Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Indigenous seeds

In my childhood days we had around 50 cents (0.5 acre) land near my house and we used to cultivate cow pea, colocasia (chembu), tapioca, ginger, turmeric etc..I used to really love the taste of cow pea fry and colocasia curry. But now a days, while eating cow pea and colocasia, never used to get that taste, so used to wonder what is the reason. But as I got into farming, slowly realised that those tasty varieties existed earlier but they have disappeared after introduction of more productive varieties. While looking for seeds of cow pea, you can see lot of varieties which grows big, gives good yield, but none can give the taste of those old indigenous varieties. Same thing happened to colocasia since what we used to cultivate was round ones but never could see those variety later. The agriculture universities/institutions have come up and they make newer varieties which can give good yields and other peculiar characteristics like long cow peas etc. Also since it is a profession for them, they might be interested in experiments and naming the varieties after them, so the motive has become different. It looks like once these seeds became available people changed the habit of keeping their own seeds but bought the seeds from agriculture institutions. One more thing is that the hybrid seeds can not be used again and again since their characteristics changes and they will go back to the characteristics of their original parents. Only a few people keep the traditional seeds, especially the tribal people who does not have easy access to seeds from agriculture institutions. Those local indigenous seeds have been existent for many years, but their disappearance was quick. Surprisingly there are not much information available about those varieties in the internet. I expected to find lot of information about the rice varieties in the net, but later found that there are not much.

During my rice cultivation in natural farming method, I came to know that grass is a real problem while getting into natural farming. But after growing legume in the grass and if the organic content increases, grass seems to be less of a problem, but it takes time. As part of this, I tried to grow sunhemp in the field which has thick grass growing in it. I broadcasted sunhemp seeds and cut the grass, and sunhemp sprouted well and their growth was quite interesting to me. They grew quite tall giving no chance for the grass to take over. I was thinking, if I had rice which grows with the vigor of sunhemp it should be easy for me. But later I learnt that there are many indigenous varieties of rice which grows tall and grass is not a threat to them. Originally rice was tall variety, but as part of green revolution, short varieties were introduced which gave good yield with more inputs and pesticides. Straw was much less in this, but farmers were carried away by the yield. In my case, I was more concerned about inputs and competition with grass, so came to know that indigenous rice seeds is the answer. Fukuoka san had developed 3 strains of happy hill rice which had wild strains in it. I don't know what was the height of this rice, but it looked at least it should be 4 feet high.

So I think natural farmers should start using indigenous seeds and also try to adapt them for local conditions. Basically while selecting the seeds, we should select the good seeds which came up well in the planting season. Over a period of time, these seeds will be adjusted to local conditions and will do the best. It looks like this is how indigenous seeds were developed.

The article below gives information about Fukuoka-Bonfils method of wheat cultivation in Europe. This article mentions importance of selecting traditional long variety of wheat which has vigorous growth.