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A Manipuri farmer’s passionate desire to preserve traditional rice varieties

When farmers across India are struggling with weather woes and poor yields, there is one of their ilk in Manipur who has succeeded in adopting smart and eco-friendly methods of farming to ensure a satisfactory harvest every year.  
Sixty-year-old Devakanta Potshangbam, a progressive farmer residing in Uyumpok Mamang Leikai in Manipur’s Imphal East District, is passionate about conserving a wide variety of rice at his organic farm, including the cancer-curing black rice, called ‘Chakhao Poireiton’ and some drought-resistant varieties.
He has so far succeeded in persevering 100 traditional varieties of paddy and is cultivating 25 varieties of rice in his lush green farm.
He has travelled across Manipur to collect different types of rice - from drought-resistant white rice (which needs less water), brown rice and black rice.
Manipur is famous for black rice, which has several medical properties as well.
He said, “I would like to motivate some of the farmers to conserve and preserve the traditional varieties. When there is draught like situation we have got varieties of rice. I appeal the state government of Manipur, as well as the federal, to help the state because we have got rich natural resources, especially in the field of medicinal plants. If the government will help the forest department and other departments, I think our state will be richest state in the world. We are growing medicinal plants. We are trying to promote herbal garden. We need a help from the government to conserve traditional varieties for the future of human race.”

Devakanta won the prestigious ‘Plant Genome Saviour Farmer Reward’ in 2012. He is currently working with about 200 farmers to increase the cultivation of black rice in their farms.
Many farmers know that he has an organic farm and they come to him to buy different varieties of rice. However, if he gets the organic certification, he can package the rice better and sell it for a higher price.
His wife, Nongthonbam Renubala Devi, said, “My husband always think to do something good for the people even my in-laws they did the same. In fact we sacrifice ourselves and doing this work. We didn’t ask any financial help from other but we sold our own property and doing this work for the sake of our people.” 
Devakanta also cultivates one of the hottest varieties of chilly called ‘U-Morok. Although it is cultivated in Assam and Nagaland, the Manipuri chilly is considered to be better.
He runs an NGO called ‘All Manipur Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Growers’ Consortium’ to promote organic farming and medicinal plants in the state.

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