Sathyanarayana Beleri, from Nettinege village in Kasaragod, grew up looking at the beautiful rice fields that flourished in her village. He was very fond of the culture, his fields and the paths around them where the reapers gathered the bunches of rice after the harvest.
Unfortunately, his family has never owned a paddy field.
Today, at the age of 48, Sathyanarayana owns a paddy field with over 650 varieties of rice from different parts of the world. Its four acres of land were unsuitable for growing rice for geographic reasons, but Sathyanarayana did not disappoint.
He artificially created a paddy field out of his 25 cents of land using a tarp and sacks of culture. He cultivates rice varieties mainly in cultivation bags by storing water in the tarpaulin. A few varieties are also grown directly in the field.
“I don’t grow rice for profit but for the sake of it”
âI do not cultivate paddy for profit but for the sake of it and also to conserve a wide range of its varieties which exist in different parts of our country or even outside. Students and researchers very often visit my field to see these rare varieties of rice, âsays Sathyanarayana.
The wide range of paddy varieties in the Sathyanarayana collection includes rice from different states including Kerala, Karnataka, Assam and Manipur. There are even varieties of rice from outside India like the Philippines and Japan. The collection also includes rice varieties like Kagga which grows on saline soil, Vellathovan which grows in rare earths in water and even varieties with many medicinal benefits like Ambemohar, Karigajavali, etc. Varieties of rice in different colors like white, black, red, purple and green also grow on his field.
Sathyanarayana said, âWhen I receive the seeds, I sow them in paper cups filled with soil and let them germinate. After germination, I replant them in culture bags mixed with soil and cow dung powder. Next, I place the grow bags in the tarpaulin filled with water. I am doing this method because it is not a suitable land for growing rice, which requires water all the time. This method stores water that retains the correct amount of moisture required for the grow bags. It also helps reduce the threat of rats.
All varieties of paddy from the Sathyanarayana field are labeled. When the rice flowers, it keeps the grow bags away from each other to prevent cross pollination. He harvests around 300 grams of seeds in each grow bag. It also distributes seeds of its rice varieties free of charge to people in need. The Agricultural University of Kerala and Shivamogga University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences have used paddy varieties from their collection for breeding programs.
Collecting rice varieties for almost 15 years
Sathyanarayana started collecting rice varieties almost 15 years ago when he heard about an organic farmer from Udupi who was giving seeds of the Rajakayame rice variety.
It was the first variety of rice he grew on his land and he continued to add new varieties every year thereafter. He even traveled to different states in search of varieties of paddy.
âThere are friends and relatives of mine who send me rice seeds from different places. I also got seeds from the Agricultural University of Kerala. I also receive seeds from many scientists and agricultural researchers across the country, âadds Sathyanarayana.
Recently, Sathyanarayana was honored by the Union Ministry of Agriculture for its efforts in conserving rare and historic rice varieties. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar handed him the “Award for the farmer who saves the plant genome” in Delhi on November 11. He was appointed by the Agricultural University of Kerala.
âI am happy to receive this honor and it is a token of encouragement for farmers like me. I want to dedicate this honor to all the rice farmers in Kasaragod, âSathyanarayana said.
Besides growing paddy, Sathyanarayana grows rubber, nutmeg and areca nut on his remaining land. He also started collecting different varieties of jackfruit, mango trees and peppers from different places.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)