The kernel of rice conservation

Passionate efforts

Some farmers have been the victims of forceful marketing and have opted for commercial varieties of rice and other crops promoted by seed firms.

In effect, they have switched from native varieties — which suit the soil and climatic conditions — to the ones that consume more water and fertilisers, and are easy prey for insects and pests. But it does not take farmers long to realise that the yield comes down after a few years, leaving the soil toxic.

Remedy lies in returning to traditional grains. But wooing farmers away from commercially promoted seeds, fertilisers and insecticides is a task.
Syed Ghani Khan, a farmer from Kirugavalu, a village in Mandya district, has been pursuing that task as a lifetime passion.

He has set up a museum in his village home by setting apart two rooms for the purpose.

He has conserved over 700 varieties across 15 and more acres of land. These crops are harvested carefully, and the panicles laden with grain are bunched, marked with names and numbers, and arranged systematically on the walls of the two-room museum.

Some of them are even stored in bottles to be given away to farmers around the village to experiment with the heritage crops they lost in the race to boost harvest with new varieties.  

Khan is a graduate from Mysore University with a degree in Archaeology and Museology. After completing his studies in Mysuru, Khan joined his father in tending to his farm.

He was pained at the sight of farmers getting addicted to industrial products and giving up the traditional varieties and practices.
He took up the task of preserving traditional seeds in packets and supplying them to those who were converts to his cause. Yet, he was not satisfied with what he did. He thought he needed more systematic efforts to create awareness about the usefulness of the old varieties and the supply of seeds.

According to Khan, continuous onslaught of publicity for industrial farm products has misled farmers into switching over to newer seeds — be it cereals, lentils, vegetables or fruits. This has led to enmasse shift to high-yielding varieties like MTU-1001, IR-64, Jaya etc.

Khan says traditional varieties hold the key to sustainable farming that is less expensive, does not erode the fertility of the soil. “In our pursuit of bumper harvest, we have damaged the soil and have made paddy an aquatic crop, which it is not,” he laments.

He began collecting varieties like Rajmudi, Ghamgadale, Doddibatta, Parimala Sanna, Basmati, Ratnachudi, Gandhasale, Mysore Mallige, Jeerige Sanna, Burma Black, Rasakdam, Thai Jasmine etc in earnest. Several of these varieties harbour medicinal properties while others emit aroma while being cooked.

According to Khan, varieties such as Doddibatta, Ghamgadale and Biddi Doddi can be grown in farms that receive just one or two spells of shower.
Ratnachudi, HMT, NMS-II are high-yielding traditional varieties while Jeerige Sanna, Rasakdam, Gandha Sale, Parimala Sanna and Mugadh Sugandh turn aromatic while being cooked.

He says most of the seeds of paddy varieties collected by him have a shelf life of 18 months. In contrast to the practice of preserving seeds in freezers, he applied on-field conservation methods where no synthetic chemicals were used.

Propagator

Farmers from all over South India have been approaching him for seeds of the native varieties.

Shiv Prasad, who has a farm in the outskirts of Hyderabad, took seeds of nearly 200 varieties from him. He has since been a promoter of the cause in his region.

Khan maintains a meticulous record of all those who have procured seeds from him. During the last two decades, nearly 10,000 farmers have accessed supplies from him.
Krishna, a farmer from a village in Maddur taluk, is a regular visitor to his farms. Rachanna, from Hosamalangi village in T Narsipura taluk, successfully grows around 25 varieties in his farm. He had visited him a decade ago.

A corner of his museum displays several medals, certificates and awards. He was conferred with Krishi Pandit Prashasti by the Govt of Karnataka (2008). National Genome Seed-saver Recognition Award was conferred on him a year later by Plant Protection Variety Forum. Govt of Karnataka chose him for ‘Biodiversity Award’ in 2010, while  Directorate of Rice Research in Hyderabad presented him ‘Rice Innovative Farmer Award’ for the year 2011-12.

Ghani Khan says one should not be surprised to find one variety being replaced by another after every 40 km as India is home to thousands of varieties of rice.

He says several of them carry medicinal properties.
He says while Karigajivili and Ambe Mohur from Karnataka are said to be good for lactating mothers, Navara of Kerala is good for those who have joint pain. While Mappillai Samba from Tamil Nadu improves virility, Mehdi is held to be good for healing of bone fracture. Khaima provides relief for those suffering from piles.

Mangoes, too

Ghani Khan has taken up the conservation of native varieties of mango, too. He has registered himself with the National Bureau for Plant Genetics, New Delhi. He has trees that have been there in the family farm for the last six to seven generations. These trees yield native varieties like mosambi ka aam (tastes like sweet lime); seb ka aam (tastes like apple); pheeka aam (bland mango) for those with diabetes; kaale malghoba, bada gola; mangamari; manji bi pasand and mittmia pasand.

His family has been supportive of his efforts and to this day help him in maintaining their farms and marketing the produce.

Womenfolk of his family use paddy in making decorative art.

Syed Ghani Khan can be reached on 9901713351 or muhinuha786@gmail.com

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