Over the years, the rice acreage in Uttara Kannada district has shrunk for several reasons. However, there are some farmers who strive to preserve ancient seeds and motivate other farmers to preserve paddy field diversity.
One such farmer with a vast collection of local rice varieties is Ramakrishna Bhat (66) from Devathemane in Sirsi of Uttara Kannada.
There are around 265 traditional varieties of rice in Bhat’s Four Gunta Land. Over the past 20 years, this small piece of land has become a laboratory for him to experiment and learn.
He designates a piece of land to grow each variety of rice and marks each field for easy identification. He also systematically keeps a register in which he collects information about these varieties. Currently, its registry contains comprehensive information on about 200 varieties of rice, and investigation of another 65 varieties is underway.
Besides local varieties like Kalave, Mattagalla, Jenugoodu, Gowdara Bhatta, Jigga Varatiga, Neera Muluga, Kari Kantakam, he also has rice varieties from Nepal and Thailand.
“After harvesting, I carefully collect and preserve some seeds for use next year. Then I give the remaining seeds either to enthusiasts who are engaged in paddy field research or to local farmers for free,” says Bhat, adding that the main intention of his experiment is to preserve rice varieties.
In fact, Bhat did not seek any specific guidance from experts to maintain his farms. His farm instead attracts a number of agronomists.
An attempt in Kumta
Another young farmer aiming to conserve rice varieties is Nagaraj Naik from Kagal in Uttara Kannada’s coastal Kumta area.
Nagaraj has grown around 170 varieties of rice in his field, including several rare and endangered varieties.
His seed collection includes the almost-forgotten Bili Kagga and Kari Kagga (Black and White Kagga) rice varieties, which are salt-tolerant and grown only in “Gajani” country, which are tidal wetlands in a small area of the Aghanashini estuary in Kumta.
Besides this rare rice variety, his collection includes varieties like Mahaveer, Rajamudi, Jayapadma, Selam, Govadhan-1,2,3,4, Rajabhoga, Nagabhatta, Shakthi, Ratnachoodi, Bhootnath, Mysuru Mallige, Kaje Jaya and Kandu Bhatta. He also has varieties of rice that can be grown in both saltwater and deep water.
Naik grows these rice seedlings on a compact patch of land around his house and then plants them in his farmer friends’ fields.
Since he is experimentally growing these rice varieties, he sows around five kilos of seeds of each variety.
“In the early days, I had experimented with growing the Moudamani rice variety from Assam because I wanted to see how it grew in the coastal waters. I was successful in my attempt as there was a good yield. Motivated by this, I started conserving other varieties of rice,” says Naik, showing the green seedlings growing in his yard.
There are not only individual efforts here, but also mass efforts to save the Kagga variety.
In the area of Kumta, the Manikatta Kagga Bhatta Belegaarara Sangha (Association of Kagga Breeders) was involved in saving the Kagga Diversity. This paddy field tolerates stagnant water, is largely pest-free and has a unique flavor. But it has shrunk due to lack of seeds.
Every year they grow the Kagga variety on around 30 hectares of land without the use of fertilizers and according to cooperative principles.
Around 200 farmers with lands around Gajani (or Kharland) are part of this experiment. All of these efforts, albeit not on a large scale, have yielded good results and helped save the rice gene pool.
(Translated from Kannada by Divyashri Mudakavi)