Bhubaneswar, Jan. 31: The city-based Seed Testing Laboratory of the agriculture department will have its own gene bank, the first in Odisha, by mid-March.
In the first phase, the bank will store 898 varieties of rice grain collected from farmers from various parts from the state. Later, the bank may also include seeds of other pulses and oil seeds used by farmers for preservation at the various agro-climatic zones of Odisha. The agriculture department plans to collect and store 1,200 varieties of rice and around 200 types of other crops in the gene bank.
This bank will store farmers’ varieties of seed to safeguard their rights over traditional seeds.
Agriculture director R.S. Gopalan told The Telegraph: “The agriculture policy of the Odisha government has already announced it will recognise farmers’ rights through the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPVRA), 2001. Therefore, after registering the farmers’ seeds, the gene bank will help preserving the original seeds for decades. The gene bank can preserve the seeds for up to 100 years or more.’’
Sources said the New Delhi-based PPVRA and the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack would support, guide and help in technical matters involved in the development of the gene bank.
A senior official of the agriculture department said: “Even after the formation of the PPVRA Authority, less than 50 farmers’ varieties were registered. However, the Odisha government has forwarded nearly 900 farmers’ varieties to the authority and after their approval these will be preserved in the gene bank in the name of the farmers from whom they were collected. It will be one of the biggest achievements of the agriculture department.’’
After getting the entries for the farmers’ varieties the PPVFRA Authority sends the seeds for the distinctiveness, uniformity and stability tests (DUST) which are carried in various research institutes like Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack and directorate of agriculture research at Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Guwahati. During the DUST analysis agricultural scientists check the 62 characters listed with the seeds as documented by the state government or other agencies.
Chakradhar Panda, assistant agriculture officer-cum-seed analyst at STL said ``Odisha is gifted with many traditional rice varieties which are grown traditionally by our farmers. While Gahama phoola of Sambalpur, Sala phoola of Mayurbhanj are sought after varieties by rice eaters, Kalia, an aromatic variety from Kalahandi is unique. Similarly, another rice variety Kala champa grown by farmers in many places in Odisha yields rice even more than the scientifically developed high-yielding varieties. A local variety from Udala region in Mayurbhanj district is having a height more than an average human being.’’
The gene bank will help the agriculture experts to know more such new varieties and discover more genetic traits in rice in future. ``However, it will ensure farmers’ rights over the ownership of the traditional knowledge,’’ Panda added.
SR Dua, principal scientist, plant breeding and genetics, CRRI, Cuttack, said ``it is a good news for Odisha that it will be the first state in the nation to preserve the traditional seeds used by farmers in a gene bank. The original traditional varieties in fact, help plant breeders to develop new varieties. The traditional varieties are like the parents for the hybrids developed by the scientists.’’
Professor Emeritus, Plant Breeding, Orissa University of Agriculture Technology, Satya Ranjan Das is also happy to know the development of gene bank. ``This will be a good initiative by the state government to recognise the farmers’ role in preserving the traditional gene pool in rice and other crop varieties,’’ he added.
Out of the 898 farmers’ varieties of rice collected so far by the Agriculture Department, the highest 112 came from Balangir. The second and third positions were taken so far by Kalahandi and Nuapada districts with 91 and 51 varieties of rice respectively.
There would be around 300 such traditional varieties in use by farmers around the state. ``STL will take up special drives to collect more seeds in future,’’ said an official.
The Jeypore tract of Odisha in Koraput district got a recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organisation last year as a region with Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems status. The tract is having some of the oldest varieties of rice in the world.