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Basudha, a 1.7-Acre Farm in Odisha Developed By a Scientist Supports Ecological Architecture & Tribal Farming Research

Debal Deb is a man who is striving to revive indigenous rice growing to India.

Chintu Das
Debal Deb, Ecological Scientist
Debal Deb, Ecological Scientist

Debal Deb, an ecological scientist, was surveying the biodiversity of sacred groves in southern Bengal in the summer of 1991. He saw a pregnant tribal farmer's wife drinking the starch water drained from cooked Bhutmuri rice, which they thought could help women with peripartum anemia. As a result, he conducted significant research into the benefits of rare, indigenous rice kinds.

His life's work has been to collect, restore, and share these rare and precious indigenous rice types with farmers since then. In 2001, he founded Basudha farm as a result of his efforts.

Modest Beginnings

Basudha began as a field station in Bankura for Deb's Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, which he founded in 1993 to combat the negative effects of industrialization, promote ecological architecture, and rebuild the farming community's ethos. It is now a 1.7-acre farm in a tribal village in Bissam Cuttack block of Rayagada district in southern Odisha, surrounded by forests and hills. It can accommodate activists, research students, and farmers in addition to being a research centre.

Until the 1970s, India possessed around 1,10,000 different varieties of rice, according to rice expert R. H. Richharia. Around that time, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) gave a few high-yielding rice varieties to the Indian government, urging farmers to replace indigenous varieties with them.

On His Own

After discovering a lack of documentation, Deb began surveying the surviving indegenous varieties in 1994. When he finished his research in 2006, he discovered that 90% of them had vanished. After being turned down by the government and a number of private institutions, he decided to pursue his conservation and restoration mission on his own, taking the name Basudha, which means "Earth Mother" in Bengali.

Vrihi, the first non-governmental rice seed bank for farmers, was one of his notable accomplishments. Deb promotes the non-commercial exchange of folk rice varieties as part of this programme in order to establish a culture of cultivating indigenous seeds. Before being supplied to farmers, rare seeds are grown individually in clay pots and irrigated with cow urine. Any farmer can get any indigenous rice variety from Vrihi's seed bank for free in exchange for at least one folk rice variety. The bank began with 21 varieties in 1998 and had grown to 1,440 by 2021. Over 7,600 farmers have exchanged 910 varieties of rice with the bank as of 2019.

Vrihi's collection includes items from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, and Italy, among others. There is a triple-grain variety, nine landraces that can grow in 3m deep water, 15 salt-tolerant landraces, some of which can even grow in sea water, 12 drought-tolerant landraces that do not require irrigation after transplanting, 68 landraces with high iron content, and 30 landraces with high zinc content.

There's More To Rice Than That

Basudha's efforts include everything from preserving rare rice varieties to promoting organic farming. It also grows more than 30 different types of crops in addition to rice. Basudha also provides practical training in ecological agriculture to encourage ecoforestry research. By removing kiln bricks, cement, plastics, and timber from the farmhouse, it is possible to achieve a nearly zero-ecological footprint. The farm's three huts are constructed of adobe, stones, mud, and lime mortar, and have thatched roofs. It has three EcoSan dry toilets for sanitation, and the compost from them is used to enrich the soil. The entire campus is powered by solar energy.

However, Deb admits that obtaining financial support has been a major challenge, as it is critical to pay adequate salaries to his field and laboratory staff. He also believes that there is insufficient acreage to accommodate the ever-increasing number of types planted at Basudha each year.

Deb has a lot on his plate, even more so with private businesses collecting seeds from Vrihi for free and selling them at a high price to farmers and academics illegally publishing his data. He isn't complaining, though, because his mission is to promote indigence farming above all else.

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