Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi is an amazing farmer-breeder. For 14 years, he has been developing new crop varieties. He has developed more than 100 improved varieties of rice, wheat, pulses, and some vegetables and fruits, which have been distributed freely to thousands of farmers in the entire northwestern belt of India. Many of his varieties are dominating the farmers fields, and of course some of his improved varieties have been taken by unscrupulous officials in private companies, renamed and marketed.
Based in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Prakash Singh, a small farmers cultivating paddy, wheat and pigeon pea in roughly three and a half acres that he owns, remains unfazed. "I am determined to work towards making farmers self-reliant in seed. If the farmers can control his own seed production and does not have to depend upon the seed companies, farming will remain profitable", he told me. He is keeping the germplasm with him, and is looking for support from religious bodies and NGOs to enable him to strengthen his research in plant breeding.
As a plant breeder myself, I feel Prakash Singh's achievement has no parallels. He alone has achieved more than what several agricultural universities in India can claim to have done. I called him up after having read a news report about him in The Hindu. The report, entitled: Sowing the seeds of success by innovation is available at: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/seta/2009/10/29/stories/2009102950101400.htm
I am always overwhelmed by the ingenuity and dedication of such farmers. I don't know of any agricultural scientist in India or for that matter worldwide who can claim to have evolved 100 crop varities. I think this must be a world record, something that the Guinness Book of World Record must take notice. Any scientist who could replicate the work and achievement of Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi would have been honoured with Padma Vibhushan by now, and I am sure would have been nominated to numerous international awards including honorary membership of inert scientific societies that proliferate.
Prakash Singh feels so humbled by the recognition that was recently bestowed on him by President Pratibha Patil courtesy the National Innovation Foundation. He has earlier been facilited by the former President Abdul Kalam. This kind of recognition is merely acknowledging the amazing feat achieved by Prakash Singh. The nation must evolve a system of honouring such innovators in a more practical and honest way.
The least that the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) in the Ministry of Agriculture can do, and should be made to do, is to bestow National Professorship on Prakash Singh, which will provide him a life-long grant and secretarial support for research. I can tell you he would do more honor to the scheme of National Professor than most of the retired officials who have been for all practical purposes given this honour simply because of the senior positions they held at the time of retirement. No wonder, the National Professors have not produced anything significant so far.
Prakash Singh also challenges the commonly held view that farmers are not breeders. At the same time, he has shown that when the government tries to push for laws that ensure availability of improved seed for farmers, it begins on a wrong foot since the entire effort is to take away farmers seed from the market and replace it with the seed produced by seed companies. In fact, most of the time the seeds that fails to germinate or has been found to be contaminated actually belongs to the seed companies. But somehow the seed companies have been able to convince the policy makers as if the fault rests with the farmers seeds. This impression has to be corrected.
I am also a little surprised that no NGO (and I know a number of NGOs who work in the area of traditional seeds) ever thought of supporting the work of Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi. Well, the world is not that small as we are told. We still have a lot of scrutiny to do around us, and connect with people in our own neighbourhood. This can only happen when NGOs shift the focus of their work from international networking to local realities.
Anyway, you can contact Mr. Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi, Vill Tadia, P.O., Jakikhani, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh- 2213058, mobiles: 9956941993, 9839253974 and 9451277640.