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Farmers in six villages of Maharashtra’s Shirala ditch high-yielding varieties

Sangli, Nov 20 (IANS/ 101Reporters): “We have cultivated high-yielding varieties (HYVs) for decades, but now grow only folk rice varieties,” says farmer Dhanaji Patil (29) of Patwarun village in Sangli’s Shirala taluka, off the State Highway 58. “Grown organically, the folk varieties have not only given us good yields but also assured us good returns.”

The first-of-its-kind rice festival was held in Patwarun village during the rabi season in December 2021. Two tonnes (20 quintals) of rice were sold at prices ranging between Rs 4,500 and Rs 10,000 per quintal, unlike in the past when HYVs like Sonam and Kolam fetched Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 per quintal.

The cost of growing HYVs is between Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre, while it is between Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per acre for native varieties. While the native varieties mature between 120 and 145 days and give a yield of 30 quintals per acre, the HYVs are short-duration, harvested within 90 days, and yielding a maximum of 40 quintals per acre.

Purchasing new seeds each year is not mandatory for native varieties or open-pollinated ones. Seeds of HYVs cost Rs 30 to Rs 80 per kg, while native varieties are priced between Rs 100 and Rs 150 a kg. Seed companies produce hybrids because they have to be replaced yearly, providing them with business. Moreover, the open-pollinated seeds do not have a significant market size.

In Maharashtra, the market for exclusive hard-to-find varieties such as Ambemohar, Champakali, Ghansal and Jondhala Jirga is growing. Wealthy health-conscious urbanites living in Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Nagpur and other places are now willing to pay a hefty premium for desi varieties. These forgotten rice varieties — remnants of India’s rich agricultural heritage — have turned into premium food items and are sold in eye-catching packages for Rs 80 to Rs 200 a kg.

As farmers from other districts queue up for native seeds, the endangered and ignored paddy varieties are getting a new lease of life. “We have sold around seven quintals of seeds to farmers belonging to Kolhapur and Satara, and have received queries from Nashik, Nagar, Konkan, Palghar and Vidarbha,” says Kshirsagar.

“We have reached out to 20 more villages and will share the seeds of native varieties.”

The farmers have established a demonstration plot in Arla village, which they address as a beej sangrahalya for it has all the 23 varieties growing on a 20-guntha plot.

Hailing the role played by the farmers in bringing extant native varieties to the dining table, Kshirsagar adds, “Their efforts provide us with the opportunity to tap into its germplasm to develop new varieties that can mitigate climate change and address issues like erratic increase/decrease in temperature and humidity, resulting in the appearance of new pests and diseases.”


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