Climate change is inspiring farmers in the Sundarbans to go back in history to a time when their forefathers grew indigenous varieties of rice using green manure.
Giving the modern high-yield varieties of rice a miss, farmers are going back to the pre-Green Revolution days and opting for traditional seeds which have unique properties such as ability to tolerate salinity and floods.
“The switch over was difficult but slowly we realised that our traditional rice varieties like ‘Dudheswari’ has low input costs and tolerates salinity more easily than the modern ones,” farmer Uttam Maity who lives in one of the islands under Pathar Pratima block says.
Rising sea levels, increasing instances of floods and salinity of water due to various factors including climate change is threatening to convert fertile agricultural land into barren wasteland in the Sundarbans.
A report prepared by Jadavpur University and WWF has estimated that out of five million people living in the Sundarbans delta, one million will become climate change refugees by 2050.
Introduction of high-yield varieties of paddy during the Green Revolution had gradually pushed the traditional saline-tolerant varieties to extinction as islanders were lured away by higher yields.
With the help of NGOs, farming communities in various parts are preparing seed banks storing such lost varieties of seeds. “Many such varieties are already lost and it’s difficult to find them now. We are sourcing the seeds from various parts of West Bengal and even outside and preparing a bank,” Robin Deb, a villager in Mathurapur block, says.
Officials of the West Bengal Biodiversity Board (WBBB) say while preparing the People’s Biodiversity Registrar recently they came across a number of indigenous varieties of rice which is now being documented. “We are trying to convince farmers to adopt these varieties for their food security in the long-term. Some traditional varieties are now getting popular there but for others we need to market them properly,” WBBB scientist Soumyendra Nath Ghosh points out.
In Gosaba block, they plan to launch a campaign soon to promote traditional varieties of paddy among farming communities.
“Agriculture is getting tougher in the Sundarbans so farmers need to experiment and adopt themselves to the changing climate patterns. Otherwise there food security is at grave risk,” Chittapriyo Sadhu of international NGO ‘Save the Children’ warns.
Along with Sundarban Social Development Centre, they are trying to make farmers resilient to the impact of climate change by promoting sustainable agriculture.
Agriculture scientist and Director of State Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute Manas Ghosh says he is happy that the farmers are now learning how to go back to the basics of farming during crisis.
“Farmers in the Sundarbans also have to contend with climate change. A majority of the crops they cultivate are highly sensitive to changes in temperature or unseasonal rainfall,” says a recent report by the Delhi-based research body Centre for Science and Environment. An archipelago of more than a hundred islands, Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for the world’s largest mangrove forest and the Royal Bengal Tigers.