For the cyclone ravaged farmers of the state, all is not lost yet.
The state’s agriculture scientists have developed a new paddy variant that can grow in saline water, informed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at an administrative meeting held to review post-cyclone rebuilding measures on Wednesday (May 27) evening.
The announcement is expected to allay the growing apprehension among farmers about the fate of paddy cultivation in the coming Kharif season.
Several hectares of farmland were inundated by sea water after Cyclone Amphan hit the state on May 20, sparking the fear of farmlands in coastal areas being rendered sterile for years.
Over 10 lakh hectares of farmland were affected by the cyclone-infused deluge in seven districts of the state.
Due to ingression of brine water in Sunrderbans—spread across South and North 24 Parganas districts—for several years, farmers there could not cultivate their crops after cyclone Aila had ravaged the delta in 2009.
This time too, the farmers are apprehending a similar fate as the sea water has flooded several villages, breaching British-era mud embankments.
Over four lakh farmers have been affected by the cyclone in the two districts alone, as per a preliminary assessment of the agriculture department.
“The scientists of the agriculture department carried out the research in a place near Gosaba (an island in Sunderbans). They have developed the variant which can grow in salt water. This is very good news for us,” chief minister told the officials.
The taste of the rice produced from this variant is stated to be the same as normal rice, she added.
The paddy cultivation in Sunderbans, where farmers mostly grow one crop a year, will start from mid June with the onset of monsoon.
In the meeting, Banerjee directed the district officials to distribute this variant of paddy seeds to the farmers whose fields have been flooded by seawater.
The chief minister christened this paddy variant “Nona Swarna (Salty Gold),” and asked the officials to get it patented.
Salt-tolerant paddy is, however, not new to the Sunderban region. Historical records mention the prevalence of as many as six such varieties, prior to human settlement in the area.
According to some accounts, farmers from northern parts of the state would reportedly sail down to the Sunderbans to transmit these seeds. They would later return to the delta to harvest their produce.
The historical accounts further state that the harvest of the farmers would often be looted by pirates, which led the British administration to establish in 1790 a paddy-trading centre at Hingalganj, now one of the community development blocks in North 24 Parganas district included in the Sunderbans areas.
This block has been among those hit hardest by the Amphan.
To encourage human settlement, the Britishers built 3,500 km-long mud embankments in the delta in the 18th century to keep the saline water at bay during high tide. This changed the agriculture pattern in the area, exterminating the salt-resistant paddies.
But after Cyclone Aila exposed the vulnerability of freshwater paddy agriculture in the delta, researches were initiated to revive the salt-tolerant paddy.