Couple that collects, cultivates and conserves seeds in Odisha 

Dr Ashok Kumar Panigrahi and wife Kusum Misra have set up Odisha’s biggest private seed bank in Chandipur village of Balasore. 

Published: 13th February 2022 06:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th February 2022 06:26 AM   |  A+A-

Paddy seeds stocked in earthen pots in the seed bank

By Express News Service

BHUBANESWAR: How many varieties of paddy can one cultivate in a season? Two, three, five or at best 10? A couple from Balasore cultivates more than 1,000 types of indigenous paddy every year and is now the custodian of 1,055 indica varieties of paddy.

For Dr Ashok Kumar Panigrahi (75) and wife Kusum Misra Panigrahi (68), paddy is the first and the last love. Former Head of the Zoology department of Fakir Mohan (Autonomous) College Dr Panigrahi and his homemaker wife have set up Odisha’s biggest private seed bank at their native Chandipur village near Nilagiri.

The seed bank in an area of 20x40 sq ft on the first floor of their two-storey building houses all indigenous genetically significant paddy varieties, which are almost extinct or on the verge of extinction. Over two decades, the couple has cultivated and conserved most of the original seeds. 

From 120 varieties in 2000, the museum now has 1,055 seed varieties stacked in decorated earthen vessels. Be it the extinct varieties like Bhundi, Kalambank, Valiki, Lunabakada, Lunageti, Nalidhulia, Shankarchil, Rabana, Seulapuni and Dhosarakhuda to the most sought-after Udasiali, Patini, Kathasana and Mugei or the costliest variety Kalabati, one can find them all under one roof.

The seed bank has 50 salt resistant, over 60 flood tolerant, 70 drought resistant varieties, more than a dozen types of bunchy and ornamental rice and five therapeutic paddy varieties besides, a number of naturally developed seeds capable of withstanding harsh and changing conditions.

Some of the unique varieties found in the seed bank included Jalakeshari, Meghadambaru, Dudhasara and Kalajeera, which have different colours and significant properties. While the colour of the plant of some varieties and the seed is distinctly different, some are known for their aroma and uniqueness. 

Every year, the couple cultivates all the varieties in a four-acre patch of well irrigated land, neatly divided into plots of different sizes. Together, they collect, catalogue, and experiment with the largest collection of seeds from various places. The seeds are multiplied through the germplasm method, which is the most successful method to conserve the genetic traits of endangered and commercially valuable species.

“Paddy can be conserved in two ways, either in minus 340 degree centigrade or the germplasm method. We adopted the germplasm method as it is difficult for us to develop the cold storage. We grow all the varieties in 10x10 sq ft plots and collect the pure ones from the middle of the plots. We cannot preserve a variety if it is not cultivated every year because the seeds would not germinate the next year,” said Ashok.

The couple spends around `1.5 lakh every year for growing and preserving the seeds and half of the cost is met by New Delhi-based Navdanya Trust. Some seeds are also bred together to create new seed lines for crops that are resistant to different climatic conditions or particular pests. 

Four to five new varieties add up every season and those are named after rivers, places and persons who have devoted their life to cultivating and conserving paddy. The bank recently got two new varieties, Urmila and Gopinath, named after two persons who work with the couple.  

The couple’s stint with indigenous paddy varieties started post the Super Cyclone in 1999 when they had visited the disaster hit Erasama in Jagatsinghpur district. During discussion with farmers, they came to know that the affected residents have lost their paddy stocks and the varieties supplied by the government would not grow in the land due to high salinity. They collected salt tolerant varieties and distributed them in some villages.

“The seed bank was the result of the experience we gained in the aftermath of the Super Cyclone. Our sole purpose is to conserve the vanishing indigenous rice diversity which includes the climate resilient varieties. Once Odisha had 25,000 varieties of paddy. But now hardly 25 varieties are cultivated,” said Kusum, who is an expert in organic farming.  

In a seed exchange programme in Indonesia in 2006 and 2007, some of the unique varieties preserved by the couple were well appreciated as the yield from the indigenous seeds was four times more. This drove German Professor F Goltenboth to pay a visit to the seed bank and a German filmmaker to feature it in his movie ‘Ten Billion’. 


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