Community seed-bank for the preservation and promotion of the 6000-year-old rice species

Tura, 09 June: Hon’ble Cabinet Minister, Government of Meghalaya, Shri James PK Sangma initiated a community seed-bank project on Thursday for the preservation and promotion of the 6000-year-old rice species in Sadolpara, West Garo Hills.

Partnering with NESFAS and the ELP Foundation, Sangma said the idea of the project was also to understand scope for further research and development of the rice species so that large scale cultivation could be made possible with the help of local communities.

“Dramatic changes are happening to our biodiversity today due to climate change. In such situations, it becomes important to identify and preserve such rice species because they are climate-resilient and therefore, a dependable source of food,” Sangma said.

“As of now, most of our rice comes from states like Andhra Pradesh, which also bears a significant cost to our state. As the Sadolpara species have withstood the test of time, it is both nutritionally and economically beneficial for Meghalaya,” he added, also highlighting the potential boosts for the local economy.

The species is currently found in the hill slopes of Sadolpara and are not resource-intensive to grow as compared to usual paddy, which requires submergence in large volumes of water.

The species was first promoted by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) where the organization partnered with celebrated film-maker Mira Nair to produce a documentary in 2003, which was entitled ‘Still, the Children are Here.’

However, ever since then, no significant steps were taken by previous governments or other public institutions to bring the species to prominence.

“NESFAS will be collaborating with the local community who will be the active stakeholders, eventually running the seed banks. It will be very meaningful to have a rice-centric seed bank at Sadolpara because of its historic significance dating back to the Sumerian civilization. There are 17 varieties of rice at present in Sadolpara village, out of which, 7 have unfortunately disappeared over the years. Efforts will be made to interact with other neighbouring villages to bring back those that have been lost and have all the 17 species. It is our bid to preserve the seeds physically along with the traditional knowledge embedded within these seed varieties,” Sangma said.

Executive Director, NESFAS, Pius Ranee also thanked the Hon’ble Cabinet Minister, James Sangma in his speech. “We are really grateful that Bah James has taken this initiative to protect the indigenous rice species in Garo Hills, starting from Sadolpara. We must remember, if we lose seeds, we’ll lose the language. If we lose the language, we’ll lose the culture.” he said.

“We are solely dependent on the farming of these rice species and despite requests for nearly two decades, no initiatives were taken here. We are happy that finally someone is taking active steps to give us the recognition we were deserving of for years,” a local farmer said.

The project launch was attended by farmers of Sadolpara, the local Nokma, researchers from NESFAS and members of the ELP Foundation. The villagers also presented a Dorua – a traditional practice of story-telling on rice.