Bijaya Jhankar grows nine traditional varieties of paddy that have a longer harvest time of 130-150 days
Bijaya Jhankar’s eyes twinkle as he approaches his 1.2 hectare (ha) farm for harvesting rice. They are unlike any other variety grown in his village of Sanbaheli, located on the vast Sunabeda Plateau, in the Nuapada district of Odisha.
“They make the beans shorter, take longer to mature, but have enormous sentimental value,” says Biju, as he is affectionately called. Most of the inhabitants of Sanbaheli belong to the Chakotia Bhunjia adivasi community, a particularly vulnerable tribal group.
They grow high yielding varieties, promoted by the state government for the betterment of the community. Biju avoids these cultures. “They need pesticides and chemical fertilizers. I have a small lot and I don’t want to waste it. The paddy I grow does not require any chemicals, ”explains Biju.
Biju cultivates nine traditional varieties of paddy that have a longer harvest time of 130 to 150 days. These include fragrant varieties such as Chandan Baas, Tulsi Baas, Kalkati and Baas Patri; and the unscented Saputri, Garrakanthi, Ranki, Gelei Kanthi, Hirakani, Kulia and Darli. Chandan Baas is his favorite.
“It carries over 200 seeds in a panicle. The germination of tillers per plant is also high – 40 under good soil conditions.
Biju started cultivating Chandan Baas 20 years ago, using seeds he collected from a farmer in Patdarha village in Sunabeda.
Having seen his father and grandfather also cultivating traditional varieties of paddy, he knows how to process them. Since then, he has collected seeds of 11 traditional paddy varieties from farmers in neighboring and remote villages.
On average, he cultivates 6000 kg of paddy with other grains and pulses.
Since Biju cannot grow all varieties on his land, he encourages others in the area to do the same.
Tuna Chhatria from the nearby village of Junapen, who started cultivating traditional varieties after being encouraged by Biju, says: “I have booked my best plain for Tulsi Baas, which provides around 3,000 kg of paddy per 0.6 ha. . It is sufficient for my family’s consumption.
Tuna is however reluctant to grow further because it does not sell for a decent price at mandis despite being organic, and achieves the same minimum support price (MSP) as the high yielding varieties. Farmers often end up selling these grains to middlemen at lower prices than the MSP.
Biju himself earned Rs 70,000 for 4,000 kg of paddy last year, compared to Rs 75,000 he would have through MSP. “It is true that farmers looking to reap more profits would prefer high yielding varieties. But I tell them to opt for traditional varieties at least for consumption, so that they don’t get wasted, ”he says.
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