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    Tamil Nadu NGOs Work With University to Restore Heritage Rice Varieties

    EnvironmentBio-diversityTamil Nadu NGOs Work With University to Restore Heritage...
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    Tamil Nadu NGOs Work With University to Restore Heritage Rice Varieties

    A majority of small and medium farmers of Tamil Nadu have lost their heritage seeds, once owned traditionally by their community due to the efforts and foresightedness of their forefathers. This loss is largely blamed on the monocropping of new varieties, particularly hybrids.

    Around 20 heritage rice varieties of Tamil Nadu are being traced, collected, redeemed, and restored, thanks to an initiative by the SASTRA Deemed to be University. The university’s intervention to restore the lost genetic heritage has been supported by the Science and Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI) programme of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), is reviving, conserving, and characterizing the traditional rice varieties.

    The initiative has helped establish 10 community seed banks benefiting more than 500 farmers in the state.

    A majority of small and medium farmers of Tamil Nadu have lost their heritage seeds, once owned traditionally by their community due to the efforts and foresightedness of their forefathers. This loss is largely blamed on the monocropping of new varieties, particularly hybrids.

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    The traditional varieties had been identified for their unique nutritional, medicinal, and ecological qualities and, above all, their climate resilience. The genetic erosion of heritage and an indigenous gene pool of paddy varieties poses a challenge for the sustenance and future of agriculture and human health in Tamil Nadu. This loss of a diverse genetic heritage is accompanied by a loss of knowledge on the therapeutic and curative properties of native extant varieties, the lack of accessibility to their seed stocks,

    Local NGOs play big role

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

    Together with the coordination of the local NGO, the lead farmer cultivates at least one of the many traditional varieties on his farmland. A part of the harvest is shared and distributed among other interested farmers in the neighbouring localities and districts, usually for free.  This informal, voluntary structure came up with a minimal financial support of Rs. 2,000 provided to each beneficiary farmer. More than the money, the idea and its implementation by the local NGOs promises to resurrect the lost varieties of rice while also establishing heritage rice community seed banks.

    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. For example, 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.

    During the paddy seed festivals, lead farmers volunteer to distribute one to two kilos of traditional rice variety seeds free of cost to hundreds of farmers. Additionally, interested farmers across the state are allowed to visit the on farm standing crops of these varieties. The on-farm visits help an exchange of queries and engage farmers in a discussion where they communicate about the availability and quality of these varieties through apps and online media.

    Seeds of past for future

    Besides, the local NGOs have set up field gene banks to propagate the heirloom varieties through seed exchange programmes and organic seed multiplication. 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 NGOs are working on this initiative with an objective to collect and conserve the traditional landraces of rice varieties. They feel that this way they can help share and exchange knowledge about the varieties with inherent capacities to withstand climate uncertainties, drought and flood resistance, medicinal and nutritional properties. Once the knowledge about these local indigenous rice varieties spreads beyond the tiny localities to which they are confined, farmers can participate in preventing the erosion of the knowledge.

    The SASTRA university initiative can bring sustainable yield to all rice-based farmers in the event of climate change uncertainties as ‘Seeds of Past’ are conserved to reserve ‘Seeds for future’ for promotion and upscaling in coming years.

     

    Image: Hippopx, licensed to use under Creative Commons Zero – CC0

     

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