In a first, agriculture experts from the Sastra Deemed University (SDU) in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur tied up with several local non-governmental organisation (NGOs) in 24 districts, and set up 10 seed banks across the state in a bid to trace, collect and restore lost heritage rice varieties.
SDU, using the Science and Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI) scheme of the Department of Science and Technology, has so far benefited more than 500 farmers through the initiative, according to the experts. Launched in July 2021, SHRI scheme promotes heritage research using preservation techniques, diagnostic and intervention technologies to preserve heritage crops across the country.
The recently established community seed banks have helped the majority of small and medium farmers in the state to trace and revive at least 20 heritage rice varieties — once owned traditionally by their community forefathers, but have been unavailable over the past few decades due to monocropping of hybrids.
Heritage crop varieties are important for their unique nutritional, medicinal and ecological benefits — associated with the local region — and are often climate resilient. However, use of heritage rice varieties, just like other traditional crops, have been declining over the past few decades and even their seeds are hard to find, said the experts.
Under the initiative, farmers from 24 districts in Tamil Nadu — Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Madurai, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai, Dindigul, Ariyalur, Chengalpattu, Kanchipuram, Karur, Erode, Mayiladuthurai, Ramanathapuram, Ranipet, Salem, Sivaganga, Tenkasi, Thanjavur, Thoothukudi, Thiruvannamalai, Thiruvarur, Tiruchirappalli, Villupuram and Virudhunagar —are being trained to conserve, enrich and revitalise indigenous heritage germplasm, as well as on in situ trials for climate adaptability in the farmer’s field on a pilot scale. SHRI scheme has been implemented in 24 out of the total 38 districts in Tamil Nadu, as these districts are prevalent in rice cultivation.
SHRI identifies a lead farmer and encourages the person to cultivate a traditional rice variety. Once mature, a portion of the harvest is distributed to the neighbouring farmers, and this informal exchange of seeds is done with all seed varieties. Also, field seed banks have been set up to propagate the heirloom varieties through seed exchange programmes within the farmers.