Seeding Away: History of seed replacement in Kondh farming

Among adivasi farmers, Kondhs are known to be the master shifting cultivators but they also are master seed farmers and had a repository of many diverse seed varieties. The Kondh farmers are known to have experimented and created their own varieties of paddy, millets, maize, pulses, etc. But sadly this rich repertoire of seed genes seems to have been thrown away. Let us hear how this happened and what s the history of this seed replacement trend.

“In our village gudia land is more available and this used to be a type of land where we Kondhs had the most different varieties of paddy and millets seeds. About 15 years back we used to cultivate paddy varieties like bayanda, kitrisama, bangarkarti, lacheika and mundubali. Even in lacheka variety we had two different types – dubulacheika, rangalacheika. Then kitrisama and bayanda are low land varieties of paddy whereas khanda, kanai and lodei were gudia land varieties of paddy. This khanda variety is still grown by us on the gudia and poddu lands because it is a short duration paddy and we celebrate dhana nuakhai with khanda dhana rice offering to our deities. But now none of these varieties, except for khanda, are available with us.We used to keep these desi old varieties of paddy for 5 years and then exchange them with some other farmers for some new varieties which they had or get new seeds of the same variety from some other farmer. We believed that after five years the old seeds need new soil and exchanging seeds helps us achieve this. This exchange is done during the village bihan parab or seed festival.

At present we are cultivating lalat, jhuli and sarala high yielding varieties of paddy. In these last 15 years we also used to cultivate jajati and raising varieties of high yielding paddy but these have also been lost since the last five or so years. We had used these two varieties of paddy only for a few yearsand they were not very popular with the farmers so they got lost very soon.”

How did the traditional seeds get replaced or lost ?The answer to this part of the story came from Krushnarao Kumburuka whose story, in a way, is the story of how the Kondhs lost a fight to save their heirloom paddy seeds in Rayagada district.

“I used to cultivate mainly 4 traditional paddy varieties rangalacheika, dubulacheika, kitrisama, bayanda and bangarakarti. Till I got married I used to cultivate these paddy varieties on my land and jhuli on a lowland of my father. I learnt ploughing and farming from my father when I was 8 years old. I stopped cultivating these varieties after the big drought about 10-15 years back. Droughts occurred in our region for five consecutiveyears and due to lack of rains our paddy crops just dried and we lost our traditional seeds and our money as well. For the next year we had to go to Damodar sahukar (trader cum moneylender) of Bisamkatak and Bhaskar Nala sahukar of Balakopa for loans to buy seeds. I took loan of one puti (about 45 kgs) paddy seeds but he gave us jajati variety of paddy saying he has no other variety of seeds. We took the paddy loan at 100% interest and so we had to repay him 90 kgs of paddy and he said that if we grow jajati then we will be able to repay him the paddy in just one season. So from then on for about 10-12 years I grew jajati variety of paddy every year. But soon the jajati variety began to give low yield as it got mixed and had to change to some other variety of paddy. This time I got the lalat variety of paddy from Muniguda block agriculture office in exchange of jajati variety. From them on I have been growing lalat variety with just a few years in between I also grew arjuli and sana arjuli varieties but did not find both very high yielding. Lalat is a good variety as it is 90 days and also does not need much water so even if there are less rains it does survive. And in this way we lost our traditional variety of paddy seeds and they got replaced with these high yielding and now the new kinds of hybrid variety of paddy seeds.

Many others in my village also have similar stories. In our village even raisingivariety of traditional paddy got replaced with lalatvariety despite being one of the most popular varieties of traditional paddy. My neighbour Diudu Pidikakaused to do this variety but now he also buys the lalat variety of paddy from the block office in Bisamkatak. He takes 2 packets (each packet is 50 kgs) of paddy seeds every year and has been growing lalat for the last 10-15 years. In the last five years he has also started growing jhuli and sana jhuli varieties of paddy which are high yielding. He however continues to grow khanda variety of traditional paddy on his gudia land and so do I because this paddy is 60 days and essential for our nuakhai festival as we offer this rice to our village deities before eating any crop from our farming season. The other seeds we exchange once every 2-3 years because they get mixed and lose their yielding potentials. When we decided to grow high yielding variety of oaddy like lalat the gram sevak or local agriculture extension officer told us that if we grow lalat then government will give us free fertilisers and that is how we all got tempted to leave our traditional seeds and go for these new kinds of varieties.”

Is there any other crop in which this kind of seed replacement has happened ? We only replaced paddy seeds with the market or government seeds. In the other kinds of crops we lost a few varieties due to natural disasters like flash floods or attack by birds and monkeys. Like in the kosla or little millet variety we still have three types – dangarkosla, machrukosala and also badakosala. In gurji we have one type, but in kangu we have two types, in ganthia also we have two types, in makka also we have three types – white, golden and red. Then in kandul we have two types and in biri we have two types- black and white. But originally we had only one variety that is black one and the white biri variety was given to us by the block office. In the black type again we had two varieties – mala biri and gachhabiri. The same is with kolatha. Earlier we had only one type of kolatha which is the black one. Now we also have white kolotha.Among oil seeds we have three types of raasi – bhalu which is sweet raasi and two types of pita raasi and also tweo types of sorisa or mustard – rai sorsa and sana sorisa.

However this year we lost gurji and sorisa seeds due to excessive rains and even ganthia seems to be losing out. We used to have bada ganthia and chchota ganthia but the cattle ate all the plants of ganthia in our village and now we do not have any ganthia seeds. The cattle were able to eat our ganthia seeds as our fences broke down after heavy rains and we did not have time to repair the fences and so the cattle invaded our fields and ate ganthia which is also their favourite food.

The difference between block seeds and our traditional seeds is that we are never sure about the germination of block seeds. We have observed that block seeds have 75% germination while our traditional seeds had 100% germination every single year. Secondly block paddy has to be exchanged every 2-3 years but our traditional paddy, if selected well, could be used for 8-10 years. Actually in block paddy it gets mixed with other varieties and grasses even if we select carefully and store the seeds with utmost care.

In 2012, 20 farmers had received 20 varieties of traditional seeds support from Living Farms NGO. In the first year of harvest, because of less rain fall and then due to Phailin cyclone in 2014 and Hudhud cyclone in 2015 we did not get good yields. So we stopped farming traditional varieties and have gone back to growing the block paddy seeds.

But we want to go back to growing our old traditional varieties of paddy. But it is just that we are still not ready to take the risk of failing rains and unpredictable drought years. We want to save our old varieties of paddy because the rice from those paddy varieties were so much more sweet and tastier that one could just have plain rice. Even pakhal bhaat from old paddy varieties used to give more energy than pakhal bhaat from lalat rice. Lalat rice cannot be eaten without any curry and des nit taste sweet. Besides this, traditional paddy varieties had tall plants and so easy to harvest as we could stand and cut and never got back ache. But lalat variety give short plants and we have to bend and cut and hence after the harvesting season most women in our village fall ill or suffer from back ache for about a month or so. Since the traditional variety paddy had tall plants we did not do much weeding as the paddy plant was not affected by the growth of grass and other weed species. But all that is lost now and what is the use of remembering when we ourselves have stopped cultivating our traditional paddy seeds.” It is clear that the seed replacement trend adversely impacted only paddy seeds while leaving the other varieties to survive on the Kondh farms.

Profile of the Village : 42 Households, All Kondhs
Village Detail : Tankupadar, Tuapadi Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

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