Center Reviving Lost Heritage Rice Varieties: A Collaborative Initiative in Tamil Nadu

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Agriculture experts from Sastra Deemed University (SDU) in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur have partnered with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 24 districts to establish 10 seed banks across the state. Their goal is to locate, gather, and restore lost heritage rice varieties.

Through the Science and Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI) scheme of the Department of Science and Technology, SDU has already helped over 500 farmers. Launched in July 2021, the SHRI scheme promotes heritage research using preservation techniques, diagnostic and intervention technologies to protect traditional crops nationwide.

The new community seed banks have enabled many small and medium farmers in the state to rediscover and revive at least 20 heritage rice varieties that were once cultivated by their ancestors, but have become unavailable due to the dominance of hybrid crops.

Heritage crop varieties are valuable for their unique nutritional, medicinal, and ecological benefits that are specific to the local region, and they are often resilient to climate changes. However, the use of heritage rice varieties, like other traditional crops, has been declining for decades, making their seeds difficult to find.

Under the initiative, farmers in 24 districts in Tamil Nadu are being trained to preserve, enhance, and revitalize indigenous heritage germplasm, as well as conduct in situ trials for climate adaptability in their fields on a small scale. The SHRI scheme has been implemented in 24 out of the 38 districts in Tamil Nadu, as these districts are known for rice cultivation.

SHRI selects a lead farmer to cultivate a traditional rice variety and encourages them to share a portion of the harvest with neighboring farmers. This informal seed exchange is done for all seed varieties. Additionally, field seed banks have been established to propagate the heirloom varieties through seed exchange programs among farmers.

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