This Man Gave up City Life to Pursue Organic Farming & Preserve Indigenous Seeds in Mandya

Shri Syed Ghani Khan is a 38-year-old agriculturist who belongs to Kirugavalu village of Mandya, Karnataka. Kirugavalu means ‘watch place’ and was so named because it was where the arrival of the British soldiers was announced to Tipu Sultan, the King of Mysore. Historical records show that Tipu Sultan gave away parcels of land to the villagers of Kirugavalu for farming and other activities. Shri Ghani Khan’s ancestors received their land from Tipu Sultan too. They named it Bada Bagh or Big Orchard.

Initially, Shri Ghani Khan had no interest in farming; He had planned to study B. Com. at Mysore and then take up a job so he could migrate to the city like many other young people from rural backgrounds. However, due to his father’s illness and the fact that he was the eldest son in the family, he had to discontinue his studies and return to his village. He took up farming and joined a part time degree course, where he majored in anthropology and history.

One day, while working in his farm, he fell down unconscious while applying pesticides to his crops. This was apparently caused by the fumes from excessive chemicals being used on his land parcel. So, he decided to do away with chemical fertilisers altogether and switch to organic farming.

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Around the same time, his uncle brought some paddy seeds that Khan decided he wanted to try out too. But, since his uncle declined his request for the same, Khan had to make other arrangements to get the paddy seeds. Somehow, he managed to get exactly 40 seeds, which he planted in his farm. The yield from just 40 seeds filled two bags. Enthused by a successful harvest, he continued to use this particular paddy seed. But, surprisingly, neither Khan nor the villagers were aware of the name or variety of the paddy. An official of the Karnataka Seed Corporation recognised this paddy and ascertained that it was of the Ratna Choodi variety. This seed used to be grown in parts of old Mysore and was on the verge of disappearance.

This prompted Khan to dedicating the rest of his life to discovering and growing indigenous varieties of paddy so he could store them for future use. Thereafter, Khan switched over completely to organic farming with the support of Sahaja Samruddhi Savayava Krishikar Balaga (Natural Organic Farmers Association).

With support from SSSKB, Khan, in the year 2004, managed to grow and store eight different varieties of paddy seeds. By the year 2010, he had 150 varieties of paddy seeds and by 2011, he had 267 varieties of paddy. Today, he has the second largest collection of indigenous varieties of paddy seeds in India.

Khan’s storehouse has paddy seeds from almost all states of the country and also some more from Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia. He has meticulously documented all the varieties of paddy, as well as the various techniques of cultivation, crop protection, preservation, and yield details, etc. Khan has four large rooms in his house devoted to preserving the assortment of paddy seeds with documentation details. Any farmer interested in planting them can approach Khan, who gives away the seeds at nominal rates and guides the farmers in growing techniques.

Apart from paddy, Khan grows 120 varieties of mangoes on his farm of 20 acres – some varieties are almost 250 years old. Some smell like mangoes yet taste like mosambi or bananas and even apples, and some mangoes even smell like pepper and camphor! He also grows a variety called the sugarless mango, which smells like mango but the pulp does not contain any sugar. The mangoes from his farm are exported to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Denmark, Dubai, etc.

He also grows wheat, sugarcane and a large variety of fruits like sapota, seetaphal, pomegranate, black jamun, as well as vegetables like bhindi, kundru, tomato, karela, brinjals, and sweet potatoes.

Apart from local visitors, curious foreigners from France, Brazil, Africa, USA, and Japan pay visits to this unique farm.

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Khan was honoured with the ‘Krishi Pandit’ award in 2008, and in 2010 the Government of Karnataka bestowed him with the ‘Krishi Jeeva Viavidya’ honour.

He is a model farmer who has managed to dissuade many rural youngsters from migrating to the cities and encouraged them to take up agriculture as an honourable profession.

Shri Syed Ghani Khan can be contacted on this email address: [email protected]

– K.L Vinaya

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About the author: K.L Vinaya is a retired General Manager of the Bankers Institute for Rural Development

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