Silent rice revolution blows in Tamil Nadu

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By Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi, September 23: Women in Tamil Nadu are spearheading a silent campaign to restore their food heritage.

After decades of the monocropping of hybrid made several traditional verities go extinct, farmers in Tamil Nadu have embarked on a journey to retrieve the lost glory.

“Around 20 heritage rice varieties of Tamil Nadu are being traced, collected, redeemed, and restored at least through 10 community seed banks benefiting more than 500 farmers in Tamil Nadu,” said Ministry of Science and technology in an official statement on Friday.

The majority of small and medium farmers of Tamil Nadu have lost their heritage seeds, once owned traditionally by their community forefathers, due to monocropping of hybrids. “These varieties had been identified for their unique nutritional, medicinal, and ecological qualities and, above all, their climate resilience,” added the Ministry.

The genetic erosion of heritage and indigenous gene pool of paddy varieties, loss of knowledge on the therapeutic/curative properties of native extant varieties, lack of accessibility to their seed stocks, poses a challenge for the sustenance and future of agriculture and human health in Tamil Nadu.

These community seed banks have been promoted by identification of willing farmers based on location with assistance from local NGOs in 24 districts in Tamil Nadu.

“A lead farmer cultivates one to many traditional varieties in his farm, a part of which when harvested is shared and distributed to other interested farmers in the neighboring localities and districts with or without payment,” added the Ministry.

The campaign is informal and voluntary. “A seed bank capital of Rs 2000 was distributed to each beneficiary farmer to strengthen the heritage rice community seed banks,” added the Ministry.

The operational principles of these banks include memory banking of ethno-ecological knowledge, promotion of medicinal knowledge, and special agronomic qualities through associated cultural belief as well as their conservation.

Regional festivals also help to promote exchange of seeds.

“Paddy seed exchange festival Nel Thiruvizha organized along with CREATE, a Tiruvarur-based NGO helped distribute heritage rice seed varieties such as Karuppu kouni, Thuyya malli, Mapillai samba, Karunkuruvai and so on,” noted the Ministry.

During Paddy Seed Festivals, lead farmers may volunteer to distribute the seeds of these traditional varieties free of cost to hundreds of farmers at the rate of 1-2 kgs/farmer.

Additionally interested farmers across the state are allowed to visit the on farm standing crops of these varieties.

“Field gene banks have been set up to propagate the heirloom varieties through seed exchange programmes and organic seed multiplication,” added the Ministry.

The farmers are trained in conservation methods and ways of enriching and revitalizing the indigenous heritage germplasms, as well as on In situ trials for climate adaptability in the farmer’s field on a pilot scale.

“The initiative to collect and conserve the traditional landraces of rice varieties can help share and exchange knowledge about the varieties with inherent capacities to withstand climate uncertainties, drought and flood resistance, medicinal and nutritional properties,” stressed the Ministry.

Once the knowledge about these local indigenous rice varieties spreads beyond the tiny localities to which they are confined, farmers are expected to participate in preventing the erosion of the knowledge.

“The initiative can bring sustainable yield to all rice-based farmers in the event of climate change uncertainties. Seeds of past conserved to reserve seeds for future can be promoted for upscaling in coming years,” added the Ministry.

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