From 1,10,000 varieties of rice to only 6,000 now

Debal Deb, an ecologist by training and a full-time rice conservationist working on a demonstration farmland near Rayagada in Odisha in a bid to prepare a seed bank of the 700 varieties of traditional rice.  

He has a collection of traditional varieties of rice, including the rare three-seed rice that has become extinct. Fired by a passion to conserve the diversity of rice in India, he is on a mission to interact with farmers and share his know-how with them in a bid to popularise the traditional rice variety in the country.

Meet Debal Deb, an ecologist by training but who is a full-time rice conservationist working on a demonstration farmland near Rayagada in Odisha in a bid to prepare a seed bank of the 700 varieties of traditional rice.

Dr. Deb was in Mandya to participate and interact with farmers on issues related to conservation. He made a brief visit to Mysore on Thursday.

“India had nearly 1,10,000 varieties of rice till 1970 and this diversity has been lost to posterity as a result of the green revolution with its emphasis on mono culture and hybrid crops. Now, only 6,000 species or varieties of rice survive. The destruction of the rice diversity of the country is a contribution of the green revolution,” Dr. Deb said.

Interacting with mediapersons, Dr. Deb pointed out that rice emerged in India 14,000 years ago and with a single variety, farmers experimented and amplified the genetic diversity and in the course of the last 10,000 years, there emerged 1,10,000 varieties of rice of which only 6,000 survive.

“It is shocking that agricultural scientists, universities and research institutes do not accord importance to rice diversity or its conservation, and after having spent billions of rupees on research, scientists have failed to develop the aromatic rice variety which the ancient but unknown farmers developed,” said Dr. Deb, who believes in the ingenuity of farmers to enrich the diversity.

Among the other rare collection of rice varieties, Dr. Deb's demonstration farm has the double grain rice called Jugal, which was developed in West Bengal five centuries ago. Sateer is a three-grain rice which has become extinct. Incidentally, Dr. Deb is the only person in the country to have a repository of this rare variety of rice.

“After the green revolution, a generation of farmers in India were injected with the belief that traditional farming methods were unscientific or anti-progress and they came to believe in the efficacy of high-cost and high-end scientific research. But the traditional varieties of rice were rich in iron and protein content, vitamin B, and had medicinal value,” Dr. Deb said.

However, his interaction with farmers in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, parts of Maharashtra has convinced him that the new generation was not only receptive to ideas of conserving the traditional rice varieties but were concerned about the impact of chemical farming on environment.

“While I have no hope in the government, humble farmers can be trusted to conserve the traditional rice varieties for posterity,” said Dr. Deb who recently shifted his demonstration plot and rice seed bank from West Bengal to Odisha.

Drawing a co-relation between declining agricultural income and mono culture, Dr. Deb advocated crop diversity and said it is the best insurance against uncertainty in the market due to glut in production of any one variety of crop, as farmers can fall back on other crops for income.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 5:19:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/from-110000-varieties-of-rice-to-only-6000-now/article3284453.ece

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