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Extinct foodgrains on youth list

- Meleng resident compiles list of crops grown in Assam

Jorhat, Nov. 23: Mahan Chandra Bora, a youth of Meleng area here, has made it his mission to compile a list of extinct and near-extinct species of crops grown in Assam and the areas where some are still grown in pockets.

The names of different varieties of paddy — mugi xali, hiyal xali, gazep xali, dhou hou, pani sakhoru, ati xali, saratphala, ikora xali, mathanga, agni xali, thuti xali, biriya bhonga xali, aam pakhi, Abor xali, Ahom xali, nekera — are on his fingertips, accompanied by short descriptions for some varieties.

“For the past three years, I have maintained a register where more than a hundred indigenous varieties of paddy are listed. These were grown before they were replaced by the high-yielding ones like Ranjit, Bahadur, Masuri and Arise 6444,” he said. His next mission is to retrieve as many indigenous varieties of paddy as possible and cultivate them in plots of land and maintain a seed farm, with a Canadian-based NGO, Fertile Ground, backing him in his endeavour.

Bora, a graduate, narrates a tale of how medelaguri paddy was brought about 100 years ago to Meleng by Nethia Bharali after buying the seed for Re 1 from his in-laws, since rice seeds are never given as dowry.

“His sons have preserved the species by sowing it in a small plot every year,” he said.

Another local farmer cultivated harphoni in preference to the high-yielding varieties, as its weight was one-and-a-half times more for 82 bags of rice, which usually weighs a quintal.

Bora, who also does farming, spoke about the two white and black magutia varieties, which are ideal for cooking parboiled rice. “I was told stories of the medicinal properties of dol kosu paddy, which is grown here by only one person,” he said. “We still have many indigenous varieties which need to be preserved for different characteristics. In Majuli, there are many bao dhans (sown in May-June and reaped in November) which can grow on low-level land inundated by water. One variety ripens after almost 10 months after surviving the floods and another can survive under water, whose sowing is done by throwing clumps of earth on which the seedlings are growing into the swampy soil,” Bora said.

While searching for indigenous species, Bora has also come across many rare varieties of brinjal and chillies — some being grown in small plots.

He has collated the species through projects implemented in two schools. On his plans to cultivate these indigenous varieties, Bora said he had a 10-bigha plot and had encouraged other farmers to grow the crops in portions of their fields.

H. Bhattacharyya, headmaster of Bhorula Mudoijan LP School here, said he would support the programme by roping in his students to collect indigenous species of paddy. “In December, Peggy Carswell and other members of Fertile Ground will arrive from Canada and a programme will be chalked out on how to preserve the indigenous varieties in Meleng and promote organic farming,” Bora said.

S.K. Chetia, a scientist at Titabar Rice Research Station, said they had 2,000 varieties of indigenous paddy, many of which were no longer grown.

“We grow these varieties every year and stored them in a germplasm bank so their characteristics can be used when producing new high-yielding varieties,” he said.