6,000-year-old species of rice discovered in Meghalaya

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | Shillong | Updated: Jan 13 2009, 04:41am hrs
Meghalaya Mission for Indigenous Knowledge has found a 6000-year-old traditional species of rice in the Garo hills of the state. This biological diversity is now an important genetic store for rice worldwide. Mira Nair's film - Still, the Children are Here - told exclusively through the voices of the Garos, follows two extended families in the village Sandolpara, as they grapple with survival and change in this native community. Elders say they are poorer today. "Even though we reap the same grain as the grandmothers, we are poorer," they say.

In Sandolpara, 6,000-year-old species of rice are still grown. Women are the caretakers of these varieties of rice. They select the right varieties for cultivation and handle processing and storage of rice. Men help in cultivation and manage the fields. "These hardy strains of rice must be protected and should not be contaminated by any hybrids or genetically modified (GM) crops," the document paper of the Meghalaya Mission for Indigenous Knowledge noted.

The draft document also pleaded that the government should provide subsidies to farmers for growing these traditional varieties, so that the traditional rice varieties are available to consumers at cheaper rates and can compete with already-subsidised rice from other parts of the country.

The vice chancellor of the Shillong-based North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Pramod Tandon said, "Our major objective is to conserve and conduct research in traditional knowledge and to improve the socio-economic conditions of the people." He said that the important gene centre located in the campus had not been given due consideration by the Union government, which funds this university. The gene bank contains rich depositories of traditional rice and citrus among other rare plants.

He mentioned water lily as a rare species now found only in Meghalaya. Earlier, some species of water lily were found in Siberia, Russia, though the climatic conditions in Meghalaya and Siberia vary to a large extent. "We have taken up the difficult job of micro-propagation of the water lily in a farmer's pond in Smit village," he said. The seeds of the water lily are eaten by the local people.

Among other rare plants are Dancing Girl, Holly Tree and Mishmi Getta. Dancing Girl varieties are under the women's empowerment scheme of the department of biotechnology (DBT). "Unplanned urbanisation, mining and quarrying have destroyed the biodiversity and ecology of the region, alleged Tandon. He disclosed that the Mishmi Getta was illegally exported to China for its medicinal value and how the Italians once indulged in biopiracy of the Texas Bacata, the extracts of which are used to cure breast cancer. The Khasiana variety of the Picher plant is grown in nitrogen deficient land in the state. Out of 13,000 orchid varieties, 560 alone are found in north-eastern India.

The Guwahati-based North Eastern Development Finance Corporation Ltd has documented the methods of propagation and the use of several aromatic and medicinal plants like Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin Benth), Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus Jowitt), Lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus Steud Wats), Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides Linn), Sugandhmantri (Homalo,ena aromatica Schott), Agar (Aquilaria agallocha Roxb), Sarpagandha (Rauvolfia serpentine Benth ex Kur), Pipali (Piper longum Linn), Amlakhi (Emblica officinalis Gaertn), Hilikha (Terminalia chebula Retz), Bhomora (terminalia belerica), Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna Wight and Arn). Among other crops of economic importance are Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni-Nemsi, Vanilla planifolia Andrews and Brahmi or Bacopa monnieri (L) Wetts.