documentary Suma Josson’s short film In Search Of Our Lost Rice Seeds digs into traditional farming practices of rice seed savers from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, writes Athira M.
Campaigns and movements to conserve rice, which is more than 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 within the network of like-minded individuals and organisations. Real-life tales of such sustained efforts is 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 traditional rice varieties seeds 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,” Sridhar says.
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, whereas in Kerala there isn’t enough land available for cultivation,” he adds.
Benefits of using traditional varieties are highlighted. Farmers are shown how such varieties are best suited for organic farming and how they give good yield for many years unlike hybrid varieties where the productivity goes down every year. Scientists, farmers and environmentalists also talk about work of the traditional paddy savers in the 40-minute documentary.
For Suma Josson, making the documentary was an eye-opener. “Eventhough 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 completely brainwashed by various quarters and 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. “They are ready to take risks and have that drive to experiment with various rice types and improve productivity. They had reached a point of total desperation, but didn’t give up. It isn’t a business for them, but a passion,” she adds.
The documentary will be screened on April 23 at the Press Club at 5 p.m. Paddy seed savers from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu will be present at the event.