In view of the failure of all ex situ rice seed banks to protect the erosion of rice genetic diversity, CIS established Vrihi (Sanskrit name of “rice”), the first non-governmental rice seed bank for farmers, in 1997. Coordinated by its founder Debal Deb, Vrihi Beej Binimoy Kendra is the largest folk rice seed bank in eastern India, established not only to promote cultivation of folk rice varieties, but also re-establish the vanishing culture of non-commercial seed exchange.
|Vrihi began its journey in 1997 as a partner of the nationwide folk crop conservation movement, headed by Dr. Vandana Shiva’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE). Dr. Shiva continues to inspire Vrihi’s work.|
|CIS gratefully acknowledges the funding support it received from RFSTE for Vrihi’s activities till March 2000. Since then, Vrihi has been running on its founder’s personal funding support and donations from friends, especially Dr. Paoloroberto Imperiali of Rome. His donation was instrumental in establishing a research farm, Basudha, where regular, in situ cultivation of all folk rice varieties began in 2001.|
[View Slide about Vrihi here]
The search for the vanishing folk rice varieties began in 1995 in remote areas of western and northern districts of West Bengal, where tribal population size and the proportion of unirrigated farms are highest in the State. These marginal areas seemed to be the last bastion of the folk crop varieties, because (a) locally adapted farmers’ landraces perform much better than modern cultivars in marginal environmental conditions,  and (b) the tribal farmers are generally too poor to buy expensive agrochemicals and water for irrigation to grow modern rice varieties, and therefore, must rely on the folk varieties. Indeed, most of Vrihi’s accessions came from these ‘backward’ districts.
An increasing number of indigenous farmers from different districts of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, Meghalaya and Tripura visit Vrihi to collect seeds. The circle of Vrihi’s seed exchange membership has considerably expanded over the past 13 years: from a modest number of 21 in the early 1998 to 618 by early 2008, covering 12 districts of West Bengal, and 6 eastern and northeastern States. As of date, more than 2000 farmers from 10 States have exchanged with Vrihi seeds of over 360 rice land races. With support from professional scientists, writers, artists, educators and environmental activists, Vrihi has evolved as a consortium of indigenous farmers who are committed to collection and in situ conservation of folk crop seeds.
In February 2009 Vrihi received the National Plant Genome Saviour Award from the Plant Variety Protection & Farmers’ Rights Authority, Government of India.
It is well known that with the onset of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, “high yielding crop varieties has resulted in the replacement of numerous landraces possessing several important genes”. With the rapid disappearance of folk varieties, farmers have perforce become entirely dependent on the commercial seed suppliers for their crop. Until the advent of the seeds market, thousands of farmer landraces had spread across wide areas through informal seed exchange among farmers. Seeds used to be a precious gift to relatives and friends. Because crop seeds were traditionally considered to be a commons that belonged to the community, there was no scope for its commercial appropriation.
Extensive field surveys in remote parts of the country in search of heirloom crop varieties reveal that an astonishing genetic diversity of rice (and other crops) still survives in indigenous societies where seed exchange continues. Some folk rice varieties were also conserved by indigenous farmers due to their cultural value. Agricultural modernization, involving external supply of seeds has already obliterated much of our heirloom crop genetic diversity as well as local food cultures. To halt further erosion of the rice genetic diversity, customary seed exchange systems need to be rejuvenated. This can be done only by establishing multiple seed exchange centres in the country.
Vrihi not only promotes seed exchange on its premises, but also motivates farmers to establish their own community seed banks.
The seed stock of Vrihi is composed of 1030 rice land races donated by farmers and scientists-conservators of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and Italy. Vrihi’s awareness campaign for folk crop seed saving has slowly overcome the initial intransigence of farmers. With an inchoate understanding that folk crop genetic diversity would ensure the country’s food security, many farmers have come forward to donate seeds, and pledged to save and exchange those seeds with friends, kins and neighbours. Vrihi’s collection has thus expandJugaled by accessions from interior villages of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. Rice samples from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Italy, donated by farmers and scientists abroad have enriched Vrihi’s stock. By the end of 2012, the number of folk rice varieties in Vrihi’s collection has exceeded 900.
Vrihi’s collection includes a number of unique rice varieties. An example is jugal, the double-grain rice variety. Another amazing variety is sateen, the triple-grain rice. Ramigali from Chhattisgarh has sterile lemmas elongated as wing-like appendages. Kharah from Odisha is another unique landrace with purple culms and leaves. There are numerous varieties that can withstand drought, flood and salinity, or have resistance to diverse pests and diseases. Hundreds of landraces with diverse pigmentation, culinary properties and valuable agronomic traits have been characterized, documented and published for the first time by Vrihi.
Seed Exchange Protocol
Any farmer can receive any indigenous rice variety, free of cost, from Vrihi seed bank at Panchal. The seed exchange centre is open for farmers every month from February through June. The office closes in the middle of June.
Vrihi assist farmers who intend to take rice seeds in choosing the rice varieties appropriate for his/her farm’s land type, and soil characteristics, and local climatic conditions. In case a farmer visits the seed bank in the first week of any month between February and June, and finds it closed before his arrival, he may leave his name and address on a slip of paper and return home. He may also mention the name of a variety he would intend to receive, or just the type of land (rain fed upland/ irrigated medium land/ deep lowland) where he would intend to grow the seeds. Vrihi volunteers will take bags of rice seeds appropriate for his farm.
In order to receive seeds from Vrihi the farmer must give, in exchange, seeds of at least one folk rice variety (about 1 kg), which would then be passed on to another farmer. In case the farmer does not have any folk variety seeds to exchange, (s)he must pay a ‘security deposit’ for obtaining a packet of 1 kg of seeds. A paper receipt is issued against this payment, which is refunded when the farmer returns 2 kg of that rice after harvest. This arrangement is to ensure cultivation and multiplication of the seeds.
All rice varieties are being cultivated on the Basudha research farm of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies. Every year, samples of all rice varieties are brought from Vrihi and grown in small plots at Basudha. ‘Core sample’ panicles from each plot are harvested and stored for the next season. In order to obviate chances of cross-pollination between varieties grown on neighbouring plots, an innovative method of transplanting varieties with asynchronous flowering dates is employed.
Agronomic and morphological characteristics of each rice variety are assessed, following the International Plant Generic Resources Institute guidelines. Special agronomic features like resistance to pests and pathogens and adaptations to different edaphic conditions are also empirically tested on trial plots. At Basudha, farmer-researchers have developed eight new varieties through crossing and selective breeding of various landraces.
Vrihi is now operating in Odisha. Read here
Vrihi distributes a set of posters and handbills for indigenous farmers, describing
a) the benefits of conserving and growing folk rice varieties in indigenous farms, especially in limiting soil and climatic conditions;
b) the risks of genetically engineered crops that are being illegally commercialized by Monsanto Co. and its associates;
c) the risks and costs of chemical farming, which can be eliminated by ecological agriculture.
The handbills are in simple Bengali language. Some of these are also translated into Oriya for distribution in Orissa, in collaboration with local NGOs.
Vrihi documented India’s first copyrighted biodiversity register of folk rice varieties in 2000. The copyright is held by Vrihi as a consortium of farmers who cultivate and exchange the rice varieties on their farms. The register gives a list of all farmers who either donated or received different rice seeds for in situ conservation. An enlarged and updated version of this register, incorporating description of characteristics of 416 rice landraces, was published in 2005.
An ecological agriculture primer for farmers, describing methods of composting, seed saving, seed purification, nutrient management, pest and disease management, and water conservation, is forthcoming
How to get there
Vrihi Beej Binimoy Kendra is now shifted from Bengal to a village in Rayagada district, Odisha.
If you are coming from Kolkata/ Haora, take Howrah-Koraput Express train to Muniguda, and then ride an auto-rickshaw or taxi to Kalibonga village (30 min. drive). After that, you will need to walk to Basudha farm.
Alternatively, you may arrive in Vishakapattanam (nearest airport). From there, take a train to Bissam Cuttack, and then hire a car to Kalibonga.
 Sperling, L. and M. Loevinsohn (eds), 1997. Using Diversity: Enhancing and Maintaining Genetic Resources On-farm. IDRC. Ottawa, Canada. URL: http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-9290-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html
 NBPGR 2007. Perspective Plan: Vision 2025. National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources. Pusa Campus, New Delhi. URL: http://www.nbpgr.ernet.in/%5Cdownload%5Cvision_nbpgr_2007.pdf
 Deb, Debal 2006. Flowering asynchrony can maintain genetic purity in rice landraces. Current Science (Bangalore) 91: 155-157. URL: http://www.isas.ac.in/currsci/jul252006/155.pdf
 Deb, Debal (with A. Ram, D. Bhattacharya, N Mandal and R Mahato) 2000. Folk Rice Varieties of West Bengal: Morphological and Agronomic Characteristics. RFSTE. New Delhi.
 Deb, Debal (with D Bhattacharya, K K Jana, R N Mahato, R Pramanik, A Ram and S Sinha) 2005. Seeds of Tradition, Seeds of Future: Folk Rice Varieties of Eastern India. RFSTE. New Delhi.
 Deb, Debal, Paribesh Bandhab Krishi Sahayika [A guide to eco-friendly agriculture, in Bengali]. CIS. Barrackpore (forthcoming)
Last Updated (Thursday, 15 August 2013 19:53)