Prakash Singh Raghuvanshi: One Farmer’s Crusade to Save Indigenous Seeds
by Anjali Pathak
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
* 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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