Paddy is safe in his hands

AGRICULTURE F

Paddy is safe in his hands

In this day where farmers look at only yield performance of crops and where acres of uniform single crop that promote chemically intensive mechanised farming are key,  Shankar Guru’s efforts in sustaining traditional seed varieties epitomises the Indian tradition of grassroots research and innovation at the village level.

M K Shankar Guru is 60 years of age, an innovative farmer from Madarahalli Village, T Narsipura taluk, Mysore, and hails from a family of farmers who have more than 200 years of experience in paddy cultivation. He is also a member of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS). He himself is a rice farmer from the last 40 years.

On the land that he owns, he utilises 10 acres for growing about seven varieties of rice strains. This portion of land is also used to do his plant breeding work and to preserve seed varieties in a live seed bank.

Hit by crop loss and financial setbacks caused by chemically dependent farming, Shankar Guru was inspired to develop new seed varieties. He wanted to develop varieties that adapt well to extreme temperatures, rainfall and climate change and ones that don’t depend on chemicals, but still perform well. In the year 1992, his quest for traditional seeds began. He collected some traditional seed varieties and started seed conservation and preservation.

He came across a traditional variety ‘Salem sanna’. Shankar Guru, who started conserving this under organic practices, improved the variety by repeated seed selection and the rice variety has adapted well to climatic conditions in Karnataka. Seeing the performance of the variety many other organic farmers have taken seeds from him and now Salem sanna is very popular in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka as well. It yields 25 to 30 quintals per acre under organic cultivation.

Experiments with ‘NMS2’

Shankar Guru developed the variety ‘NMS2’ which is named after him, Narsipura Madarahalli Shankar and also ‘N’ means ‘Nirmala’ after his wife.

He says that she has constantly been a partner in all his ventures. “For breeding new varieties the best way is always to select plants from the local landraces that are  heterogeneous. The landraces are ideal as they are highly adapted to the local environment. Collection should be done on such adapted material and selection should be made within that population.

Traits that breeders should look out for during selection are: high yield, better grain, nutritional quality, tolerance to environment pressures – salinity, drought, and multiple resistances to major diseases, insects, and tolerance to inputs. This is the best method as it has been practised for more than 100 years,” says Shankar Guru.  
The ‘NMS 2’ variety received very good response as it adapted well to the local conditions. It is pest and disease resistant. The variety is a fine rice of brick red colour and yields quality straw/fodder.

When he released ‘NMS2’ variety, University of Agricultural Sciences released ‘Thanu’ variety at the same time. Shankar says that this variety performed better than the University variety.

He had submitted the ‘NMS2’ variety for observation and even the University has provided him with a certificate of performance.  He says that it took him seven years to develop the variety and his land was the lab where several trials were performed. Now conservation has turned into a hobby for Shankar Guru. He is constantly trying out methods to improve performance of varieties. He also conserves the Ratnachudi variety which he got from a relative. Another variety with him is ‘Jeeraga sanna’ which is a scented variety.

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