieties like Palthondi, Palveliyan, Thonooranthodi and Urunikaima are drought-tolerant and short-duration varieties cultivated in Kuni Vayal type of soils. They have also preserved flood-tolerant Marathondi, Chettuveliyan and Chenthadi varieties over the years.
“These varieties were being sidelined by new varieties, but the Gene Campaign made us aware about the properties of our traditional varieties and consequently we started increased cultivation of our traditional varieties,” said Sumitra Devi.
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Authority, which came into being in 2005, has made provisions for recognising and providing incentives to farmers and communities for their role in protection of original varieties that could be used for future research and development.