In order to increase the yield of rice to meet the needs of food in the country, high yield laboratory engineered rice varieties also called hybrid varieties have replaced the local varieties which yield less all over the country. Many areas like Punjab and Haryana in North India which were not rice growing areas have become the major rice growers. This though has helped the Green Evolution and commercialised the farming, has played havoc by excessive water drainage from the underground and contamination of water by heavy metals present in the fertilisers and insecticides which cause many diseases. But the white or polished rice that whole of our country people have become accustomed to have less beneficial nutrients and more starch which increases the risk of diseases like diabetes.
Some farmers in the rice growing West Bengal are trying to reverse this trend by resorting to grow the local varieties which despite being low yielding have nutritional value which more than compensate the low yield. One such farmer is Bhairav Saini who lives in Bankura, about 200 km from Kolkata.
For several years now, he and many farmers are engaged in this task in many districts of West Bengal. Growing the rice by traditional methods without use of fertilisers and insecticides, in fact this also lowers the cost of growing the crops.
Saini, and several others in Hooghly, Dinajpur and 24 South Parganas, in West Bengal, have been engaged in reviving lost, indigenous paddy varieties of Bengal, simply because they’re cognizant of the health benefits of grains grown the traditional way. Burdwan, the rice bowl of Bengal now grows organic Gobindobhog rice in over 30,000 hectares of land. Besides Gobindobhog, other old varieties of scented rice like Radhatilak, Kalonunia, Kalojeera, Tulsimukun etc are also gaining popularity slowly. These have a high mineral and vitamin content along with other health benefits.
Unlike his peers in North India, Saini is not driven by profit making but due to his concern for the health issues of the people. As the times are changing and organic products are a buzzword, the rice they are now growing have started fetching higher prices. Some of the local varieties they are reviving have names like Kala Bhaat, Bohurupee, Leelabati, Durga bhog, Oli, Radhunipagol, Kalo nunia, Katari bhog, Radha tilak, Kalash and so on. Setting up the seed banks is also an important endeavour.
Inputs from an article published in the Economics Times of India.