Looks can be deceiving. Especially in the case of Natabar Sarangi. He works for hours in rice fields, despite being well past the age of 80 years. For the last decade, this Odisha-based retired teacher has spent his time collecting hundreds of varieties of paddy seeds from different states, in an attempt to assist India’s traditional farming practices.
So, why did a school teacher get into organic farming?
It all starts with the Green Revolution during the 60’s. Once the revolution hit, crop production doubled. India always had a long history of famines, so the increase was very welcome. However, everything has its cons, and the new agricultural practices had a devastating effect on small farmers and crop biodiversity.
According to Mr Sarangi, the high yields were due to monoculture—the practice of planting just one cash crop per year, growing crops even in the dry season, and using huge amounts of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides.
Later, native dwindling plant species were in danger, thanks to genetically-modified crops. Thus, Indian farmers were adversely affected by the lack of crop diversity. Changes in weather patterns had a worsening effect on the overall condition.
Natabar decided to go his own way and combat the effects of the Green Revolution. He began accumulating native seeds, after his retirement in 1992, and started a small organic farm, preferring to grow crops using seeds that have been around for ages.
In 2010, he got a small grant from the Global Greengrants Fund and used it to collect seeds from farms across the nation. He employed people to travel to far-flung regions, to add seeds to his collection, thereby increasing the number of varieties he could conserve. 100 women employed by him helped clean the collected seeds and store them in a seed bank.
Mr Sarangi operates on a simple, yet brilliant model. Each year, he gives the surplus of organic seeds to local farmers, who in turn pledge four kgs of seeds after their harvest, to him. This movement is popular—each year, more than a hundred farmers from local districts come and collect seeds from him.
Mr Sarangi does not stop there. After providing the seeds, he trains the farmers on organic farming techniques, aiming to expand the whole sustainable process across the country. He teaches farmers how to use these seeds to protect themselves from flood, famine and other calamities, and reap rich harvests.
His teaching skills come to use as well, as he speaks with students at local schools, bring organic farming awareness to them. His training centre, Rajendra Desi Chasa Gabesana Kendra (Rajendra Native Farm Research Centre), imparts training to farmers on how to use native seeds and organic manure and natural pesticides.
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It is little wonder that the unassuming retired school teacher is an icon for many farmers. His noble efforts to collect the native variety of paddy seeds, and help peasant communities take up organic farming, has helped these communities save money and keep good health.
Featured image inset photo credit:- The Asian Age.
Edited by: Gayatri Mishra
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