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Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi: One Farmer’s Crusade to Save Indigenous Seeds

by Anjali Pathak

Indian President Pratibha Patil looking at Raghuvanshi's seeds

Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi is a high school dropout and visually impaired farmer from Tadia, a village in Northern India. His sheer determination and enterprise has led him to develop several organic varieties of grains and vegetables, which he distributes relentlessly to thousands of farmers throughout his region. In 2008, he was invited to Turin, Italy with well known environmentalist and seed activist, Vandana Shiva, where he was made a member of the Slow Food Movement. He was  bestowed the National Award for Innovation in Agriculture in 2009 by the President of India Pratibha Patil, and his work has also been acknowledged by the National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad, India

Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi, 50, a high school dropout and visually impaired farmer from the village of Tadia, 30km from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, has much to show that the spirit of rural India is alive, vibrant and pulsating with life and the spirit of enquiry.

With the onslaught of chemically intensive farming, which promotes only a dry, mechanistic approach and a reductionist attitude to nature and farming, Raghuvanshi’s efforts in sustaining traditional seed varieties epitomizes the Indian tradition of grassroots research and innovation at the village level.

On the land that he owns jointly with his brothers, Raghuvanshi uses about three acres to do his plant breeding work and to preserve his seed varieties in a living seed bank. He utilizes another 9-10 acres of land for growing rice, wheat, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables to meet his family’s needs and to grow green fodder for his cows.  He lives with his wife and six children, his mother and one of his brothers.

Raghuvanshi’s improved seed varieties

Spurred by crop losses and financial setbacks caused by chemically dependent farming nearly 15 years ago, Raghuvanshi was inspired to develop new seed varieties. Continuing where his father had left off, he started developing a living seed bank with select wheat, paddy, arhar (split red gram), moong (split green gram), peas and vegetable seeds for their high yields, disease resistance and ability to adapt to sudden climate changes.  Another cause he advocates is the protection of indigenous breeds of cows.

The timely encouragement from Dr. Mahatim Singh, former professor at Benaras Hindu University also encouraged him to develop new varieties of seeds in a short period of time, with good results.

His paddy and wheat varieties which he imaginatively calls Kudrat ( Hindi for “nature”) and Karishma (miracle) have performed well wherever they have been sown. They adapt very well to extremes of temperature, rainfall and other climate change. They are also open pollinated and hence can be saved by the farmer for next season’s crop. What’s more, they are superior in taste and flavour as they have been selected and developed from old, traditional varieties. Being high yielding, they do not require massive chemical inputs like other seeds available in the Indian market. A little cowdung manure and irrigation produces a bountiful crop.

Raghuvanshi has developed 80 varieties of wheat, 25 varieties of paddy, 10 varieties of lentils besides peas, mustard, papaya, ladies finger and vegetable varieties. His paddy seeds yield 25-30 quintals per acre and wheat varieties give about 18-20 quintals per acre. He has met with several agricultural scientists and they have been amazed by the results he had produced despite lack of modern research facilities, a well equipped lab or research grants.

The seeds developed by Raghuvanshi are under trial at several agricultural universities and government research stations. Their patents are still pending so they are not available commercially at present.

Helping small and marginal farmers

Raghuvanshi works hard to help small and marginal farmers improve their yields and incomes. He welcomes farmers and visitors at his farm to see and learn things first hand, and also train farmers in the basics of selection and plant breeding.

He has gone on several beeja yatras (seed rallies) and distributed his seeds in 100gm to 500gm packets to 2 million farmers in 14 states over the past 15 years. Using banners, posters and loudspeakers, Raghuvanshi uses catchy slogans to get his message across to the farmers like “Apni kheti apni khad, apna beeja apna swad” (one own’s farming, one’s own fertilizer) and “Beeja bachao, desh bachao(Save seeds, save the nation)

If planted under good soil conditions a 100 gm seed packet can produce upto 40 kgs of seed in one growing season, which can then be utilized to plant 10-15 acres of land with paddy in the next season. This brings about food security and above all food sovereignty for a farm family.

It has been gratifying to him that Monsanto’s and Mahyco’s sales of hybrid seeds have dropped wherever he has taken out his beeja yatra as the yields of his seeds is far superior to their hybrid and terminator seeds. Above all, it frees farmers from the cycle of debt and dependence.

Although fully aware of the controversy raging around the introduction of Bt Brinjal (Genetically Modified Eggplant) in India, he feels that the real solution lies in showing the farmers the superior yields of his improved brinjal variety.  The use of neemcake and mustard oilcake on a regular basis as soil conditioners will also prevent the aggressive attack of pests which hybrid brinjal varieities are susceptible to, he states categorically.

The need for trustworthy allies and business savvy

From the outset, Raghuvanshi has realized the importance of having strong allies in his campaign to save indigenous seed varieities.  He has linked up with various small organizations that are working at the grassroots level in various parts of India.

Raghuvanshi has been reluctant to become fully commercial or to sell out his seed varieties to seed companies whether Indian or foreign.  Nevertheless in order to sustain his Beej Dana Mahadana * campaign and to support his large family he has felt the need to raise funds.

At present he has entered into verbal agreements with growers in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Assam and Orissa. The arrangement is simple: Raghuvanshi provides the initial batch of his seed varieties and his partners get the seeds multiplied by various farmers in their respective areas.  A rough sale price for the seeds is agreed upon when the crop is harvested and the partners proceed to sell the seeds to farmers acknowledging Raghuvanshi as the source of the particular seed variety.  A certain commission is then paid to Raghuvanshi after the sales are over.

Although this arrangement is straightforward, Raguvanshi has been duped several times by unscrupulous partners in the past  who refused to give him a single paisa (smallest unit of Indian currency) and made handsome profits from the sale of his seed varieties. As the patent for his seed varieties is still pending, Raghuvanshi cannot resort to legal action against these defaulters and conmen. Powerful political support from a good NGO and the speedy registration of his seed patents is the only means by which this lacuna can be filled.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that Raghuvanshi enjoys is that his three young sons are also continuing as farmers in the village and are assisting him in his plant breeding as well as outreach work.  In a era when the children of farmers are migrating to cities en masse and do not wish to make agriculture their livelihood, Raghuvanshi’s sons are a shining example of what concerted team effort by a farm family can achieve over the years.

Life flows on just like the Ganga (River Ganges)

Raghuvanshi is till today in the thick of action, travelling to various parts of India, giving interviews, dispatching his seeds in response to requests from farmers,  bringing out new seed varieties and above all enjoying his interactions with the young and the old, the rural and the urban people, the growers and the consumers.  Rooted in the spiritual tradition of his forefathers, he views everything in life as a prasad (offering) from the Divine Mother.  He insists that he is only an observer and that the real source of bounty and plenty is the Mother Goddess.

When cross questioned closely as to his methodology or his research strategy he simply cites serendipity as the overarching factor in his plant breeding work.  Reaching out to the farmers of south India is a challenge but Raghuvanshi is determined to take them into his fold despite the language barrier.  Doors seem to open magically for him and his Kudrat seeds multiply prolifically in all soils and in all states.  He has shown Indian farmers their own strength and the power of deshi (indigenous) seeds. And thus life flows on just like the Ganga!

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Dr. Anjali Pathak is a naturopath, writer and organic farming consultant  who has worked with the growers and the planters of the Northeast, the Dooars and the Nilgiris in India.  She uses indigenous methods including those of vrikshayurveda in her work. Her book ANNAM BRAHMA: Organic Food in India, Pilgrims Publishing was released in 2009. She has supported Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi in his Beeja Dana Mahadana campaign.  She may be contacted at (0522) 2333523; 09450540363; e-mail: maijinaini@rediffmail.com.

If any NGO or farmer is prepared to distribute KUDRAT seeds in his/her area to a good number of farmers, Raghuvanshi is prepared to send a few quintals of seed to such people. If farmers want a larger quantity of seeds for their own farms against cash payment Raguvanshi will accomodate them as well. His contact details are:

Shri Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi

Village Tadia, Post Jakhini, Dist. Varanasi, U.P.

Mob: 09956941993

* Beej dana mahadana campaign

Realizing the urgent necessity of saving indigenous or deshi seeds Raghuvanshi has been truly generous in launching the BEEJ DANA MAHADANA campaign nearly a decade ago. The aims and objectives of this campaign are:

1) to introduce farmers in all parts of India to the various Kudrat and Karishma varieities of seeds developed by Raghuvanshi through the free distribution of 100—200 gm. seed packets

2) to encourage farmers to start their own living seed banks in their own villages to conserve their local seed varieties

3) to teach farmers the basics of plant selection and plant breeding so that they can develop their own varieties to meet their own needs in the future

4) to encourage the farmers to keep local breeds of cows

5) to inspire and urge famers to give up the use of chemicals in farming and to convert to organic farming in toto

6) to inculcate pride in the profession of farming and thus halt the rural migration to cities

7) to provide small and marginal farmers with improved farm yields and improved incomes through the cultivation and sale of Kudrat varieities

8 ) to defeat the reach of foreign multinational companies like Monsanto and to place India’s food security on a strong footing by placing the control of the seed in the hands of the farmer thus putting an end to farmer suicides which are a direct result of using expensive hybrid seeds that require costly farm inputs

9) to improve the health of both the rural and urban population by the consumption of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables produced from deshi (indigenous) seeds

10)  to propagate ancient Vedic practices like agnihotra which have a beneficial effect upon farming, farm animals and farmers

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Posted by on Oct 21 2010. Filed under Sustainable Agriculture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

7 Comments for “Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi: One Farmer’s Crusade to Save Indigenous Seeds”

  1. I am highly impressed with the good work done by dr.raghuvanshi in the field of seeds.

  2. Hope I will get chance to meet the crusader . .

  3. Raghuvanshi has developed no. of high yielding variesties of Wheat, Paddy, Pigeonpea, Mustard and I have helped him in registering some of the varieties in PPVFR Authoeity, New Delhi thorugh NIF and also helped him conducting institutional trial and got very good report from IIPR-Kanpur for Pigeon pea varieties, NRCRM-Bharatpur for mustard varieties, CSUAT-Kanpur for Wheat & Paddy varieties, DWR for Wheat varieties & BHU for wheat & paddy varieties. His varieties have been spread in more than 12 Sates now and many many farmers got benefited to plant his seeds of WHeat, Paddy, Pigeon pea in terms of higher production & higher price in market. He has distributed seeds free of cost to all. Some of the companies have procured his varieties seeds and started doing business out of it. He is till under debt and Bank has sent a notice to repay the loan he had taken to produce & distribute seeds all over. I would like to request people to support him financially to start his own enterprise and aquire equipments like Tractor, Grading machine, some more land and other field implements.

  4. Madhav Chowdhary

    Hello,

    I am pleased to introduce my self as Madhav Chowdhary from Pune.

    I am engaged in identifying the problems in farming sector and find out the solution for the same and the ways and means to deploy the same.

    I am pleased to inform you that we are working on many projects in Food and Agriculture sector, to be developed in India and outside India.

    Please look at all the posts under the name of

    VISHWAKARMA

    on the following website

    http://www.agricultureinformation.com/

    If you have any queries, you can call me on my mobile phone

    + 91 – 9623557207

    I am helping Mr. Raghuvanshi to raise funds, by setting up his website and also marketing of the farm products of the farmers, who are using the seeds, developed by Mr. Raghuwvanshi.

    Mr. Raghuvashi has told me to contact the people, responding this post and who are willing to help him.

    Please confirm it by calling Mr, Raghuwvanshi, his mobile no is +91-9956941993

    Regards.

    Madhav Chowdhary

    +91-9623557207

    deepag.india@gmail.com

    D E E P A G
    . . . . . .Development Partners in Agri – Culture

  5. I dont understand how a hybrid seed is made and what mechanism being used. Unless that is explained, all the rhetorics read hollow.

  6. Mr. Prakash singh Raghuwanshi ‘s reserch work in agriculture fieald is superv and good for progress of farmers and india . We demand to government of india and state govt. U.p. For give petents for mr .Prakash singh Raghuwanshi for his all seeds veriety reserch. He is a like great scientist . I want to work with mr. Raghuwanshi.. We need his wheet seed for farm use and distribution. We want to purches it. I am teacher, farmer, poet and social worker. My mobile 09926625886 .

  7. I am mvery much impressed by Mr. Raghuvanshi’s contribution in seed production of various crops and motivating farmers of the country to produce their own seeds rather than depending on the others, which may be inferior, mixed or of very poor quality causing the loss of production. My phone is 09466628999

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