Monday, November 15, 2010

Vidarbha rice innovator gets recognition after 20 long years

Vidarbha rice innovator gets recognition after 20 long years

If he were a corporate tycoon, Dadaji Ramaji Khobragade would today rule half the world with his small white grain, alongside the Monsantos and Syngentas.

Instead, this septuagenarian marginal peasant believes in sharing his knowledge and innovation for free, for the benefit of people.

That’s the reason why despite finding his name in the Forbes list of top seven Indian rural entrepreneurs picked up by IIM-Ahmedabad professor and founder of the Honey Bee Network Anil Gupta, Khobragade remains an abysmally poor peasant, living in a cramped and dingy hut, farming a small patch of land.

On that farm in Chandrapur district’s nondescript Nanded village, the rural paddy cultivator has this year launched a new variety of paddy. This one’s his ninth, he says.

He has named it after himself: DRK-II. “This will rock,” he says, happy that someone takes note of his work. “I do not know what this means,” he says, of his name figuring as one of the top rural entrepreneurs named in the Forbes list.

Dadaji, a twice recipient of National Innovation Foundation’s coveted award, finds his name in the coveted list for the discovery of a popular paddy variety, HMT-Sona, which covers a vast area under rice cultivation in India. For that, the plant breeder is an inspiration to the peasantry around his village.

Ironically though, it’s over this variety that he has fought an unsuccessful battle for intellectual property rights with the state-run Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth (PKV), Akola, which credits itself with the HMT discovery, claiming that it had “purified and refined” the parent breed.

PKV maintains it took field trials, multiplied the seeds and “refined” its quality (insiders say it didn’t). And, without acknowledging the original breeder, Dadaji, it credited itself for inventing HMT variety that he bred in his farm through the 1980s with painstaking efforts and meticulous farm practice. It took him more than a decade to breed the variety from three different strains of rice, recounts Dadaji.

It became an instant hit with local farmers for its aroma and high yields. The state-run seed corporation Mahabeej, with which PKV has a tie-up, has been doing a brisk business of HMT-Sona for over a decade.

Experts say the least the government could do now is help him protect his intellectual property. The old man’s unflinching research has continued despite the fact that he had to sell three acres of farm to treat his son, Mitrajeet, suffering from sickle cell anemia.


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