Meet the man who built Kalahandi Seed Bank

Manas Ranjan Sahu has so far preserved a staggering 1,756 varieties of indigenous seeds. Uma Shankar Kar visits his seed bank to learn more about Sahu’s unique collection
A patch of agricultural land being cultivated by Manas.
A patch of agricultural land being cultivated by Manas.

BHAWANIPATNA: Seed collector’ would be too simple a description of Manas Ranjan Sahu. For, this 44-year-old from Kalahandi district is a trailblazer in his own right. In a world where traditional knowledge is fast vanishing amidst the clamour for commercial farming practices, he has preserved a staggering 1,756 varieties of indigenous seeds and held on to each one of them.

Paddy, millets, oilseeds and vegetables, you name it and Manas has saved their seeds for posterity. He is not only pumping in his hard-earned earnings in this pursuit, the Dharmagarh native is sharing organic farming knowledge with countless farmers of the region. Committed to the cause, Manas has converted a portion of his house and farmland into an agro laboratory to preserve endangered indigenous seeds.

His seed collection at the seed bank
His seed collection at the seed bank

In Gotomunda village under Koksara block, Manas owns nine acre land. There is another acre in Batul village of Dharmagarh where he belongs. For livelihood, he multiplies notified paddy seeds in his Gotomunda farm and after processing, sells them through his firm registered under Odisha State Seeds Corporation and organic seeds certification agency. Besides, he also grows chili on a commercial basis.

What he earns from farming, a major chunk goes into his seed bank. He invests about Rs 5 lakh a year towards his preservation endeavour so that indigenous seeds which are facing extinction are saved.
At Dharmagarh stands his labour of love, a 20 ft x20 ft seed bank-cum-laboratory called Kalahandi Seed Bank, where he preserves the indigenous seeds. He collects seeds from different districts of Odisha and also from outside the state.

Manas started his venture in 2009. He multiplies paddy seeds over an acre in Batul while seeds for vegetable, pulses, millets and oilseeds are grown in Gotomunda. Of the 1,756 varieties he has carefully preserved, 816 are paddy seeds. Of them, there are two varieties of magic rice which can be consumed after soaking in water without the requirement for cooking.

He too has seeds for 730 varieties of vegetables, 160 types of millets, 42 kinds of pulses and eight types of oilseeds. After multiplying the seeds, he distributes a portion to interested farmers for free so that they too grow the same in their own land.

His effort is bearing fruits. Many farmers have come forward to collect indigenous seeds and moved towards organic farming. “My goal is to popularise indigenous seeds which face extinction and it is yielding result as farmers are now adopting indigenous seeds taken from my seed bank and showing inclination for organic farming,” Manas says.

Without use and preservation, thousands of varieties of indigenous seeds are being lost, he says and attributes extinction of many indigenous varieties to large-scale commercial cultivation of hybrid and high yielding seeds and change of food practices.

Manas dedicates his seed bank to the future generation of research scholars and agro scientists. “Indigenous varieties of seeds are environment-friendly, disaster-resilient and healthy. Unless there is concerted effort, many rich varieties of seeds will be history soon,” he says.

SEED COLLECTION

 816 variety paddy seeds
 17 varieties of black rice,
 80 types red rice rich in Vitamin B, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc
 3 varieties of green rice
 100 varieties of aromatic rice
 2 varieties of magic rice

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