R. Yuvasenthilkumar, a post-graduate in organic agriculture, near Modakurichi in Tamil Nadu, used to raise paddy varieties such as IR 20 and ADT 38 on his two-acre farm till 2012.
Having developed an interest in native varieties — specifically, ones that grow without the use of fertilizers — he went on a quest for almost a year looking for such paddy varieties. He tried cultivating varieties from the delta areas. However, the yield was not satisfactory. Then, he learnt from elders in his locality that before the 1970s, they used to grow varieties such as Tiruchengode Sambha and Ayan Sambha. However, the seeds for these varieties were not available locally.
In 2014, he got 50 gm of seed imported by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University from the International Rice Research Institute, Manila, for each of the 33 varieties native to the middle Cauvery basin.
The seeds were tried out and it was decided to go in for Tiruchengode Sambha and Ayan Sambha.
In four years, 45 acres belonging to 12 farmers came under the Tiruchengode Sambha native variety of rice in the Erode-Kodumudi-Tiruchengode belt. Last year, the variety was grown on 11 acres for commercial use. The average yield per acre was 1,700 kg and it was a 135-day crop. “We do not use even green manure,” he said. This year, this variety of paddy would be raised on 33.8 acres for commercial purposes.
Farmers are able to get viable price for this rice in the market. One of the advantages for them is that they do not have to spend on fertilizers or pesticides. The paddy straw, got after the harvest, is almost double the quantity compared with the normal varieties, he said.
One more variety
Mr. Yuvasenthilkumar and a group of his friends formed the River Basin Foundation in 2014 mainly to promote the native varieties. This year, they have sown Ayan Sambha on one acre on a trial basis.
Native varieties of paddy are highly localised. They grow in a particular area during a particular season in a year. For instance, for the Tiruchengode Sambha, the seeds should be sown between August 15 and October 15, he claims.
The foundation plans to promote native varieties of paddy, pulses and oilseeds by identifying interested farmers and expanding area under these. It helps sustain the local varieties, he says.
According to B. Shivakumar, a businessman-turned agriculturist and founder of Madras Iyer Thottam, who grows several traditional varieties of vegetables on 12 of his 70-acre farm in Sathyamangalam, yield in terms of number of vegetables per kg is higher in these varieties.
For instance, one kg of traditional brinjal will have 40 to 45 pieces against 18 to 20 in a hybrid variety grown with chemicals. He switched over to organic cultivation and traditional varieties over three years ago. “In the case of brinjal, we tried six to seven varieties and decided to go in for the Sathyamangalam brinjal as it is the most accepted and disease resistant,” he says. Farmers will not spend on fertilizers or pesticides and the price realisation for the produce is also relatively higher in the market. “The nutritional value is high in these varieties of vegetables and farmers will gain in the medium to long term,” he says.