Suma Josson’s short film In Search Of Our Lost Rice Seeds focuses on the efforts of seed savers from Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka to preserve the traditional varieties of the crop

Campaigns and movements to conserve rice, which is a dietary staple for Indians, have taken many researchers to the roots of our culture and civilisation. Indigenous rice varieties are being identified, popularised and conserved through seed banks and cultivation and sharing of experiences and seeds. Real-life stories of such sustained efforts are the subject of a documentary In Search of Our Lost Rice Seeds.

Directed by Suma Josson, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and writer, it is an initiative of ‘Save Our Rice’ campaign, a nation-wide network to sustain rice cultivation that is facilitated by Thanal in Kerala and the Pesticide Action Network-Asia.

“The documentary points out the mistakes we’ve made. But it emphasises that there is hope for the future as exemplified by the work of paddy seed savers in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka,” says Sridhar, programme coordinator, Thanal. Syed Ghani Khan from Mysore, for instance, has conserved over 500 varieties of rice. “Conservation means he is cultivating those varieties on his land,” Sridhar explains. The documentary profiles farmers such as Raman Cheruvayal and Haridas from Wayanad, Boregowda from Mysore, Jayaram and Karikalan from Tamil Nadu and Nandish from Karnataka.

“It is believed that there were over 1.5 lakh varieties of rice in India once upon a time. There would have been a few base types and farmers would have developed more from them. Since the Save Our Rice Campaign was launched, we’ve been trying to identify those people who are collecting the seeds of the traditional varieties and sustaining rice cultivation,” says Sridhar. Thanal has a ‘diversity block’ wherein such seeds are collected and distributed to farmers for cultivation. While 120 varieties have been conserved in Kerala, over 70 traditional varieties are grown in Tamil Nadu. “As part of Save Our Rice campaign, we organise paddy festivals, where the farmers come together and share the seeds among themselves. In Tamil Nadu alone, over 10,000 farmers have been part of the initiative,” says Sridhar.

The number of seed savers is more in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu because there is more land under the plough in these states, Sridhar points out. “Therefore they can afford to test the viability of cultivating traditional varieties,” he adds.

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For Suma Josson, making the documentary was an eye-opener. “Even though I’ve been working on agricultural issues, I never knew what was happening to our staple food. I blame the farmers themselves for the situation. They were driven by yield and greed into adopting farming practices that were not always good for the soil or the crop,” says Suma.

It is heartening to see the work carried out by the seed savers, she says. “ It isn’t a business for them, but a passion,” she adds.