May 31, 2010

Celebrating the revival of traditional rice seeds

At a time when India is planning to bring in a new Seeds Bill 2010, which essentially facilitates (call it regulation, if you like) promotion of the seeds developed by the private seed industry, a long queue of farmers waiting to get traditional crop seeds instead comes as a pleasant surprise. I find more and more farmers across the country realising the importance of all but the forgotten seeds, and making efforts not only to collect, conserve and preserve these lost varieties but also cultivate them.

Athirangam is a non-descript village in Thiruvaroor district of Tamil Nadu. Last week it hosted for the second time a traditional seed exchange festival. Thousands of people turned out from across the region, paying for their own travel. This year, 47 traditional rice varieties were distributed to 1600 farmers. In 2008, only three traditional rice varieties were given to farmers for cultivation and multiplication. It only shows that farmers are willing to go back to their lost heritage if there is an effort to revive it.



Former Union Minister Mrs Subbulakshmi Jagathessan inaugurating the seed exchange festival in Tamil Nadu. Along with her is G Nammalwar.

Says R Ponnambalam, managing trustee of CREATE, and one of the organisers of the seed exchange mela: "You will be surprised of the response from the farming community. Me and R Jayaraman, state Coordinator of the Save the Rice campaign were interviewed by the Tamil farm weekly 'Pasumai Viketan' some time back. The magazine published an article highlighting the efforts being made by CEATE and Thanal to revive traditional rice varieties and launching a seed distribution programme. We received some 700 phone calls from Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry requesting for their names to be included in the seed exchange register."

The overwhelming response encouraged CREATE and Thanal to launch an annual seed distribution exchange event. "Last year," says Usha from Thanal in Kerala, "we distribution 9 traditional varieties of rice to 1682 farmers of Tamil Nadu." What is unique about this seed exchange programme is that it simply does not end up as a seed distribution event where you do not know what the farmers eventually did with the seed they got.

Ponnambalam explains: "Last year, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the recipient farmers. The basic objective being that farmers will cultivate the seed, and return double the quantity to the organisers. In 2008, when we set up the seed centre, we distributed 2 kg of seed each to 187 farmers. They returned us 4 kg of seed after the next harvesting season. This was the year when CREATE set up a small centre for seed production." 

In 2009, when the first seed exchange programme took place, nine rice varieties were distributed to 1,682 farmers. More than 70 per cent of these farmers have met the obligations of the MoU and returned back double the quantity of seed this year. In addition, they also brought seven new varieties for multiplication and distribution. They also shared their experiences in raising traditional rice varieties, and the organic farming systems associated with it. Many farmers recounted how in the last season when floods devastated the entire crop of paddy in this region, only traditional varieties survived.

While the government has only been according lip service to organic farming, and remains mum about reviving the lost seed heritage, the well-known mentor and guide, Mr G Nammalwar, who blessed the festival, said this is how the organic movement is spreading -- one person in one village does it, and others follow. Former Union Minister of State Mrs Subbulakshmi Jagathessan asked farmers to return to organic farming as it provides the only route to salvation.

Asks Usha: "A long queue of farmers waiting to get the seeds showed how much farmers appreciate their traditional seeds and how eager they are to get a handful of it . When will our government and agriculture institutions understand this? When are they going to give such seeds to farmers instead of hybrids and genetically modified seeds inserting alien genes?"

1 comment:

Ramesh Dubey said...

आदरणीय देवेंद्र जी पारंपरिक बीजों के पुनर्जीवन की खबर देने के लिए धन्‍यवाद । दरअसल बीज बाजार पर आधिपत्‍य जमाकर बहुराष्‍ट्रीय कंपनियां खेती की नींव (बीज) पर कब्‍जा करने की कुटिल रणनीति पर काम कर रही हैं । पेटेंट और बौद्धिक संपदा अधिकार कानून इसके लिए सीढ़ी का काम कर रहे हैं । उदाहरण के लिए चोटी की दस कृषि जैव प्रौद्योगिकी कंपनियां वैश्‍विक बीज बाजार के 67 प्रतिशत हिस्‍से पर कब्‍जा जमाए बैठी हैं । इनका आधिपत्‍य बढ़ता ही जा रहा है । ये कंपनियों सभी देशों पर एक जैसे बीज अपनाने का दबाव बना रही हैं चाहे उनके देश की भौगोलिक परिस्‍थितियां कितनी ही भिन्‍न क्‍यों न हों । भारत में सूखा व बाढ़ रोधी असंख्‍य प्रजातियां प्रचलित रही हैं लेकिन बीज एकाधिकार की बढ़ती प्रवृत्‍ति ने सभी का भुला दिया । बीजों के सहेजने की प्रथा नष्‍ट होने के कारण कृषि विविधता खतरे में पड़ गई है । उदाहरण के लिए 1959 में श्रीलंका में 2000 से अधिक किस्‍मों के धान उगाए जाते थे लेकिन 1972 में 100 से भी कम किस्‍में रह गईं । इसी प्रकार बांग्‍लादेश व इंडोनेशिया में क्रमश 62 व 74 फीसदी धान की किस्‍में सदा के लिए विलुप्‍त हो गईं । इन परिस्‍थितियों में पारंपरिक बीजों के पुनर्जीवन और प्रचलन का यह प्रयास सराहनीय है ।

रमेश दुबे