For Last 12 Yrs, This Farmer From Assam Is Fighting To Save Indigenous Variety Of Rice
March 9th, 2018
Image Credit: Mahan Borah
In a bid to save the nearly-extinct indigenous rice variety, Mahan Chandra Borah started a unique library. This library is unique because it has collection of heirloom rice landraces(local) of the Assam. “Annapurna Rice Seed Library” seeks to store and promote the cultivation of these rice seeds.
Rice is grown in abundance in North Eastern part of our country. Assam is home to many different varieties of rice.There are four types of rice grown in Assam – Sali (winter rice), Ahu (autumn), Boro (summer) and Bao (deepwater rice), with various traits such as stickiness, high starch content, waxy or otherwise and aromatic.
Annapurna Rice Seed Library
Located in the town of Meleng in the Jorhat district, the rice seed library, which was started by Borah, 12 years ago, holds the designation of being the first indigenous seed saving library in North East India.
A History graduate, Borah comes from an agricultural background. He says that the food consumed by our ancestors, was far more superior than the hybrid variety of crops which we are now used to consume.Assam is prone to various climatic changes. Many of the hybrid varieties perish in such conditions. Apart from being resistant to various climatic changes, these crops also had several medicinal value. This made Borah to venture into conservation of the indigenous variety of rice seed.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Borah said,” We are now accustomed to the hybrid quality crops. There is always a greater emphasis is more on higher yield. Some of the indigenous variety may not give high yield, but they have unique properties. Some of them have high medicinal properties, few others are resistant to climate changes like flood and drought. Since Our forefathers consumed different varieties of indigenous rice, they were exposed to many varieties of rice, each of which tasted different.”
The library which started with just three seeds variety, now has a collection of about 250 rice seed variety. His collection includes aromatic, sticky, black, flood-tolerant and hill rice among others.
One of the variety named “Tulsi Sali”, which is suitable for low land, takes time but has high nutritious value. Another variety named the “Kokua Bora” is parboiled and consumed with milk or curd, it is said to be extremely delicious.
Borah has now opened similar libraries in other parts of Assam like Sadiya, Balipara and Kaziranga.
Annapurna is also a sister library of the California-based Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library. Richmond Grows, in its website, says the idea is that you “plant the seeds, let some go to seed, then return some of these next generation seeds for others to borrow”.
He says,” The farmers come to me for buying the rice seeds. One to two kilograms of seeds are given for free, farmers are charged if they need more than that. Even when the farmers come across a local variety of rice, they come to me with the sample of seeds, which I sow in my land. They then borrow the resulting seeds”.
Borah also imparts knowledge on these rice seed varieties. He has been approached by various NGOs to share knowledge.
Borah also takes the onus to educate the farmers on different variety of rice, so that they can make an informed decision on which variety to procure.
Borah promotes and practices organic farming. He said, ”I practice organic farming. No pesticide or artificial fertilizers are used. There is misconception among people that organic farming is costly. On the contrary, it is very cost effective. Since we do not use any artificial fertilizers, cost is reduced to a great extent. The only requirement is people should be made aware of natural fertilizers and about compost pit.”
Teaching the young minds the importance of local variety
Borah also works closely with Assam Agricultural University and Biotechnological Department of Gauhati University.
He says,” Apart from helping farmers procure these indigenous variety of rice seeds, I supply these seeds to the University students also for their research purpose. I also conduct workshops for them”
Interestingly, Borah is also teaching the subject of “Agriculture” in a school of Jorhat. He educates the students about organ farming and importance of local variety of crops.
“The aim is to put a seed in these young people’s mind. They are the future of our nation, they are the ones who will be tomorrow’s policy makers. They should understand that promotion of local variety of crops will not just improve the health of the people, but it will also contribute to the nation’s economic growth.”
Borah hopes to expand his collection by including indigenous varieties of not just rice but also other crops.
He urges the consumers to demand for the local variety. He says,” If consumers demand for the indigenous variety, the farmers will be encouraged to produce those variety in abundance. This is beneficial for the consumers as it would promote diversity in the crop variety. The awareness has certainly increased nowadays. People are consuming indigenous variety now. I hope this trend continues.”
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