Go organic to beat drought, says seed reviver

By Vidya VenkatonJun. 18, 2017in Environment and Ecology
Nel Jayaraman
Nel Jayaraman

Nel Jayaraman says some varieties of indigenous paddy are drought and salt water resistant

Organic farmer Nel Jayaraman has some advice for farmers struggling to grow high-yielding varieties of paddy during drought: Go organic. Having switched to growing indigenous paddy in an organic manner some 15 years ago, Mr. Jayaraman said farmers need spend only a little on input costs and can get good returns on their investment if they grew traditional varieties of paddy. Some of these rice varieties require less water compared to high-yielding varieties developed under the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

“India is home to around 100,000 varieties of indigenous paddy, but the Green Revolution wiped out everything. I have managed to revive around 150 indigenous varieties, and these crops grow very well with no fertilisers and chemicals,” he said. Though the yield may be low compared to varieties such as IR-8, Mr. Jayaraman said organic farmers could earn more with less, unlike farmers now who produced higher yield but got less returns for their produce from the government.

“In a well-tilled field with good soil, I can grow 20 sacks (60 kg) of paddy in an acre of land. The market fetches around Rs.30,000 in total at the rate of Rs.1,500/sack. This is much higher compared to what farmers growing high-yielding varieties get from the government,” he said.

Low profit

High-yielding paddy fetches around 30-35 sacks/acre, which could be sold for Rs.880-900 per sack, and the total expenses for cultivating per acre of paddy this way was around Rs.30,000, farmers say. The margin of profit in SRI cultivation is low. There are native varieties that required only five bursts of rainfall to grow: during seed germination, during flowering, and so on, he said.

More than 3,000 organic farmers converged in Thiruthuraipoondi on Saturday to participate in an open seed festival, supported by CREATE, Mr. Jayaraman’s organisation, and NABARD as a major partner. Among those attending are horticulturist Usha Kumari and scientist S. Sulochana.

Usha Kumari, who represents Thanal, an organic farming organisation based in Thiruvananthapuram, said that a national-level ‘Save our Rice’ campaign that started in 2004 in Kumbalangi, Kerala, has begun to attract farmers from across the country who wish to switch to organic farming practices now. “After cotton, rice cultivation has the highest pesticide use ,” she said.

“In Tamil Nadu, varieties such as kattuyanam are both drought-proof and salt water tolerant. In places like Nagapattinam district where salt water intrusion has made farming difficult, farmers could grow these varieties.”

Health benefits

The Kattuyanam is a very tall variety of paddy, growing up to 8 feet tall. A red rice variety, it fetches more than Rs. 150/kg in the open market, Ms. Kumari said.

Besides good returns, the health benefits of organic rice is also a reason for its growing popularity.

Scientist S. Sulochana, a researcher at the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology, Thanjavur, said she had conducted studies that showed several indigenous paddy varieties had components that could cure cancer.

“Mappillai Samba, Kuzhiadichan, Kattu Ponni, Garudan Samba, Seeraga Samba and Poonggar are some of the indigenous paddy we studied. These traditional varieties contain squalene, compounds that are present in olive oil and cod liver oil, which can reduce bad cholesterol,” she said, sharing some of her research findings.

First published by The Hindu

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