Traditional paddy seeds are our heritage and our future!

25th September, 2014

Save Our Rice Campaign: The Save Our Rice (SOR) Campaign began as a pan Asian initiative to conserve and promote traditional rice in Asia. In India the campaign was initiated, by Thanal, in 2004, which incidentally was celebrated as the second International year of Rice. Thanal is an advocacy and research group working on sustainable agriculture, based in Kerala, India. The campaign was initiated in the three rice growing states in southern India -Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It is currently active in five rice growing states in southern and eastern India; Sahaja Samruddha runs the campaign in Karnataka, CREATE in Tamil Nadu, Living Farms in Odisha , SOR West Bengal was formed to manage it in the state and Thanal runs the campaign in Kerala in addition to coordinating the overall national campaign. The campaign is founded on five objectives: (1) Conserving rice ecosystems (2) Sustaining rice culture and diversity (3) Protecting traditional wisdom (4) Preventing GMOs and toxics and (5) Ensuring safe and nutritious food. The campaign has taken up various facets related to rice farming and associated issues including policy change to conserve paddy wetlands, indigenous seed conservation and distribution, developing ecologically bio-diverse paddy systems and promoting traditional rice consumption. This case study will detail the two seed conservation initiatives run by the SOR campaign in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Paddy situation: Post the green revolution, which was introduced in India during the 1960s, rice farming with high yielding varieties (HYVs) using chemical inputs, has been promoted with the single aim of increasing rice productivity. In the process, traditional paddy varieties that were developed over the years by the farmers for various localities and seasons were slowly edged out. By the 1990s and early 2000s traditional seeds had almost disappeared from the farmers’ fields in the southern states. A few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began seed conservation in many of the rice growing states. The work was small scale and systematic, and the seeds were mostly used by seed-saver farmers for their own consumption and for growing out for the next season. Also during the last two decades, variation in rain pattern and other climate adversities have also resulted in farmers losing their crops and consequently their seed. In Karnataka, widespread adoption of cash crops like maize and cotton has taken place in the last couple of decades. And in Tamil Nadu, paddy lands were converted for urban and industrial development on a large scale. During the same period the use of HYVs has spread to cover almost 100% of paddy. The state also stopped procuring traditional paddy varieties, as part of its large paddy procurement scheme that is the mainstay for the livelihood security of paddy farmers. The distribution of cheap rice through the government has made it unnecessary for farmers to grow rice for personal consumption. Almost all government schemes for paddy farmers, in both states, promote high yielding varieties and hybrids, which demand intensive irrigation and use of chemicals. SOR Karnataka – Seed savers galore! The SOR campaign began in Karnataka in 2006, Sahaja Samruddha, a farmer initiated group working on sustainable agriculture and seed conservation, coordinates the campaign in Karnataka. The first phase of the seed saving activity took root through the work of the SOR team among farmers; creating seed savers and seed breeders and motivating farmers from around the state to move to growing traditional rice varieties under organic conditions. The second phase of the campaign began in 2011 when the Campaign began popularizing traditional rice in urban centres thereby creating a market for these rice varieties. Initially, the SOR team and the farmers were daunted by the prospect of saving traditional varieties; that’s when they met with Mr.Natabar Sarangi, a veteran rice seed saver from Odisha, who was at that point conserving 350 varieties of traditional paddy seeds. Mr.Sarangi generously shared seeds with the Karnataka seed savers who began seed conservation earnestly. Field day: When seed conservation efforts took root in various farmers’ fields SOR Karnataka institutionalized a program called the ‘field day’. It was celebrated before the harvest and farmers, agriculture department officials, media persons, scientists etc were invited to attend. The visitors were provided with a coloured thread and asked to go around the diversity blocks (the paddy fields with multiple varieties grown in separate blocks), which had boards with the name and features of the variety, and tag their favourite variety. The paddy varieties that attracted the highest number of tags were multiplied in larger quantities to be shared with other farmers. The field days resulted in recognition of the seed saver farmer and became an occasion to share seeds with visiting farmers. The seed conservation activity got considerable fillip from the coverage given by the local language media that published many stories featuring the farmers, the traditional rice varieties and properties, and wrote about the importance of seed conservation. Revival and multiplication: Numerous traditional varieties were revived and some were almost brought back from extinction as part of the Campaign. Some of the favourite conserved varieties among farmers are: Ratnachoodi, Mysore Mallige, HMT (a farmer bred seed), Salem Sanna and Gandhasale. From its modest beginnings in 2007, today the campaign has 62 seed saver farmers conserving around 120 traditional paddy varieties (a mix of popular and rare breeds). They have produced and distributed over 90 tonnes of paddy seeds in the last seven years. Inspired by the SOR campaign and in some cases, in partnership with the Campaign, another 60 farmers across 12 districts of Karnataka conserve 74 varieties of traditional paddy seeds. In total the seed savers currently produce 22 tonnes of traditional paddy variety seed which is being distributed to more than 10,000 farmers. The Campaign has resulted in the revival of 34 traditional paddy varieties from near extinction. Today one of the leading paddy seed saver farmers in the SOR Karnataka campaign, Mr. Syed Ghani Khan, saves and grows out over 700 varieties of traditional paddy seeds (collected from across the country), and shares his seeds with approximately 250 farmer seed savers. The Government of Karnataka initiated the concept of organic villages in 2008, as part of which they decided to use only traditional paddy seeds. The Department instructed farmers and project coordinators to buy traditional paddy seeds from the SOR campaign farmers, thereby recognizing the efforts and the traditional seeds produced by the SOR farmers. This was a significant breakthrough where till then the government has been promoting only HYVs or hybrid paddy. Rice melas: The first phase of the Campaign in Karnataka, which flourished through farmers, was taken to a new level in 2011. This was the first time that the SOR Karnataka team conceived the idea of holding rice melas (exhibitions) to introduce traditional paddy varieties, to the urban public. Numerous successful melas have been held in all the prominent cities of Karnataka. The melas usually have displays of paddy varieties, paddy decorations, traditional rice preparations, information about health properties of various varieties, cooking instructions and so on. The melas have become an avenue to reacquaint the urbanites with traditional rice varieties, their healthful properties and has also resulted in a new and economically viable market for farmers growing traditional paddy varieties. The SOR Karnataka also has put in place a buy-back agreement with the farmers growing traditional varieties, based on a mutually fixed price determined based on quality and demand. SOR Tamil Nadu – Grow, multiply, share paddy seeds! The SOR campaign began in Tamil Nadu in 2005, managed by CREATE, a small group working on sustainable agriculture and consumer rights. The campaign works in Adirengam village in Thiruvaroor district, in the rice growing delta region of the Kaveri river comprising mainly of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur districts. The seed conservation efforts, which began with the search for a traditional paddy variety (called Aruvatham Kuruvai) that matures in 60 days, focuses on collecting traditional varieties and multiplying them on the trial farm at Adirengam. In 2006, the Campaign team decided to hold a small seed festival to sensitize and involve farmers from ten neighbouring villages to the seed saving efforts. The first seed festival held in 2006 saw participation from 425 farmers and seeds of 16 traditional paddy varieties were made available for sharing. Each farmer was given two kilograms of seeds on the basis of a good faith MOU that he/she will grow it under organic conditions and return double the quantity the year after. Interested farmers took home paddy seeds of more than one traditional variety. Since then the seed festival is organized every year in the month of May just before the sowing season begins in June. The festival is a two day event and farmers are also offered sessions on organic paddy growing, bio pest control methods, organic input production and other topics related to paddy farming and larger agrarian issues ( like impacts of pesticides, GM crops , water issues, paddy procurement policies and so on). More seed savers come forward! The seed festival slowly became known to more farmers through the local language (Tamil) media that published stories about the seed festival and traditional paddy seed conservation. The late Dr.Nammalwar, the guru of organic farming, spread word about the seed festival. In its 8th year, in 2013, the festival had over 3000 farmers attending, representing all the 32 districts in the state of Tamil Nadu, and 63 traditional seed varieties were made available to the farmers. In 2013 over four tonnes of paddy seeds were produced for distribution. Every year, around 65% of the farmers return with double the quantity of seeds that they had taken the previous year. Below is the data of the number of farmers and number of varieties for all the years of the festival. Total number of farmers who procured traditional paddy seeds from SOR Tamil Nadu Year No of varieties available for sharing No of farmers who collected traditional paddy seeds 2005-2006 16 425 2006-2007 26 1116 2007-2008 28 1629 2008-2009 47 2016 2009-2010 51 2320 2010-2011 53 2860 2011-2012(Nov 2011) 61 2900 + 2013 63 3000+ Source: PADDY, July 2103 The seed festival is in great demand and during 2012 and 2013 smaller festivals were held in other districts to facilitate seed distribution to farmers in far flung districts who could not attend this annual event at Adirengam village. In 2013 over 3000 farmers collected seeds from the Campaign and 63 traditional varieties were made available, of these around 19 varieties are popular among farmers. The quantities of seeds produced depend on the popularity of the varieties among farmers. Many varieties are produced in small quantities just to conserve them and for varietal improvement. Over and above the people who participate in the festival there is a further multiplier effect as each farmer ( who attends) also shares the seed he has collected with other farmers who are unable to attend the festival. According to the campaign team this multiplier effect is about five fold with every farmer sharing seeds with at least five other farmers. By 2013, the festival had caught the attention of the Agriculture Department in the state which sent out the seed festival invites to all the districts in the state to inform farmers so they could attend the festival and be part of the seed exchange program. This is proof that the festival and seed exchange is gaining recognition from the government as well. Aruvatham Kuruvai, the first traditional variety which was conserved, is being cultivated by over 2000 farmers in the state. Other traditional varieties that have been resurrected by the seed conservation and festival, and have become immensely popular are: Mappilai Samba, Jeeraka Samba, Kattuyanam and Kattu Ponni. Key success factors of seed saving: • The sustained work of the campaign teams and the increasing interest among paddy farmers in both the states despite almost no government support ( which has slowly changed into grudging recognition) • The support of local language media for informing farmers and the larger public about the campaign • The setbacks ( crop failures, losses, seed loss ) suffered by farmers doing paddy cultivation with HYVs and the visible impact of climate change on paddy farmers • The growing consumer interest in red rice in Karnataka that has resulted in an assured market for traditional rice growing farmers • The recognition of some prominent seed saver farmers, breeder farmers has also encouraged new farmers to try seed conservation. Challenges: • The incentive systems for rice growing is skewed in favour of using hybrids, HYVs and chemicals, leaving seed saver farmers or organic farmers growing traditional varieties at a disadvantage. • The policy climate where the government procurement mechanism refuses to procure traditional paddy which leaves traditional paddy farmers completely at the mercy of the market ( or supportive NGOs which are unable to do large scale procurement) • The singular short term focus of the ruling dispensations on paddy productivity to the exclusion of climate resilience, ecological impact, human health and economic sustainability of rice cultivation. • The inability of a small initiative like SOR to attract more farmers ( due to various reasons including unfavourable policy, economic climate, paucity of funds) and speedily replicate the program in many more rice growing states at a faster pace. Conclusion: The success of the SOR campaign efforts demonstrate that consistent work with farmers and consumers can bring about a change and traditional paddy varieties can be conserved and promoted in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner. The impacts of climate change that are being experienced increasingly and the resilience shown by many of these varieties demonstrate ever more strongly the need to conserve and revive as many locally adapted and climate resilient varieties, in the shortest possible time. However, these initiatives need to grow exponentially to make significant impact. Despite all this success in bringing back to life 100s of varieties of paddy seeds across the different state campaigns the work of SOR in India is only a drop in the ocean. The mainstream paradigm is about growing (in a resource intensive manner using synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemical pesticides) and eating HYV and hybrid paddy. The public sector agriculture institutions need to step up research on traditional paddy. Expanding the traditional paddy seed and grain market requires sustained support from the state governments, a more holistic approach to rice growing, which recognizes the centrality of ecologically bio-diverse rice- eco systems to human health, ecology and food sovereignty. Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty is working as a consultant with the Save Our Rice campaign. She is part of the core team at Thanal, in Kerala, which coordinates the Campaign in five states. She is a founder member of Urban Leaves, an urban farming volunteer group in Mumbai. She has a Masters Degree in Sociology from the University of Louisville, US and has worked with groups in the US and India for promoting sustainable and GM and pesticide free agriculture. She also writes on these issues. A rife resume attached in separate document. Contact details: Email id: l.sreedevi@gmail.com Phone no: Cell phone +919629999081 Office landline: +914712727152

Article Archives

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013