Farmers in West Bengal are going back to indigenous rice varieties

Eighty-two-year-old Samatul Mandal from Ula village of Howrah district belongs to a family of farmers who have been growing a rare variety of indigenous rice or folk rice variety (FRV)Rani Akandafor the past four generations. The rice is very tasty, slender-grained and light, says Mandal, as he shows us the familys ancestral land of about half a hectare (ha). My great grandfather had begun its cultivation nearly two centuries ago. We have kept the tradition alive, says Mandal. He claims getting the same yield (4 tonnes/ha) as his forefathers, and that too, by using organic manure. He believes indigenous paddy can, to an extent, withstand climate change-induced aberrations in weather.
But still there was scepticism about the prospect of FRVs. Five years ago, when I started cultivating them on my 5 bighas of land (0.81 ha), my relatives called me mad, recalls 43-year-old Parul Begum from Bhattadighi village of Uttar Dinajpur district. However, her family, which was growing a modern high-yielding variety (HYV) of paddy, was surprised to see the production of Bahurupi and Kerala Sundari, rice varieties native to Purulia district. On an average, I raised about 700-750 kg per 0.16 ha as opposed to 550-650 kg under HYV production, says Parul. Her story sends a message: organic FRV farming is cost-effective and sustainable. Parul is now a part of the Forum for Indigenous Agricultural Movement (FIAM) that works towards conserving indigenous seeds.