Scientists of the soil

Debal Deb and an intrepid band of traditional farmers grow heirloom varieties of grains and cereals, thousands of which are on the brink of extinction

It is late afternoon when we arrive at Debal Debs farm, only to find him napping on a hammock next to his mud house. The sound of a gurgling stream punctuates our deliberations: Should we wake him? The thick forest around us glistens like green gold in the rays of the sun. Hills in different shades of green frame this landscape in Kerandiguda, Odisha. We had driven for 45 minutes, parked our car at a railway crossing and walked through hillsides and forest paths to get here. The nearest train station is Muniguda, a small town in Odishas mining belt near Lanjigarh, known for Vedantas bauxite mines. Debs home is close to the Niyamgiri hills, which Vedanta has been trying to mine. The companys efforts have so far been thwarted by an active campaign led by tribals living on these hills.