Apr 15, 2009

The Indigenous Rice Gene Bank

No, I am not talking of the much talked about Gene Bank at the International Rice Research Institute, at Las Banos, in the Philippines. Nor I am talking about the National Gene Bank housed in the National Bureau for Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi. The indigenous rice Gene Bank I am talking about is a unique repository of rice genetic wealth, a one-man effort to conserve and preserve the traditional rice germplasm in situ.

Natbar Sarangi is not only an organic farmer. He is in reality a mankind's heritage. Future generations will remain indebted to him for his singular effort in collecting, preserving and conserving a massive 310 rice accessions in his two hectare farm, located in Narisco village in Khurda district of Orissa. What makes his effort unique is that he is not only conserving these rice strains but also cultivating them.
I am simply amazed by what little I have read about Natbar Sarangi, a retired school teacher. Knowing how difficult, strenuous, laborious and of course thankless is the task of meticulously collecting the traditional rice cultivars, and keep them viable over a long period, I think the NBPGR needs to learn from him a lesson or two on how to select and preserve these strains. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) would do an honour to itself by appointing Natbar Sarangi as a distinguished 'national professor'. Meanwhile, it is really heartening to learn that Save Our Rice Campaign (launched by Thanal, Kerala), Sahaja Samrudha of Bangalore, and Sirinadu Gramina Janabivrudhi Samsthe are honouring Natbar Sarangi at the proposed Rice Utsav-2009 being organised at Shimoga in Karnataka on April 19.
I often wonder why as a nation we fail to recognise the valient efforts being made by farmers like Natbar Sarangi? Why are our agricultural universities and the research institutes always trying to ignore or run down the richness of indigenous wealth? Why is it that our scientists always look at what is available in America and Europe, even if it is not adaptable under Indian conditions? In short, why are we ashamed of everything the country has, I mean its massive biodiversity, and the traditional knowledge associated with it? The answer does not lie in honoring these seed saviours by giving them a plaque as the Plant Varieties Protection & Farmers Rights Authority (PVPFRA) would normally do. What is needed is to learn from them, and propagate these cultivars with the backing of the entire official machinery.
A team of researchers from Thanal in Thiruvanthpuram had visited Natbar Sarangi at his farm. I present below some excerpts from their field report:
Natbar Sarangi, is an organic farmer, from the Narisco village of Khurda district of Orissa. He cultivates and conserves 310 varieties of rice in 2 hectares of his field. Sarangi retired as a High school teacher, and at the age of 50 took up farming as a post retirement activity. He started out with cultivating the popular high yielding variety, CR1009 but the pest incidence was high. Agricultural department suggested pesticides application.

While applying Carbofuran pesticide, a worker who was applying it fainted in the fields. Sarangi immediately stopped the application. The next morning when he went back he found crabs, snails, fish and snake all dead and floating in the water. This incident was a turning point which made him realise the damage that modern agriculture was doing to people as well as the environment.

Sarangi maintains an album in which he has meticulously documented the varieties he has cultivated till date, with not just the characters and conditions but also the sample of the varity. When he started out there was a dearth of traditional varieties being cultivated. He says it is a sad fact considering that Orissa was where rice originated.

Fukowoka’s O
ne Straw Revolution was his inspiration.
He gathered around 310 varities from West Bengal, Bihar and Chattisgarh with help from his trusted workhand and farmer, Yubraj Swai. When we visited him, he explained the selection methods in selecting the seeds. He found women had the real knack in knowing the good seeds from the bad ones as they had been the ones who had been doing selection for the longest time. he also feels that any farmer above the ripe age of 60 is qualified enough to be a good seed selector.

In his fields he had a large collection of traditional species, including
Gopubasumathi, Geethanjanli, Kedargowri, Kolankyari, Sahara, Mallika, Ayush, Bhutia, Bankoi, Ramgulli. He explained where he had bought the different varieties from. He also demonstrated to us the selection method he applied in his plots.

He claims that 50 of the varieties that he cultivates give an yield of 15 to 23 quintals per acre. This counters the criticism that the traditional varieties do not give high yields. The one-man army has restored many varieties that were lost in the onslaught of time and with the proliferation of HYVs. And he has not just documented it for documentation’s sake but brought it back into the farmers field. He even sells seeds as Truthfully Labelled Seeds. These are as good as the seeds supplied by the government agencies, if not better.

Among the two local varities that he had selected from his field,
Kalajeera is a tall variety with black colored scented rice. It produces around 14 tillers, 180-200 gms for each panicle and has an average yield of 14-15 quintals/acre. He had selected this variety when he realized that the only popular scented variety being sold in the market was Basmati, and that none of the scented variety was high yielding. He said that this variety was very good for preparing kheer and since it also had a spicy flavour there was no need to add spices.

The other variety he showed was Solari, called the Basmati of Orissa. It is a scented, tall variety almost as tall as the man himself, five and a half feet. It is of 145 days duration. With around 20 panicles per plant, it yields about 20 quintals per acre. This variety he says does not require any fertilizer.

Knowing that the seed companies (and scientists)
are looking for all kinds of traditional seed, he does not put up sign boards in each plot with the name of varieties being grown. He understands the importance of IPRs, and therefore wants to protect his collection from being pilfered. Instead, his associate Yubraj Swai maintained a map with all the plots listed out. This makes it difficult for the gene hunters. Probably a lesson for all those who maintain biodiversity registers (because the funding agencies told them to do that) and do not know how to protect it from misappropriation.


Ramesh k. Dubey said...

Veri good article.
Ham Bharat walo ke man men yh dharana gahre paith gai hai ki videsh ki har chees aachhi hoti hai. Nibu pani, datun, lassi, sada jeevan,haldi aadi sab bekar ki cheese hain.

krishna prasad said...

Thanks Devinderji for writing story on Natbar.
It's time to demand NBPGR to return seed material stored in the Genebanks to the seed savers like Natbar.
-Krishna Prasad,sahaja samrudha

Raju Titus said...

देशी बीजों को बचाने का काम बहुत जरुरी है. इस में हम इस उदाहरण को सलाम करते हैं. देशी बीजों के लुप्त होने का कारण लगातार जमीन की जुताई है. यदि हम बिना जुताई करे देशी बीजों की बौनी का काम करे और उस से बचे स्ट्रा को जहाँ का तहां डाल देन. हमें देशी बीजो से बढ़ते क्रम में उत्पादन मिलता है हमने इस वर्ष क़ुदरत 51 बिना जुताई की कुदरती तकनीक से बोया है. असल में जितने उन्नत नस्ल के बीज हैं वे देशी बीजों से ही बने हैं . किन्तु जुताई आधारित फसलोत्पादन तकनीक से वे लुप्त हो रहे हैं.
Raju Titus. Hoshangabad. 461001.India.
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