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April 2024

Preserving local varieties of rice

There was a time when a dozen or more varieties of rice were cultivated in different parts of Bangladesh that could be found nowhere else in the country. Every community had its own varieties. Passing down from generation to generation, there were local varieties like Jhingasail, Dat Khani, Randhuni Pagla, Badsha Bhog, Chini Shankar, Sib Jata, Ban Kalam, Jhagra Sail, Runar Sail or Ahona. These varieties are no longer cultivated and the knowledge of how to grow those is getting lost gradually. In the late 1970s and 80s, Bangladesh started discovering high-yield varieties of rice and farmers became interested in cultivating those instead of the traditional ones. Due to the trend of buying seeds from agro-based companies, farmers have already abandoned the centuries-old practice of storing natural seeds for sowing in the next season. This has raised the fear of the indigenous rice seeds’ extinction.

Yusuf Mollah, a farmer from Rajshahi, however, founded Barendra Seed Bank and a seed library with the help of a research organisation in 2015 in a village in the Tanore upazila of Rajshahi. This rice seed bank, which is the first of its kind in Bangladesh, has a collection of seeds of about 300 critically endangered native varieties so that they do not get lost due to the invasive hybrid varieties. With the help of farmers from different districts, Yusuf Mollah collected these seeds for over 50 years. Apart from farmers, various universities and rice research institutes conduct research on the seeds collected by him. The rice seeds preserved in this bank have been given to many museums of the country too. Yusuf Mollah is no more with us. He passed away last year. But his initiative of preserving local varieties of rice is still here. And the government should come forward to protect the local varieties of rice, which are climate-friendly and environmentally tolerant.

These native rice seeds are not just heritage varieties that should be grown for the sake of growing them. They are vital for food security, culture and biodiversity. According to a study, these varieties perform better in local environmental conditions than modern ones produced by selective breeding. Knowledge of local varieties will become increasingly important in the future, as climate change may shift rainfall patterns and make extreme temperatures a more regular occurrence. If modern agriculture relies more on a few of high-yield varieties, it may become susceptible to large crop losses. From these local varieties, researchers can bring out the variety, which can withstand a drought or flooding or salinity. There are indigenous varieties that can produce fine and aromatic rice. There are also varieties with medicinal properties with high levels of antioxidants. All of these varieties require more research. Yusuf Mollah’s goal of setting up a seed bank in every division in Bangladesh should live on. And it is our duty to research on our local varieties of rice, so we can document all the local verities of rice in Bangladesh. QR Code

Published Date: December 21, 2023

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