Manipur farmer preserves traditional varieties of rice in his organic field

Imphal: When farmers across India are grappling with weather woes and poor yields, Devakanta, a resident of Manipur, has succeeded in adopting smart and eco-friendly methods of farming to ensure the harvest is satisfactory every year.

Like thousands of farmers in India, 60-year-old Devakanta too toils in the paddy fields in Uyumpok Mamang Leikai region of Imphal for hours.

What makes him different from the other farmers is his passion to conserve a wide variety of rice in his organic farm, including cancer-curing black rice, called `Chakhao Poireiton' and some drought resistant varieties.

He has so far succeeded in persevering 100 traditional varieties of paddy and is cultivating 25 varieties of rice in his lush green farm.

Despite India being one of world's biggest producers of rice, little is known about the rich variety of rice that is grown across the country. Manipur has a treasure trove of rice varieties, which can be grown in other states, which too face vagaries of nature.

Devakanta won the prestigious Plant Genome Saviour Farmer Reward in 2012. He was given the award by the Protection of Plant Varieties And Farmers Rights Authority, Department of Agriculture Co-Operation, Ministry of Agriculture, on May 22, 2013, by the then Minister of State for Agriculture Tariq Anwar.

He has travelled all over Manipur, collecting different types of rice - from drought-resistant white rice (which needs less water), brown rice and black rice. Manipur is famous for black rice, which has several medical properties as well.

'In Manipur, the farmers grow about 20 varieties of black rice and `Chakhao Poireiton' is the best variety. It has a relatively high mineral content, including iron and amino acids. There are several cases where even cancer patients got cured by having this black rice,' says Devakanta.

Devakanta is currently working with about 200 farmers to increase the cultivation of `Chakhao Poireiton' in their farms. He inspires other Manipuri farmers to grow this rare rice. Many people know that he has an organic farm. So they come to him to buy different varieties of rice. However, if he gets the organic certification, he can package the rice better and sell it for a higher price.

There are groups formed by local people who charge a penalty if anyone is found using chemical fertilisers in some districts.

Most of the time, Devakanta and his assistants walk for 2-3 days to reach the villages to collect plants and seeds of indigenous crops.

'I was once caught by militants. They demanded money. Luckily they let me go after I convinced them that I am a farmer,' says Devakanta.

Farmers like Devakanta need a proper godown to store the rice, machinery to clean and sort the rice, packaging machine, computers to keep stock of the inventory, cameras to document the rice varieties and funds to train the farmers in better methods of organic farming and plant protection.

An e-commerce site to sell his products would have helped farmers like him get good exposure. Devakanta and many farmers like him are looking for support to sustain agriculture.

Devakanta also cultivates one of the hottest varieties of chilly called `U-Morok. It is also cultivated in Assam and Nagaland but the Manipuri chilly is considered to be better.

Devakanta also conserves medicinal plants of Manipur. He runs an NGO called All Manipur Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Growers' Consortium.

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