Seeds are the defining aspect of agriculture, In fact there is no agriculture without seed. Why do plants produce seeds? From a purely evolutionary point of view, plants produce seeds for survival, for propagation of their species. Any wonder then that nature bestows them with the most favourable characteristics necessary for their survival? Seeds evolve over a period of time and through the process of natural selection, adapt to the existing environmental conditions. Not surprising why locally adapted seeds perform much better than ‘laboratory' seeds.
Modern agricultural practices depend heavily on seeds from the market, one of the reasons for the high cost of cultivation in conventional agriculture. Besides, seeds from the market are ‘tuned' to perform well only under optimal conditions, any biotic or abiotic stress drastically affects yield. Ensuring a stress-free environment for plants/crops incurs heavy expenses.
Local seeds are more adaptable to pressures because of their inherent resistance. They are therefore able to cope with stress without causing much reduction in yield. How ever local seeds are becoming rare and unless communities are encouraged and supported to conserve local seeds, they may be lost for ever. The conservation efforts of Mr. Rajaraman, an organic farmer in Thandavankulam village of Siddivinayakapuram, Sirkazhi taluk definitely needs appreciation and support.
For several years now, Mr. Rajaraman has been growing a range of vegetable crops in his backyard. He has been saving seeds of these vegetable crops and exchanging/distributing/selling these seeds in his village and adjoining areas. Inspired and influenced by leaders like Jayaprakash Narayanan, Mr. Rajaraman along with a few like-minded individuals from the village set up the ‘Manavar Podupani Manram' a grass-roots organization working to eradicate illiteracy among the villagers. They also conducted classes for school children. It is through these school children that Mr. Rajaraman first started the ‘seed exchange' program.
Along with their academic subjects, Mr.Rajaraman also got the children interested in plants/gardening/agriculture. Most rural households (in the 1970's) had backyard kitchen gardens, where they grew vegetables required for home consumption. Kids were encouraged to bring small quantities of seeds of all the vegetable varieties grown in their kitchen gardens. Mr. Rajaraman multiplied the seeds in his garden and stored them in labelled containers. As a result of this activity Mr. Rajaraman was able to assemble a wide diversity of vegetable seeds, sometimes about 8-10 different varieties of a single crop! These seeds were distributed free of cost to any one who was interested.
Over a period of time he started to charge a nominal fee for the seeds. A packet of 15 different kinds of vegetable seeds is now sold at Rs. 20/-. Mr.Rajaraman recalls how in the initial years, he used to cycle and make house to house calls to sell his seeds. Now though, people come to him when they have a requirement.
Mr. Rajaraman is so passionate about seed saving that in spite of it not being a profitable income generating activity he has persisted with it for a very long time. Recently, through some ‘value addition' measures – raising a nursery of vegetable seeds and fruit trees - he has been able to bring in some additional income into the household. Villagers now place an advance order for his seedlings and saplings as they are of standard good quality.
He has seeds of the following varieties – Okra, brinjal, chilli, cluster bean, pumpkin, bottle gourd, ash gourd, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, snake gourd, lab lab, cow pea, tomato, a wide variety of green leafy vegetables and some root crops. He uses traditional methods of seed saving with ash and cow dung. The seed production and conservation activities are carried out around his house as it requires continuous monitoring and attention. He has about 2 acres of land a little distance away from his residence where he cultivates paddy and black gram.
During the boom green revolution years he also yielded to the temptation of higher yields and increased income from hybrid seeds and chemical management practices. He continued with these chemical practices for about 15 years and on realising the futility of the technology and techniques, slowly started the shift back towards organic management of his lands. For the past four years he has been managing his lands organically.
He has divided his paddy field into 2 sections – on about 30 cents he grows the ADT 43 variety of paddy and in the remaining 1.70 acres he grows traditional varieties like Pungar, Sivapu kuruvikar , Sembalipanni . The seeds of these traditional varieties have been obtained from CIKS. Mr. Rajaraman finds that these traditional varieties need less maintenance and are hardier than the hybrid varieties he used to grow earlier.
The Pungar variety that he cultivated this year is a short duration variety which comes into harvest in about 75-80 days. He says that it is low on maintenance and responds well to organic inputs. The variety is ideal for making a variety of products like beaten rice, puttu and gruel and is in demand in the state of Kerala. He explains the rationale for choosing this traditional variety to others –
- short duration
- good yield
- resistant to pests and disease
- good market value
The usual crop rotation pattern in this area includes – a legume crop (usually black gram) after the paddy harvest. He says that, choosing a short duration paddy variety gives him an edge over other farmers as he is able to put in his legume crop earlier. By advancing the time of planting by a few weeks he is able to minimise the losses to his black gram crop from pests and diseases and also has the added advantage of a quicker harvest. This assures him of a better price in the market. It is pretty evident that Mr. Rajaraman is a keen observer of natural rhythms in the field, and market trends and uses the knowledge he gains to his maximum advantage.
To enhance agricultural productivity Mr. Rajaraman uses organic inputs like vermicompost, panchagavya, amritha karaisal, all of which are produced in the farm. The little excess that remains after use in the farm is sold to villagers. The major source of income for the family comes from agriculture. The money from sale of organic inputs and from sales of saplings /seedlings from the nursery augments the income from agriculture.
Mr. Rajaraman's interest is not limited to organic agriculture alone. He is interested in alternate medicine as well. He makes it a point to visit practitioners of Siddha medicine and collects medicines for common ailments like colds, coughs, simple fevers etc. which he distributes to the people in his village. The organization that he established almost 2 decades ago is still active and continues to work with school children on several issues. Through street plays and marches they have created awareness among local communities on a number of issues. He is very proud as he talks about the contribution from his village towards the relief efforts for the tsunami victims and for the families of the Kargil jawans. He was felicitated by the Collector of the district in recognition of his selfless social service.
Coming from an ordinary agricultural family, finances have always been tight, but this does not stop him from doing socially relevant work. He is sad that he does not have the full support of his family for his activities. While his son outright rejects his ideals and activities, calling it a complete waste of time, effort and resources, his wife supports him to a certain extent. Whether he has the support of his family or not, Mr. Rajaraman is sure that he will continue his efforts at seed conservation and promoting sustainable agriculture. He says it is this socially relevant work that gives him immense satisfaction, a sense of achievement and joy.
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