Tamil Nadu revives 20 heritage rice varieties

A Team of agriculture experts from the Sastra Deemed University (SDU) in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, has partnered with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 24 districts to establish 10 seed banks in order to trace, collect, and restore heritage rice varieties that have disappeared.

As a result of the Science and Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI) of the Department of Science and Technology, SDU has helped more than 500 farmers to date. By using preservation techniques, diagnostics, and intervention technologies, SHRI launched its program to preserve heritage crops across the country in July 2021.

Small and medium farmers in the state have been able to trace and revive at least 20 heritage rice varieties through the recently established community seed banks, which were once owned by their forefathers, but have become unavailable in recent decades due to hybrid monocultures.

They are often climate resilient and offer unique nutritional, medicinal, and ecological benefits – associated with the local region. Heritage rice varieties, just as other traditional crops, have declined in use over recent decades, and even their seeds are hard to come by.

Currently, farmers from 24 districts of Tamil Nadu — Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Madurai, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai, Dindigul, Ariyalur, Chengalpattu, Kanchipuram, Karur, Erode, Mayiladuthurai, Ramanathapuram, Ranipet, Salem, Sivaganga, Thanjavur, Thoothukudi,  Thiruvarur, Tiruchirappalli, Tenkasi, Thiruvannamalai, Villupuram, and Virudhunagar —are being trained to conserve, enrich and revitalize indigenous heritage germplasm, as well as on in situ trials for climate adaptability in the farmer’s field on a pilot scale.

As many of Tamil Nadu’s districts are prone to rice cultivation, the SHRI scheme has been implemented in 24 of the 38 districts. The scheme identifies a lead farmer and encourages him or her to cultivate a traditional rice variety. Farmers exchange seeds with their neighbours once they harvest a portion of their harvest, and this informal exchange is done with all seed varieties. Moreover, field seed banks have been established to propagate heirloom varieties through seed exchange programs among farmers.

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