A view from the field
The wealth of knowledge that we have about various properties of indigenous varieties of seeds is drawn predominantly from indigenous knowledge and wisdom.
In recent years a small corpus of this knowledge has been subjected to testing and validation by modern scientific methods but the source of knowledge remains almost exclusively traditional. The knowledge can be about various factors such as
- a. Agronomic properties of seeds like resistance to pest and diseases, ability to withstand flood or drought.
- b. Special uses such as use of straw for fodder.
- c. Nutritional properties such as seeds that are used by lactating mothers (they are galactogogues) or considered suitable for making specific dishes – there are rice varieties which are items of choice to make South Indian snacks such as Idli, Murukku.
- d. Varieties with specific therapeutic properties. For eg., there is a variety of dark rice called Karunkuruvai (literally meaning dark variety of rice cultivated in the Kuruvai crop season) which is an essential ingredient of a traditional medical formulation used by Siddha Physicians of Tamilnadu to treat Filariasis.
- e. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources of the Government of India has compiled a monograph on the biology of rice which gives various illustrations of rice varieties that have medicinal value. This can be accessed from the website of the Bureau. Several other such references and publications are available.
2. Incentives for producers
The Government of India has enacted a pioneering legislation called – “Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act”. This is perhaps one of the very few instances (or may be the only instance) of a national legislation which explicitly recognizes farmers rights over plant varieties – normally most legislations of this kind seem to recognize or grant IPR only to Breeders and scientists.
The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act of the Government of India enables farmers to register farmers varieties and prizes have been given for outstanding efforts of conserving such varieties. Some of this information can be found in the website of the authority. We feel that additionally various other kinds of benefits can be conceived to encourage agrobiodiverse systems such as
- Incentives from the Department of Agriculture for farmers conserving indigenous varieties of seeds that may be categorized as rare or endangered by providing attractive support prices and buy back arrangements for the varieties and / or subsidized supply of inputs.
- Various traditional varieties are still conserved at least in small quantities because of their special properties which may be agronomical (such as resistence to pest, drought etc) or therapeutic or nutritional value. Research projects may be initiated for a detailed study of these properties and product development wherever possible – such programmes can directly support the cultivation of some priority variety and also provide a share of profits wherever there is a product developed.
- In 2004 December when tsunami struck the coast of Tamilnadu, the Nagapatnam district of Tamilnadu was worst affected where thousands of hectares of land were rendered unfit for normal agriculture cultivation since they had been under seawater for various periods of time (upto two hours). It was not possible to cultivate most of the modern or high yielding varieties of paddy in this area. However, our Centre had undertaken a programme for Restoration of Tsunami affected Agricultural lands based on traditional practices and wisdom. During this effort, we made use of several indigenous varieties of paddy that are known to have high resistance to salinity. One of them was a variety called Kalarpalai which was traditionally used in Tamilnadu where there were patches of saline land and another is an interesting black variety of rice called Kala namak which is used in North India in Uttar Pradesh but our trial showed that they can be cultivated in Nagapatnam district also in Tamilnadu. This is a very specific recent instance of traditional knowledge and wisdom related to agrobiodiversity being put to direct use for disaster management. We published a monograph regarding our experience relating to this in Tamil.
Read also: Agrobiodiversity @knowledged - Enhancing the debate for a real transformation [Farming Matters 28.2]
Text: A. V. Balasubramanian
Director, Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems - www.ciks.org