Though we remember the taste of the local rice, we have been cultivating improved varieties in our paddy fields. This year, we decided to grow traditional paddy in half the area. We are happy about it,” Hambeer said as he showed the panicles of Kala Jeera. Holding a handful of paddy grains, he added: “Last week we celebrated the harvest festival and everybody liked the dishes prepared using Gandhasale rice.” Hambeer is one of the farmers residing in Deria village of Joida taluk in Uttara Kannada district. The 70-year-old had long forgotten growing local paddy varieties as they were labelled nonviable, but now his opinion has changed. “There is not even one per cent failure,” he said.
Deria is a tribal village located in the heart of the Western Ghats. The Kunabi people here are dependent on farming and forest produces for livelihood. The extended Derekar family has more than 50 members. Together they own 12 acres of paddy fields adjacent to the village and do step-farming.
The family has been growing improved as well as hybrid paddy for the past two decades. Stream water is used to irrigate the land and for household purposes. As water flows from high levels to low levels, they dig channels so the water can irrigate all the fields.
“During heavy rains, crops get damaged. We have been experiencing this situation almost every year. But, somehow we obtain the assured quantity of rice for domestic consumption,” says Jayananda Derekar, a resident of Deria village.
Introducing desi paddy varieties to their field was his dream and he searched for those varieties from within the community.
In addition, seed-saver Shankar Langati and the Sahaja Samrudha organic farmers association shared the seeds of six paddy varieties with the family.
This year, the farmers started the nursery in July, transplanted the seedlings in the first week of August. The plants reached the flowering stage in the last week of September and the crops were harvest-ready in the last week of October.
“Earlier we doubted if this crop could stay on. During the flowering stage, there were heavy rains. But, these varieties proved strong enough to withstand it,” says Yogesh, a young farmer of Deria. He has cultivated Kaagi Saali in half acre.
Another farmer and leader of the village, Nana Ganaba Derekar, has grown Purple Patta and Jeerige Samba in half acre each and said that, “Jeerige Samba attracted birds due to its early maturing stage. Somehow we protected the crop.” Gopal, another farmer who cultivated Kala Jeera, expressed satisfaction over yield as well as taste of the rice. “We have not used any chemical fertiliser and pesticide at any stage. Still, we saw the growth of crop at its peak,” he said.
Deria is surrounded by dense forests. So, this effort can be considered as a reintroduction of heritage varieties to nature. Along with six desi paddy varieties, these farmers have cultivated two traditional varieties available locally.
Shankar Langati is the coordinator of Siddharudha Organic Farmers Association in Khanapura.
He has established a weekly organic market in Dharwad. Now, Langati buys paddy by offering premium price to Deria paddy farmers.
When the paddy was ready for harvest, the festival Ooshtan was organised at Deria. “Offering our gratitude to the bountiful nature is the purpose. Dishes of harvested grains are prepared and a pooja is offered to gods. This year, we made payasam from Gandhasale rice’,’ said Jayananda. Satisfied with the yield and taste of the desi rice, farmers have decided to grow paddy in all the fields. “We have tried eight varieties so far and two varieties are not up to the mark. But the others are great, ” says Nana Ganaba.