In Chhattisgarh, rice is much more than the staple food; it’s an important part of the state’s cultural heritage. As many as 23,250 traditional varieties of paddy have already been identified and efforts are underway to develop many new varieties. The Indira Gandhi Agricultural University (IGAU) in the state capital Raipur has taken up an ambitious project to protect and promote these varieties. The genetic resources (germplasm) associated with the entire range of paddy varieties found in the state have been preserved at the university’s Centre for Biodiversity Research and Development.
Agricultural scientists believe that after the Philippines, India has the largest number of paddy varieties in the world. Besides preserving the existing varieties of paddy, the IGAU has also developed 15 new types with special attributes, including some that can withstand a range of harsh climatic conditions. For instance, Durgeswari and Indira Rajeswari are drought-resistant varieties, while Danteswari can be sown in the summer. One of the more interesting varieties is Dagar paddy that can be grown on rocky ground and with minimal irrigation.
“The university has collected samples of different kinds of rice from various parts of the state. We have also developed a few of our own. But there is still a lot of work left to be done,” says SK Patel, vice-chancellor of IGAU. “The farmers in the state still grow a number of varieties of paddy that are unknown to the world. We are carrying out research on how to promote them. This would have been impossible without support from the state government. Around 25 lakh is spent on research, analysis and conservation every year. But that is not enough. New varieties are continuously being discovered, while it’s a major challenge to preserve the already existing varieties.”
The university has been demanding more funds from the government to facilitate further research on traditional and new varieties of paddy.
RR Hanchinal, chairperson of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV&FRA), New Delhi, which functions under the Union Ministry of Agriculture, considers IGAU to be a leading institution in the country in the field of biodiversity conservation. “I have been to several states and universities, but Chhattisgarh’s agricultural university is way ahead in the conservation of biodiversity,” says Hanchinal. “It is astonishing that there are 23,250 varieties of paddy within Chhattisgarh itself and the university has not only preserved their germplasm but is also conducting further research. We are also urging farmers to inform PPV&FRA if they possess any distinct variety.”
India ranks No 1 in the world in terms of its biodiversity. There are 34 biodiversity hotspots across the globe, four of which are in India. One of these hotspots is located in Chhattisgarh. “The rice produced in the state is rich in minerals, vitamins and protein,” says Hanchinal. “With new varieties being discovered almost every day, the state promises not only food security but also nutritional security in a wider sense of the term. The rice varieties found in Chhattisgarh also have therapeutic properties, especially for those suffering from diabetes.”
Chhattisgarh’s Director of Agriculture Pratap Rao Kridutta says, “There is no doubt that the discovery of so many varieties of paddy is a result of the painstaking work by many people. And it’s worth the effort.” Kridutta also points out that India has had a significant role in the collection of rice germplasm in the Philippines.
“Chhattisgarh is emerging with a new identity in the field of biodiversity conservation, especially related to paddy varieties,” he says. “There are some types of rice that are even tinier than cardamom seeds. An extraordinary form of paddy that has been discovered here is the Pakshiraj, which looks like birds in flight. Another variety is the Kheragul. It is the smallest in size and among the most aromatic of all varieties, though it does not look like rice.”
Preservation of so many traditional varieties of rice would have been impossible without the role played by farmers of the state. “Chhattisgarh has many varieties of not only rice but also mango, lemon and bananas that are not known to farmers anywhere else in the country,” says Tulsidas Sao, a farmer from Mahasamund district who was given the Plant Genome Saviour Community Award, 2011-12, by the PPV&FRA. “The IGAU is discovering many new types and educating farmers about them.”
Agricultural scientist KK Sahu claims that nearly every farmer in the state has his own variety of paddy. “Only a few of these varieties have been identified so far, including Vishnubhog, Dubraj and Badshah Bhog,” says Sahu. “Many more varieties are waiting to be discovered.”
Paddy has 62 traits that distinguish each variety. These include size and shape of leaves, aroma and crop duration. Each of the varieties that have been developed in the university is clearly distinct from the others. Do Dana and Ram-Laxman have two, and sometimes three, grains in one husk. Hanuman Langur, a variety discovered in Mahasamund, has the longest grain. While Sarai Phool is a rich source of energy, Maharaji is good for women in the days following childbirth, especially those who have suffered heavy blood loss during delivery. Gathuvan helps alleviate joint pains. Nariyal Chudi can be grown in marshy and water-logged areas. An interesting variety of paddy is called Roti as it is suitable for the preparation of chapatti and bread. Hathipanjara has thick grains, while Jeera Dhan owes its name to its resemblance to cumin seeds.
The germplasm of all these varieties have been preserved at the IGAU so that they would be available to the future generations. Farmers and scientists are working together to further enrich this mind-boggling diversity. They hope that these traditional and new varieties of paddy would one day become popular across India and also in other parts of the world.
A New Spin To Good Old Rice
Registration of the myriad kinds of paddy grown by farmers will enable the discovery and development of littleknown varieties
The Central government is now actively involved in discovering new rice varieties. Farmers are being encouraged to get the variety of rice they grow registered in their name under the Plant Variety and Farmers’ Rights Protection Act, 2001.
“We have inherited paddy and other crops from our ancestors who preserved it. It is our duty to not only explore new varieties but also grow the ancestral varieties,” says PPV&FRA Registrar Ravi Prakash. “The Central government has now given farmers the right to get the variety they grow registered as their own. This will not only help in the discovery of new varieties, but also give the farmers ownership rights over the varieties preserved by their ancestors.
Following are some of the varieties of paddy developed at IGAU, Raipur: Mahamaya (1995), Shyamala and Poornima (1997), Bamleswari (2001), Indira Sugandhit Dhan (2004), Jaldubi, Samleswari and Indira Sona (2006), Karma Mahsuri (2007), Maheswari (2009), Indira Barani Dhan (2010), Indira Rajeswari and Durgeswari (2011).
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman