DHARMAPURI: One of the earliest memories of the 26-year-old S Amarnath is brinjal plants lining the borders of his grandfather’s farmland at J Palayam village in Karimangalam taluk. The bountiful harvest his family used to get from the crop remains vivid in his mind.
So, at the age of 21, when he came to crossroads after an unsuccessful hunt for a job, the young graduate chose agriculture as a career. Amar, as he is known in the village, wanted to organically cultivate the same variety of native brinjal. He travelled the length and breadth of Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts to find its seeds, but in vain — his first attempt at farming came a cropper.
During the journey, however, he found something else. “I would even call it enlightenment,” says Amar. “After interacting with numerous farmers in Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, and Salem, I learned that many varieties of traditional paddy have been forgotten or even lost. These native varieties sustained us for centuries but vanished in a mere 75 years. I couldn’t accept it.”
So, Amar took it upon himself the responsibility of collecting and promoting native varieties of paddy. In just five years, he found over 26 varieties, all native to Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. He now intends to mass-produce them so that farmers get them at cheaper rates.
“Unlike delta regions, Dharmapuri is drought-prone. The soil is different and the climate is harsh. Centuries of evolution has, however, produced many types of paddy, especially in tribal hamlets like Modur, Vathalmalai, Sitheri, and Bettamugilalam, that can thrive in the region. As these are cultivated in secluded areas, many are unaware of their existence. We are learning more about these varieties and collecting them,” he says, adding that many of these native varieties need lesser care and that simple techniques are enough to ward off insects and diseases.
“We need only four kg of seeds of a native paddy variety for an acre, but the yield is about 20% less than what market varieties produce. But we can save on fertiliser, supplements, and pesticides. When you adjust that, the profit is more or less the same,” he says.
Amar wants to find more native varieties and discover their benefits. He is also helping like-minded farmers identify and locate such varieties and protect them.
M Umashankar, organiser of Dharmapuri Marabhu Sandhai, says: “Reviving these varieties has become a necessity. Good food is good medicine. But, are we eating good food? Evolution helped these paddy varieties thrive in this region for centuries. To cultivate the market varieties, however, you need chemicals like urea and potash. These are slowly poisoning us and we are completely oblivious to that fact,” he says.
Umashankar said Amar has been selling traditional varieties of paddy in Dharmapuri Marabhu Sandhai for over six months now and farmers have shown a keen interest. But only a few try to cultivate the varieties. Most refuse to believe that paddy can be grown organically, and refuse to take up the challenge. Amar wants to change that, he added. Amar has been teaching organic farming free for the past four years. He is also engaged in protecting indigenous varieties of millets and vegetables.