As we stood beneath the sky laden with clouds, “Watch the play of green,” said Anjan Kumar Sinha, a botanist. Indeed, the knee-high paddy bedecked in hues ranging from teal to moss and scores of green shades in between swayed, buffeted by the moist breeze of mid-September.
The size of car-parking lots, the farm plots were a mosaic of vivid as well as somber green in rural Bankura, also known as rangamatir desh or the land of red earth. Each plot had a different traditional variety of paddy that has the potential to be developed for climate resilience, being conserved by a group of farmers.
Agriculture is the mainstay of people in Bankura district, known among art lovers for its terracotta horses and medieval temples. The majority of them are small and marginal farmers. The net cultivable area of the district is 4.30 lakh ha. The average landholding is 1.02 ha, the fragmentation caused by division of land among family members over generations.
Paddy is the main crop, grown in 4.28 lakh ha, followed by potato, vegetables and oilseeds. Here, like elsewhere in West Bengal, the high-yielding variety (HYV) rice is the preferred choice. Folk varieties or landraces having been abandoned due to low yield and less market demand, despite the lesser inputs needed to grow them.
During the course of his research on West Bengal’s agro-biodiversity Sinha (36) visited remote agricultural pockets and found traditional varieties that held promise for crop improvement on the verge of extinction. He felt the need to be conserve and document them.
“Interested in cultivating HYV rice that give better yield, our farmers completely ignored traditional variants, and we are losing our agricultural treasure that has stood the test of time and may be the source of climate resilient crop,” Sinha, who is a part-time faculty in Bankura Sammilani College, told VillageSquare.in. “As a farmer’s son, I understand the importance of traditional varieties and try to preserve our seed wealth with the assistance of several marginal farmers.”
Need for conservation
The cultivated rice, Oryza sativa, originated in South East Asia and evolved into 88,681 different varieties, of which 55,615 are landraces, 1,171 are wild races and 32,895 are other varieties. Green Revolution improved production of food grains making us self-sufficient but HYV, its backbone, indirectly caused erosion of landraces and wild varieties.