About 30 km from Maihar, lies Pithaurabad village in the Unchehara block of Satna district in Madhya Pradesh. What is unusual about this village is the 2-acre land, where you will find 110 varieties of rice crop. The farm belongs to 72- year- old Babulal Dahiya, who has been collecting these varieties since 2005. In the rest of the 6 acres, Babulal has also grown 100 more varieties of pulses, grains, and vegetables. Babulal also had an unusual knack for Bagheli (a local language in Madhya Pradesh) poetry and storytelling right from childhood. So, even after finishing his studies and working as a postmaster in his village, he would keep participating in poetry meets and performances. Soon he started writing columns for renowned publications like Navbharat Times. Babulal became a household name soon in the Bagheli speaking tribal community and joined the Madhya Pradesh Adiwasi Lok Kala Academy. The academy requested him to document Bagheli folk literature -songs, proverbs, folktales, legends, myths, and so on, to retain their culture. Babulal, who was already passionate about Bagheli literature, then authored five books on Bagheli oral folk literature and published two poetic collections.
Babulal would often think about how one can save folk culture by preserving the songs and folktales, but what about the diverse variety of grains and crops that were once a part of the culture? Thus, in 2005, Babulal started his mission of saving the rice varieties that he had heard about in folktales and songs. He started visiting each and every farmer across the country, who had seeds of the unique varieties of rice and sowed them in the 2-acre space of his 8-acre land. Along with that, he is also growing rice and coarse grains like kodo, kutki and jowar with farmers from 30 villages of the Unchehara block. Talking about the qualities of traditional rice varieties, Babulal says each one has a unique taste, unlike the hybrid ones, which is why the farmers get a good price for these. Sufficient yield is obtained for traditional rice varieties by simply using cow dung as manure. In contrast, hybrid and dwarf varieties require chemical fertilizers. This increases inputs and reduces the fertility of the land or soil.
Moreover, there are different rice varieties for different purposes. Like Bajranga, which is sown by farmers for a long time, as it takes time to get harvested here are other rice varieties like Kamalshree that are sown for guests and Nevari variety is sown for selling as it provides good returns. Doing it once is enough because weeds don’t ‘strangle’ these plants since they grow taller. Pests are controlled by spiders, honeybees, ants and insect friends. Earthworms too help by turning and softening the soil throughout the day, which helps the plant to grow. Not only this, but traditional varieties have the strength to adapt to the local environment. For instance, the traditional rice varieties constantly competing with the dwarf varieties and growing in this land for millennia -, have increased the length of their stalk, which helps store more water. Later after the spikes have developed, dew is sufficient to ripen the rice. Imported dwarf varieties don’t have that quality.
Babulal has also formed a Sarjana Samajik Sanskritik and Sahityik Manch, which has served as a medium for documenting and disseminating information on traditional seed varieties. These days he is in Bhopal, where various grain varieties are grown in pots as a part of the awareness campaign. His collection has been getting deposited in a seed bank developed with the help of the Madhya Pradesh State Biodiversity Board. He also runs a biodiversity awareness campaign with school children and travels across the country participating in various workshops to spread the message of conservation of seed varieties. Babulal has been honoured on various platforms for his work.
(Text Source: The Better India)
Tags: Babulal Dahiya | Padma Shri Awardee | Madhya Pradesh | Satna | Conservation of Seed Varieties