Agriculture

This 70-year old farmer's lifelong mission is to save Kerala's traditional rice varieties

This 70-year old farmer's lifelong mission is to save Kerala's traditional rice varieties

 
Last Updated: Sunday 05 April 2020

Paddy cultivation has occupied a pride of place in Kerala. Unending, lush green paddy fields are a sight for sore eyes. But cultivation has been on the decline at an alarming rate.

The state has lost more than 70 per cent of its paddy fields in the past 30 years. Take Wayanad: The district once produced 160 varieties of paddy; 55 of those are now extinct.

The situation has moved some people to try to preserve Kerala’s paddy diversity. Down To Earth met, Cheruvayal Raman, one such person.

The 70-year-old farmer spends from his own pocket to collect and propagate traditional rice varieties.  Raman is from the Kurichya community, a group of tribals who settled in the Wayanad highlands between the first and third century CE and whose life revolves around farming.

Raman started farming as a childhood with his uncle. After his death, Raman carried on his legacy by preserving the six paddy varieties his uncle cultivated.

Slowly Raman understood that more varieties were disappearing and they needed to be saved — the Green Revolution has led to the loss of several traditional sources. He started collecting paddy seeds from different parts of Wayanad from 2000.

Wayanad was also known as Vayalnadu — The land of paddy fields. Of the 164 varieties of paddy that was once grown here, now only 104 remain.

Raman tries to save them. He spends a lot to collect seeds from beyond Wayanad too. At times, it has takes him months, even a year, to collect some seeds, he says.

“I have paddy seeds with different maturity periods. Some seeds need 180 days, some 90 and some 50 days. I sow them accordingly so that I can harvest them together,” Raman says.

He grows 54 varieties of paddy — some with medicinal properties, some aromatic, while others that can withstand floods — on his three acres. Each variety is given 1,200-1,500 square feet.

Time-tested

All of Raman’s seeds are stored in bamboo containers. Before sowing, Raman spreads out the seeds in the sun for about 10 days. This, he said, makes them resistant to extreme weather conditions. He also regulates the soil, water and timing.

“We harvest in December. Before that, we check the date, day, and yield. The process is done with precision,” Raman says.

Raman has resisted moving to chemical-based farming and using hybrid seeds despite being urged by friends and colleagues. Chemicals, he says, will kill the biodiversity in his field.  

“My effort is to feed people healthy and nutritious food. My focus is on good food, water and soil. My mind hasn’t allowed me to lead a luxurious life,” says Raman.

He won the National Plant Genome Award and Kerala Biodiversity board’s Green Award for his efforts.

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