Farmers in Sundarbans peg hope on traditional paddy

Farmers in Sundarbans peg hope on traditional paddy

Sundarban farms

The fields of Sundarbans delta rendered saline by sea water and cyclone Aila are pushing farmers to grow the saline tolerant traditional crops their forefathers would cultivate, say experts.

"The low-yield paddy could only provide us a morsel of rice," says Gobinda Maity, a farmer whose paddy field at Kshetramohanpur in Pathar Pratima delta sprouts tiny paddy plants.

Introduction of high-yield varieties of paddy had gradually pushed the traditional saline-tolerant varieties to extinction as delta dwellers preferred cultivating the former.
"As the population rose and the number of mouths in a family went up, people turned to the high-yielding paddy which doubled the crop quantity. Gradually, the cultivation of traditional paddy stopped and their seeds became rare," says Maity.
Traditional varieties are saline-tolerant, the rice tastes better and the straw gives a better thatch. But, genetically modified varieties score over them by higher yield within a much shorter time.

Cyclone Aila altered all calculations this year. Farmers like Uttam Das, Smriti Kanta Manna, Jiban Krishna Dhauria say pinches of soil taken after the sea water subsided from fields tasted far too saline.

"It is like going to the basics for the farmers," says agriculture scientist and director of State Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute, Manas Ghosh.
He says, "The high-yielding paddy died soon after sowed on the fields. It can grow when the soil salinity is below one milimose. But it rose to 12 milimose after cyclone and gradually came down to 3 milimose which traditional paddy can tolerate."

Meanwhile, poor rainfall is also making farmers worried. "More rain could have washed away the salt. Though the young paddy plants are taking root the growth is low," says farmer Maity.

Ghosh says the Institute's study found the situation to be very bad after the cyclone. With the current amount rain the Sundarbans deltas have been receiving, the salinity would go down further to grow the traditional varieties, he says.

Most of the fields in Sundarbans are presently fallow and there are remnants of saline-tolerant plants like chilly and also some wilting high-yielding paddy plants, attempts by desperate farmers to grow something in their lands.

Former students of state-government run Agriculture Training Centre at Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur and agriculture department officials too came forward and scoured and bought seeds of traditional paddy from fields and farms to help farmers.
Following the devastating cyclone, climate change and sea-level rise farmers too have felt the need for cultivating traditional varieties of paddy along with high-yielding ones.
"Cyclones have been happening frequently now. The river water goes higher to breach embankments regularly. We have to cultivate traditional paddy to save ourselves from starvation," Uttam Das, another farmer says.

Farmers of cyclone-hit deltas  like Kakdwip, Pathar Pratima, Gosaba, Hingalganj have been cultivating traditional saline-tolerant paddy as a means to provide succour for future.