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They are the saviours of our crops

R. KRISHNA KUMAR
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food for thought:Cultivation of chemical-free varieties of rice is the need of the hour.— Photo: M.A. Sriram
food for thought:Cultivation of chemical-free varieties of rice is the need of the hour.— Photo: M.A. Sriram

Down to earth, devoid of any airs about what they do, they come across as conventional farmers. But scratch the surface and they emerge as a breed apart with characteristic features out of the ordinary.

Rooted in agriculture, they are also great conservationists who have taken upon themselves the challenge of going against the “conventional wisdom” of treading the beaten path. Ploughing a lonely furrow in the field they are naturalists amidst us, going against the current to make a difference to a society that is indifferent to their work.

But neither lack of fame or the indifference of the authorities bordering on apathy, born out of sheer ignorance and arrogance, has deterred them. They have taken it upon themselves in their conviction that diversity in crops, as in life, is worth conserving for posterity.

A motley group of farmers who have formed a network of their own, they pass on their hard-earned fruits of labour to fellow-members in the network by way of exchanging rare and indigenous rice varieties and propagate them so as to conserve crop diversity.

What began as a small initiative taken by Krishnaprasad, an M.Tech in Environmental Engineering but a farmer at heart, the effort to revive and conserve indigenous rice strains has caught on with other farmers and the network today has over 100 paddy farmers engaged in this endeavour in Mysore, Mandya, and Chamarajanagar districts as also in other parts of the State.

Inspired by the One Straw Revolution authored by Masanobu Fukuoka, which changed his perspectives and outlook towards life, Krishnaprasad switched over to agriculture and has strived to promote seed conservation, collaborating with like-minded farmers since two decades. “I was keen on reviving the traditional rice varieties and help in their conservation for which the farmers who were practitioners of chemical farming and the high-yielding varieties had to be convinced first. But there are many among the farmers who realise the harm being done to mother earth by spraying chemical fertilizers and pesticides as also the loss of crop diversity in pursuance of mono culture with focus on only a few varieties of paddy. So we managed to cobble together a handful of farmers and since then we have cultivated a variety of desi rice, propagated them and helped revive their growth”, says Mr. Krishnaprasad.

The establishment of Sahaja Samrudha was a step in this direction and the organisation networks with organic farmers, promotes knowledge and information and also enables exchange of seeds and rice. The net result is the gradual expansion of the network over the years and the group – in association with other organisations – has also launched what is called “Save Our Rice campaign” to promote chemical-free cultivation of traditional rice, to highlight their efficacy while ensuring that the seed sovereignty of the farmers is protected.

In continuance of this objective, Sahaja Samruddha and the network of farmers organise a Red Rice Mela or Kempakki Mela to highlight the efficacy and medicinal properties of the indigenous varieties of rice that are slowly edging towards extinction. If it was not for these group of farmers who among themselves cultivate nearly 300 varieties of indigenous rice not available in the market, the rice heritage of the country would have been that much poorer.

As Mr. Krishnaprasad explained, “Change in lifestyle and consumption pattern in favour of junk food with high cholesterol has a deleterious impact on the health of the people and this is evident in the increase in heart-related diseases. But not many are aware of the medicinal properties of red rice of the local variety that has been abandoned in favour of the high-yielding variety. Even the ancient Ayurvedic treatises recognised the medicinal properties of red rice and called it Raktashali.”

Mr. Krishnaprasad vouches for their anti-oxidant properties just as he advocates rice diversity.

R. KRISHNA KUMAR

A group of farmers are exchanging rare and indigenous rice varieties and propagating them so as to conserve crop diversity