‘Nel’ Jayaraman was a crusader who revived more than 170 landraces of rice until he died in 2018. However, a significant annual event that Jayaraman started 15 years ago is still on, thanks to his nephew S Rajiv.
It was a turning point in the history of rice landraces in Tamil Nadu when Jayaraman started distributing the revived native paddy seeds to the farmers by organising the Nel Thiruvizha (paddy seed festival) in his native village Adhirengam (in Tiruvarur) in 2006. He conducted the seed festival every year until he died in 2018. Following in Jayaraman’s footsteps, his nephew Rajiv has been conducting the annual seed festival since his uncle’s death. And this year’s seed festival will be held in Thiruthuraipoondi in Tiruvarur on August 5.
With preparation underway in full swing, Rajiv says all COVID precautions have been taken to conduct the seed festival smoothly. “I have been conducting the annual seed festival which my uncle (Jayaraman) started in 2006, since his death. Normally, the festival would be held in Adhirengam, but to conduct it in a safe way, we have booked a hall in Thiruthuraipoondi this time,” says Rajiv, a cost accountant by profession.
If it was his association with organic guru Nammalvar which resulted in the native seed collection drive for Jayaraman, it was Jayaraman himself who became the source of energy for his nephew to continue his uncle’s journey.
“I grew up watching my uncle (Jayaraman) collecting native seeds from the remote pockets of Tamil Nadu. He would travel a lot, skipping his meals. Even though I became an accountant, my heart was still in farming. I wanted to continue the journey that my uncle began,” says Rajiv.
The Nel Thiruvizha will begin at 8.30 am on Thursday with a procession on a bullock cart carrying a traditional basket with a mixture of more than 170 native paddy seeds in it. Once the procession reaches the venue at Thiruthuraipoondi, a provisional stall displaying the traditional paddy seeds will be opened. The stall will create awareness among farmers about the rare, but once popular native paddy seeds such as Kattuyanam, Thulasi Vasanai Seeraka Samba, Anaikomban and Manjal Ponni. Photographs of Nammalvar and Nel Jayaraman will be unveiled as part of the festival.
It will be followed by an award distribution ceremony in which five farmers will be given the Nammalvar award and five will receive the Nel Jayaraman award. The farmers are chosen based on their experience in promoting native paddy seeds.
“Nel” (paddy) Jayaraman had revived more than 170 rice landraces as part of the Save our Rice (SoR) Campaign, a national movement aimed at conserving traditional varieties of paddy. At least 55 native paddy seeds from his collection have been handed over to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to be preserved in a vault at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR). Jayaraman won the Best Organic Farmer Award in 2012 and 2013 from the Agriculture Department of the Tamil Nadu government,” Rajiv says.
Rajiv says distribution of native paddy seeds to farmers is significant as many are ignorant about them. “We will distribute two kg of native paddy seeds (including Mappilaisamba, Thuyamalli, Garudan Samba) to at least 1,000 farmers. This is free, as we want to promote native paddy seeds,” says Rajiv, who has also added more than 10 native paddy seed centres across Tamil Nadu in addition to the ones opened by his uncle.
In 2020, Rajiv with the help of a group of traditional rice conservators had organised the annual seed festival in Adhirengam while taking due precautions against COVID-19.
The seed festival, however, is organised with the cooperation of many farmers across Tamil Nadu, and Rajiv doesn’t want to take the credit alone.
“It’s a festival of seeds which gives farmers an opportunity to know more about our native seeds. Many farmers and their organisations have helped us to organise this festival,” says Rajiv. Why are such festivals relevant today? “We had many varieties of landraces having resistance against climate, pests and other diseases. They grow from two feet to eight feet and take up to 65 to 200 days. It was after the introduction of hybrid varieties as part of the Green Revolution that we started losing our rice landraces. It’s high time we brought them back. I hope festivals like these will help us create awareness among farmers about our great native paddy seeds,” he adds.