Of songs and seeds: This MP man is on a mission to save tradition, local crops | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Of songs and seeds: This MP man is on a mission to save tradition, local crops

Madhya Pradesh’s Babulal Dahiya is a collector of folk songs and seeds and has sown 110 varieties of rice to preserve them.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2017 07:21 IST
Neeraj Santoshi
Babul Dahiya, from Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district, has been cultivating over 110 traditional varieties of rice on his two-acre land to preserve and protect them.
Babul Dahiya, from Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district, has been cultivating over 110 traditional varieties of rice on his two-acre land to preserve and protect them. (HT Photo )

He is a collector of folk songs and seeds. And it was while collecting Bagheli folklore, this 72-year-old farmer cum Bagheli poet realized that saving folk songs and sayings won’t mean much if the local crop varieties, which repeatedly crop up in the folk literature, are not saved and protected side by side.

Meet Babulal Dahiya from Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district, who has till now collected over 110 traditional varieties of rice. And he has been cultivating these 110 varieties on small-sized plots in his two-acre land to preserve and protect them.

Dahiya, says these rice varieties have developed uniquely over thousands of years, surviving the stiff competition that could have made them extinct long ago, but in the process they have acquired great adaptive capacity according to the local environmental conditions

“Words and seeds have a long history; when they are lost, all knowledge they coded is also lost. There are rice varieties that need less water, varieties that are disease resistance, varieties that are comparatively drought resistant. But for larger yield and more profit, we started sowing hybrid and dwarf rice varieties, which need more pesticides and fertilizers. Local rice varieties have longer stalks that help them hold moisture and need less water”, says Dahiya, who has been encouraging farmers and school children in over two dozen surrounding villages to grow traditional crop and vegetable varieties.

Emphasising that traditional crop varieties are getting lost owing to mono-cropping and focus on maximum yield crop varieties, Dahiya says it is high time to save whatever has been left. “Such knowledge, such genetic heritage should not vanish. From 2005 onwards, I dedicated myself to collect local varieties of rice. Till now I have collected 110 varieties, which I grow on my two-acre land. The seeds I collect are kept in a seed bank which has been developed with the help of the MP State Biodiversity Board”, he says.

Babulal Dahiya (seen at the back) has been encouraging farmers and school children in over two dozen surrounding villages to grow traditional crop and vegetable varieties. (HT Photo)

Dahiya, who retired as postmaster in 2007, has been passionate about documenting Bagheli folk literature-songs, proverbs, folktales, legends, myths and so on. He has authored five books on Bagheli oral folk literature for MP Adiwasi Lok Kala Academy and published two Bagheli poetic collections.

When asked about his varied interests, he says, “In the songs, sayings and folk tales, I found many mentions about traditional crop varieties. There is one ‘Kargi’ rice variety which has small protective spikes. There is saying in our Bagheli ‘Dhaan bove Kargi, suvar khaye na samdhi’. (If you sow, Kargi rice variety, it is neither eaten by wild boars nor by the family of son-in-law). Suddenly it dawned on me that even if these songs are saved, these local crop varieties will vanish if not saved. And that was the turning point- songs and seeds have to be saved at the same time.”

Dahiya says said there are rice varieties like Bajranga that are sown by farmers to feel satiated for a long time as it takes time to get digested, while there are other rice varieties like Kamalshree that are sown for guests. “Nevari variety is sown for selling as it provides good returns”, he adds.

R Sreenivasa Murthy, member secretary, MP State Biodiversity Board said Dahiya’s work has been an inspiration to so many, including the state biodiversity board. “For the first time, we started a state wide Beej yatra to collect seeds of indigenous seed varieties of crops, vegetables, medicinal plants from May 3 to June 27. Babulal Dahiya and five others are leading this initiative. So far they have collected over 1600 seed varieties from 24 districts” he said.

According to agriculture scientists, the ingenious varieties of crops are vanishing with every passing day. According to State Biodiversity Board date, in 1980s, there were 23,800 varieties of rice in MP and Chhattisgarh. But many of them have been lost now. In Seoni district alone, of 570 rice varieties that existed in 1980s, only 110 exist by 2000s. This means over 80% have vanished.