Contributed by Vir Singh and Satya Prakash
Indian farmers in a district in Uttar Pradesh, who had given up traditional rice varieties for high yielding varieties (HYVs) during the Green Revolution, found themselves in difficulty as the HYVs ran into problems. These farmers were saved by the foresight of one farmer who had continued growing traditional varieties which are cheaper to cultivate and superior to the HYVs in disease and pest resistance, climate tolerance, yield, flavour and market price.
This article was written perhaps in the mid-1980s. It has been taken from “Return to the Good Earth”, published by the Third World Network.
Uttar Pradesh, India : Over two decades ago during the Green Revolution, the seeds of the high yielding varieties of crops (HYVs) had appeared as a great new hope for the farmers of the terai region in Nainital district of Uttar Pradesh. But in more recent years, this hope has been killed to a large extent, especially in the case of rice cultivation, by an emerging agro-ecological crisis.
While several farmers had started growing the Pant-4 HYV (and some other HYVs) recommended to them, the very high demands of irrigation as well as chemical fertilisers for this rice HYV were proving a problem for them. This problem was particularly acute in this drought year. As a result of heavy exploitation of water, nearly half of the artesian wells (the most important sources of irrigation in the terai) had dried up. In the remaining wells too the pressure had reduced considerably.
Even in rivers the water level declined steeply. The water level in the Haripura dam on Bhakhra river and the Bore dam on Bore river has receded so much that the farmers could not seek any solace from these structures.
A large number of eucalyptus trees planted here in recent years have also contributed to lowering the water-table. Most of these trees have been planted on fields bunds. Villagers say that a row of this tree sucks up to a distance of five metres in the field.
Earlier the main feature of this area had been its abundance of ground-water. But the destruction of natural forests in the hills above as well as in the plains of the terai reduced this to a large extent. At the same time, exploitation of the ground-water started on a truly massive scale by not only bringing much more land under cultivation but also growing highly water-intensive HYVs, especially the new exotic strains of paddy, on this land. The water-table went down drastically, at some places as low as 50 feet, making it necessary to dig tubewells to satiate the needs of the HYVs and the new cropping pattern.
Initially, when water abundance had made this a particularly good land for growing rice HYVs, the traditional paddy varieties had been given up by most farmers. However, one far-sighted farmer, Inder Singh continued to grow and preserve several diverse traditional varieties having different properties with respect to disease and pest susceptibility, climate tolerance, yield, flavour, aroma, etc. Among these he noticed one particular variety which had good qualities of flavour as well as high yield.
As the water level receded and the HYVs ran into some other problems as well, some farmers started yearning for traditional seeds and happily they could get these from Inder Singh. His best variety was named Indarasan – as a tribute to his farsightedness in preserving and improving it. Owing to high productivity and low costs of cultivation (in terms of fertilisers and water), this variety was popular among farmers. The small farmers least capable of coping with the high cost of HYVs especially found Indarasan a very useful variety. In just about six to seven years nearly half of the land was covered by Indarasan, and even some big farmers adopted this variety.
During the recent drought season, Indarasan coped much better than Pant-4, the most widely grown variety here among the various paddy HYVs. In fact the yield of Indarasan paddy this year has gone up, reaching a peak of 32 quintals per acre from the earlier average of 25 quintals per acre. On the other hand Pant-4 has stagnated at 20 quintals per acre, and where irrigation could not be arranged, this HYV has been destroyed almost entirely.
What is more, the Indarasan variety is fetching a better price on the market – its rate of Rs.208 per quintal in Gandarpur mandi (market) compares very favourably with the Rs.175 per quintal for Pant-4.
There is a big rush among farmers to get the Indarasan seed for next year’s crop.
Farmers who have been cultivating Indarasan for some time are satisfied that it has not been susceptible to diseases and they compare this to the high susceptibility of the so-called HYVs.
The Indarasan variety also has good flavour and scent, and its threshing is much easier. In comparison the threshing of Pant-4 requires much more effort. In addition the proportion of unbroken grains is higher in Indarasan.
In terms of flavour Indarasan is vying with popular types of rice like Basmati and Hansraj for a place of honour. It also yields more dry fodder for cattle compared to the dwarf HYVs, and even in quality Indarasan’s fodder has been found relatively better (generally paddy fodder is considered a poor quality fodder, to be used only in case of extreme need).
Unfortunately some scientists who identify their own work only with the popularisation of exotic HYVs are feeling uneasy about this re-discovery of farmers, instead of learning from the field-situation and re-orienting their research effort accordingly.
This better performance of a traditional variety grown at a lower cost, particularly in a drought year, is especially significant since it took place in the Nainital terai region, considered a birth-place of the Green Revolution in India.
Source : “Return to the Good Earth”, Third World Network. This article would have been written circa 1985