Monday, June 23, 2014

Preserving rice varieties for posterity

Rice diversity mapping has helped document over 300 varieties

Through a Participatory Rural Appraisal technique, volunteers collect information on the various rice varieties in villages.— FILE PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM
Through a Participatory Rural Appraisal technique, volunteers collect information on the various rice varieties in villages.— FILE PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

A unique volunteer-driven effort to map the rice diversity of Karnataka has resulted in the documentation of more than 300 rice varieties.

The project, an ongoing process, does not entail government help and is born out of the deep-rooted desire of organic activists to celebrate the diversity of rice in the State and create a seed bank for posterity.

“The concept of documenting rice varieties in the State began almost 10 years ago. It coincided with the emergence of the ‘Save Our Rice Campaign’, a movement that spread across the country among farmer groups who rooted for indigenous rice varieties as they were suited for the local climate and soil conditions,” said Seema G. Prasad, State coordinator, Save Our Rice Campaign.

She told The Hindu that the emergence of the high-breed variety, promoted by the government, saw a large many farmers opting for it and this has led to mono-culture in the present times. “Hardly any farmer cultivates the high-yielding indigenous rice variety. As a result most rice varieties will be lost to posterity,” she said.
The mapping of rice varieties began when engineer-turned farmer Krishna Prasad, co-founder of Sahaja Samruddha, was determined to conserve as many rice varieties as possible and began networking with farmers. “We found that in each village there were a few farmers who were interested in the conservation of old rice varieties. Rice is not merely a crop but part of the cultural heritage of the land and its people. Some varieties have aromatic and medicinal properties and many proverbs and folk culture have evolved around them,” Mr. Prasad said.

Through a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) technique, volunteers and farmers collected information on various rice varieties in each village. They obtained information from farmers belonging to the older generation on the yield and adaptability to local soil and climate.

“Thus began the concept of seed mapping. The Bangarkovi variety, mainly grown in Mysore, is now rare and difficult to come by,” Mr. Prasad explained.

The painstaking effort of rice mapping has led to the documentation of over 300 indigenous varieties of rice unique to the State.

These varieties are available to farmers for cultivation through Sahaja Samruddha, a network comprising nearly 2,000 farmers, including rice breeders, and 30 organisations which are part of the rice conservation programme.

Original Story

Slaughter of whale sharks on the rise

  • A file photo of a whale shark being slaughtered by fishermen at Kumbhabhishekam in Kakinada. — Photo: By Special Arrangement
    The HinduA file photo of a whale shark being slaughtered by fishermen at Kumbhabhishekam in Kakinada. — Photo: By Special Arrangement

According to records, in the past 13 months as many as 15 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have been killed in the Godavari region.

In a short span of 13 months, from February 2013, as many as 15 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) have been slaughtered in the Godavari region. The figure is quite alarming, as the official records indicate that the number of giant fish being slaughtered in a period of 100 years from 1890 was 20. The whale shark is the biggest fish (largest living non-mammalian vertebrate) in the world reaching lengths of 40 feet (12 meters) or more and a weight of more than 21.5 metric tonnes.

Moreover, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers the species vulnerable as it is protected as Schedule-I species on a par with tiger under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

This Act envisages award of stringent punishment including imprisonment up to seven years to those found guilty of poaching and illegal trading of this animal and its products.

It is a target fishery in many parts of the world. According to records, the fish was killed in large numbers in Gujarat during the 1990s. But, in the Godavari region, it is not target fishery. If it is caught, the massive fish is dragged to the land and slaughtered.

If this fish is caught, the fishermen lose fishing nets worth Rs.30,000 to Rs. 40,000, besides spending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 5,000 on its cutting. As it has less meat and fin value than the other sharks, it fetches a meagre amount to the fishermen.

The fishermen, however, prefer to kill in the event of catching it. Members of fishermen community said one shark of 22 ft was sold for Rs.15,000 in Bhairavapalem last year.

Another 15ft shark was sold for Rs. 10,000 at Kumbhabhishekam in Kakinada in March this year.

No incentive

“Most of the fishermen are unaware of the provisions put in place by the government for protecting sharks. The fishermen are sure that they will any way lose their nets in the event of the mammoth caught in them. That is why they are resorting to kill it,” says P. Sathiyaselvam, conservation biologist of the EGREE Foundation.

In Gujarat, he said, fishermen are rewarded with a cash prize of Rs. 25,000 if they release the giant fish from the net whenever caught in the net.

Emulating the scheme, the foundation launched a pilot project in the district and provided log books to 52 mechanised fishing boats.

“The main idea is to stop killing of sharks and assess the losses incurred to the fishermen. We are also working on the possibility of introducing the compensation scheme here,” Mr. Selvam explains.

Friday, June 6, 2014

National Moth Week: Indian Biodiversity Portal is data partner

By Thomas, India Biodiversity Portal

Just wanted to let you know that the India Biodiversity Portal, will be a data partner of the National Moth Week from this year (19th-27 July). Following up on success of the Neighborhood trees campaign that we organised last month, we would like to do something similar for the National Moth Week  in coordination with a wide network of individuals who may have a stake in moths of India.

The IndianMoths group on IBP will host the collection of the Moth observations during the NMW. We already have about 3000 observations on the group and many still require identification.

The immediate objective of the exercise would be to get citizens to contribute (upload) observations  of moths from across the country. However, unlike trees and other species groups, moths would require experts to help identify the observations. We are hoping to gather a group of moth experts that will be able to interact on the portal. 

In the run-up to the moth week (and afterwards), we are hoping to be able to get such experts to contribute towards moth species pages. In addition, they can also contribute checklists of moths from various regions, moth-related documents and also upload observations too.

We hope that in time, the portal will help aggregate enough content and information on moths that will be beneficial to anyone looking for open information on the moths of India. 

We are also building a system that allows curators to curate content within species pages. We will also shortly have a name curation interface that will allow curators to build a species list for India by curating species names that come in to the portal from various sources (mapping accepted names to common names, synonyms, subspecies, adding classifications etc.). All these efforts we hope, will help to build a common platform for moth experts of the country to interact upon and curate information on. 

We request you to sign up on the portal (if you haven't already) and help in any way you can to aggregate and curate content on moths. If you have any kind of data that you would like to upload please do so directly or let us know so that we can help if needed.