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Kerala’s tribal farmer saves 54 local rice varieties from extinction

Leading the way by example is tribal farmer Cheruvayal Raman who has become the custodian of seeds of 54 varieties of native rice

For the last two decades a tribal man has dedicated himself solely to saving native rice varieties of India and even at the age of 72, he continues to do so. Farmers in Kerala’s Wayanad had been growing indigenous rice varieties but over a period this has changed as they switched to high-yielding and genetically modified seeds posing a serious threat to the local varieties which faced extinction.

Thanks to the efforts of Cheruvayal Raman, also known as India’s “living paddy gene bank” and “Guardian of Native Paddy”, that didn’t happen as 54 ancient types of rice have been saved by him in the last 20 years.

Born in Kurichiyas tribe in Wayanad, Raman and his community had been producing rice and also promoting and preserving its indigenous varieties. When he realised that the native varieties are being substituted by hybrid ones, he sowed the former in 1.5-acre of his field.

Things took a turn for the better, when Raman inherited 40 acres of land in 1969 from his uncle and from then on, he completely devoted himself to farming and saving the local rice varieties.

Cheruvayal Raman2
The storeroom where tribal farmer Cheruvayal Raman keeps the seeds of indigenous rice varieties

Among the varieties saved by him are Mannu Veliyan, Chembakam, Palveliyan, Kanali, Thondi, Channalthondi, Chettuveliyan and the aromatic ones like Gandhakashala, Jeerakasala, and Kayama. All these he keeps in his 150-year-old mud house which also doubles up as a storehouse for rice harvest. Now he is expert in distinguishing the types by their look.

Raman does not sell the seeds but presents them and the only condition he stipulates is that the borrower should return the same quantity of seeds from their field after the first harvest.

He has been appreciated and awarded by several organisations, including the Government of Kerala.

Also read: Andhra’s Usharani shows others the way to do natural farming