Farmers as Breeders

For thousands of years farmers have been breeders. They have been selecting better plant types, and always had a keen eye to look for traits that would improve the landrace they were growing. This is what led to the evolution of landraces. This is what came in handy for the modern day plant breeders to develop the so-called improved varieties, in short the high-yielding strains that led to Green Revolution.

In the light of the global debate on Plant Varieties Protection, discussion has often focused on developing a legal mechanism to arrange a legal title for these farmers. India’s Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers Right Act is considered to be a step in this direction, allowing farmers the privilege to save, exchange and sell seeds. But there is a catch. A farmer can certainly save and exchange the landraces as well as the improved varieties but cannot sell them under the same brand name.

I am not getting into a debate on farmers right. I am only drawing your attention as to what do we mean by providing adequate protection to farmer varieties. Are we only satisifed with registering these varieties, and perhaps providing a scroll to these farmers who have continued with the tradition of being innovators? Is that what we mean as ‘recognising’ the role of farmers as breeders?

Take the case of Mr M Lingamadaiah from Karnataka. He has developed a rice variety called Mysore Mallige. This variety outperforms the best rice variety developed by agricultural scientists in Karnataka. He has been awarded by the former President Abdul Kalam. And that is where the ‘recognition’ ends. I wonder why this variety bred by a farmer is not promoted by the Karnataka agriculture department? Why its seed is not supplied by the State Seed Corporation? Is it that the scientific system treats these farmers as ‘incomptetent’? Think of it, isn’t it unfair to treat these farmers as ‘incompetent’ compared to the agricultural scientists? Just because they don’t hold a degree in plant breeding and genetics?

Krishna Prasad from Sahaja Samrudha, Bangalore has provided me with this list of farmer breeders, and also some of the savers of rice varieties/landraces. I wish I could publish their photos alongside. But this blog format does not allow that. However, I am sure you will find this very enlightening, and useful. If any one of you can lead me to more information on farmer breeders in other States, I would be too willing to share it on this platform.

Farmer Breeders

Sri M Lingamadaiah from Karnataka

who is 67 years old, is a resident of Chenapatna Town of Ramanagaram district in Karnataka. He spoke about the 3 days meeting KRRS had arranged amongst Third World farmers in the month of December 1994 about sustainable agriculture and seed exchange program. This was with the help of Prof Nanjudaswamy. Farmers came from different countries with 10gm seed packets. It was in this meeting that Sri Lingamadaiah got 10gms of the Philippines rice variety MS05. It was Prof N Swami who requested him to breed it without using chemical inputs.

“I made a 10 x 10 plot in a separate land so that it would not be in my existing land where I used chemical fertilisers. I was so careful that I used to wash my hands and legs before going to that field.”

“Ours is a rain fed area we collect water in farm ponds. Sometimes I used bore well water. As 6000 litres of water is required to grow 1 kg of paddy, so I realised it is foolish to use bore well.”

“Using 10gms of seeds in the plot I got only 12 seeds to germinate. My friends laughed at this. They said I was wasting my time. In 18-19 days only 1 seed gave 20 tillers. I removed the tillers separately and sowed them in another area. Then I continued breeding and got 120 pure seeds. In one acre of land I got 36 quintal. There was no pest or disease attack. I named it the Mysore Malliga”.

Mysore Mallige specialities

Ø Medium height
Ø Lodging resistance
Ø High tillering capacity / plant
Ø 110 measures (seru) of grain weigh equal to 1quintal
Ø Husking: 20% (80kgs rice /qt of paddy)
Ø Grows under minimum manuring conditions
Ø Resistance to pests and diseases
Ø Low water requirement
Ø Sturdy stem
Ø Rich taste
Ø Resistance to grain shattering
Ø Suitable to delayed sowing
Ø 120 to 130 days duration
Ø Chaffyness is very low

In the year 2002 Sri Lingamadaiah received the President’s Award from Sri Abdul Kalam.

Sri M K Shankar Guru

is 61 years of age, from Madarahalli Village, T Narsipura taluq, Mysore, is from a family of farmers who have more than 200 years of experience in paddy cultivation. He is also a member of the KRRS. He himself is a rice farmer since the last 40 years. Since the year 1992 he started searching for traditional seeds. A labourer from Tamil Nadu brought 1kg of Selam senna seed. Sri Shankar Guru started conserving this under organic practices. Gradually other organic farmers started taking seeds from him and now Selam sanna is very popular in Tamil Nadu. It yields 25 to 30 quintals per acre under organic cultivation.

Now conservation has become his hobby. He has also developed the variety NMS2 which is named after him, Narsipura Madarahalli Shankar. He had submitted this variety with a farm accredited under the Bangalore University for observation. He had to pay Rs. 5,600 for recording the biological characteristics. He also received a report. He now distributes the seed himself and he has got favourable feedback from the farmers.

The general characteristics of NMS2 are;

1. It is a fine rice variety of brick red colour
2. It gives good quality fodder
3. There is no shattering
4. It is resistant to disease
5. Suitable for Low External Input cultivation
6. There is no pest attack.

He also conserves the Ratnachudi variety which he got from a relative. This is a medicinal rice variety which is consumed by pregnant women after mixing with ghee, pepper and salt. Another variety with him is jeeraga sanna which is a scented variety.

Sri Devdulal Bhattacharya

who is from West Bengal, is a rice breeder with a considerable amount of experience under his belt. He is from Bankura district which is a dry belt. He said that his organisation has 550 traditional varieties with them. The thrust of the organisation is on creating new varieties.

Individually Sri Bhattacharya is appreciative of the knowledge base and technical skills of the traditional farmer. Our scientists, he said, have created hybrid varieties but have not been able to create scented hybrids. But this feat was achieved by the traditional farmer.

There are two types of breeding, selection breeding and cross breeding. Selection breeding involves picking out the extraordinary from among the ordinary. In a white paddy variety we may suddenly notice a black panicle. Selection breeding involves picking up this panicle and after selection of seed, growing it. The first generation may not come up with another black grain. But persistent breeding will bring out this quality and make it permanent. This method can go up to seventh generation for stabilisation.

Cross breeding is much more complex. The male variety and the female variety (to be chosen first) must flower in the same day. Cover the female variety flower with a tracing paper. Then cut the male portion after sunset and again cover it. Then take the male parts out of the male flower and insert it into the emasculated female flower before sunrise. In three days one can have 20 insertions.

After the grains appear sow them. Go on repeating the pro

ss. In the 8th year you will get a new variety.

Through cross breeding Sri Devdulal has developed the variety Devdulali. Through selection breeding the varieties Jhanti, Champa, Subhasita, Kadalika, Paromita and Kinari have been developed by him.


Sri Hoisala S Appaji

aged 41 years, of Unnenahalli village, Hassan district of Karnataka, said he has conserved three local varieties. The Rajamudi variety was once the favourite of kings. It is a tall variety of 150 days duration. The Raja bhog variety is used for making a sweet cake called Kajjya. The third variety Sarjan is an all season variety with duration of 130 days.

The Raja Bhog rice cultivation is coming down because it is red in colour. He apprehends that it will vanish very soon. The Rajamudi variety is very popular sweet rice in Bangalore and Mysore. It costs Rs. 25/- per kilo. There are permanent customers for this rice who order regularly. Families buy 50 kilos of this rice every month. As a value addition effort Rawa from this rice is prepared by SHG groups using stone chakki’s. Rawa sells for Rs. 30 per kilo in Bangalore.

He has also procured another 22 varieties for conservation. He will study them for suitability for 4 to 5 years before offering them to other farmers.

Sri G M Hosmani

aged 47, of Dharwad, Karnataka, has conserved 24 local varieties. Amongst them he is proud of Ambemore and Kagisali.

è Scented yellow colour paddy
è The rice is white
è Fine variety
è Sweet in taste, used for palau
è Yield is 12 quintals per acre


è The colour of paddy is black
è The rice is white
è It is a scented variety
è Preferred for curd rice
è The yield is 12 to 13 quintal/acre
è Height of the crop is 4.5ft

There is a heavy demand for organic rice, he said, which is met through he organic bazaars.

Sri A N Anjaneya

aged 31, of village Kumbeluru, Harihar taluq of Karnataka said he is conserving 35 local varieties. He mentioned the Gouri sanna which is a super fine rice variety, tasty and used for regular consumption. Height of the crop is 4.5ft. It is of 150 days duration. There is good demand for this variety.

He mentioned another variety called Malgudi sanna which is a fine rice variety having a mild scent. This is also a favourite of the people who use it for regular consumption. The duration of the crop is 120 days. He also conserves five basmati varieties. He sells independently in the market.

Sri Boregowda, 38 years, of Sri Kamadhenu Sanstha, Sivali village, Mandya district of Karnataka said he conserves 30 local varieties.

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