Caution sounded on ICRISAT jowar varieties

Hybrid cultivars may lead to loss of native genotype, says expert

February 08, 2018 12:12 am | Updated February 09, 2018 02:06 pm IST - ADILABAD

 Farmer Sidam Tulsiram Patel (left) and DHAN Foundation programme leader Kumra Vittal Rao inspecting the jowar crop from seeds planted by ICRISAT scientists at Pataguda.

Farmer Sidam Tulsiram Patel (left) and DHAN Foundation programme leader Kumra Vittal Rao inspecting the jowar crop from seeds planted by ICRISAT scientists at Pataguda.

In the kharif season of 1975-76, Sidam Tulsiram, now the Patel or village headman of Pataguda in Indervelli mandal of Adilabad district started cultivating a newly arrived high yielding hybrid variety of sorghum or jowar and harvested bumper crop for the next five years as desired. Little did he, or others who had opted for the hybrid jowar, realise that the indigenous variety, Persa Jonna, was lost in the process.

The Adivasi farmers, at least some of them in this district, will soon face a potentially similar situation when they will be offered a chance by the International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropis to select a cultivar suited to them from the six ones which scientists from the organisation have cultivated as a trial in the field of Tulsiram Patel in November last year.

Traditional variety

ICRISAT scientists had earlier collected and analysed similar kind of plant type with similar grain quality in order to carry out the trial aimed at enabling marginalised farmers to have a say in selecting ‘better’ crop cultivar.

The Persa jonna, which is cultivated in rainy season and the Sevta which is cultivated in rabi season constitute the most important food crop of Adivasis living in the hilly parts of erstwhile undivided Adilabad district.

The unique feature of these types is the drooping panicle which is perhaps a characteristic acquired over centuries of evolution and is a perfect defence mechanism from bird attacks.

“The yields of Persa jonna or Sevta is about 8 and 5 quintals per acre respectively. But, this factor is compensated by the high nutritional value of the foodgrain and the high yield of fodder from the plants which is relished by cattle,” pointed out the Pataguda headman.

Cultural significance

“It is of great religious and cultural significance to the ethnic tribes, which is why every farmer cultivates at least a score of plants in a corner of his field to harvest grain to be used as offerings to our gods and goddesses. We do not cultivate the jowar without the ‘vijjan tohwal’ ritual which has farmers taking the seeds to our gods and goddesses like Jangubai to seek her blessings before sowing,” added farmer Pusam Anand Rao of Mallapur village in Sirikonda mandal.

Mallapur is a village which has achieved self sufficiency in food grains by cultivating desi varieties of millets and other crops since the last three years with the help of DHAN Foundation, an NGO working in these parts. Programme leader of the NGO Kumra Vittal Rao, an Adivasi Raj Gond, was happy with the health of the plant and the anticipated yield, assessed at an advanced stage of growth, of the ICRISAT genotypes.

However, he had a word of caution on preserving the indigenous types of jowar. “The ICRISAT should encourage traditional methods of seed preservation too in case of traditional varieties so that they are not lost,” he suggested.

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