Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

The story of CIS

Community-based conservation of bio-cultural diversity in Eastern India

Author: Debal Deb
Organisation: Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies
Contact: debaldeb(at), info(at)

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies (CIS) has been conserving an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage — those vanishing varieties of rice that indigenousl farmers created by selective breeding over generations, to ensure the country’s food security over centuries.

These folk varieties require none of the synthetic agrochemical inputs, and nothing by way of augmented water supply. India had some 65,000 distinct varieties of rice until the advent of the Green Revolution. In West Bengal, over 5500 rice varieties were grown until 1970, but today only about 550 are surviving on farmers’ fields. Working against the Green Revolution’s push towards homogenisation of crop genetic diversity. CIS is grwing 542 folk rice varieties on its ecological farm Basudha (Bengali name of Earth Mother).

CIS collected these unique varieties over 12 years from indigenous farmers. Such varieties include Kelas, a black rice whose pink starch is given to post-parturition and nursing mothers. Or take, for example, Khaskani, which is a small-grained, aromatic variety used on festive occasions, while another variety Kanakchur has a slender grain particularly suited for making aromatic puffed rice. Bahurupi is suited to rainfed medium lands, and out-yields any modern „high-yield“ variety. Then there is the miracle variety Jugal, cotaining two seeds in each spikelet. These are just five of the 542 folk rice varieties that are conserved on the Basudha farm.

But our activities are not confined to conserving folk rice varieties alone. Many other food crops and their folk varieties are conserved on Basudha farm. CIS is rediscovering the genius of the indigenous agroecological methods that enhance agroecosystem productivity and resilience. CIS also documents and conserves ancient sacred groves and ponds in tribal villages, by strengthening the communitarian ethos. These remnants of pristine commons are the last bastion of rare and endemic life forms.

CIS recognizes that like the folk crop diversity and traditional ecological knowledge, indigenous sports and musical traditions are also endangered. CIS seeks to rejuvenate them. Every winter, CIS holds a folk sports tournaments and a musical festival.

CIS demonstrates sustainable living through its workers’ frugal lifestyle. Its farm uses no agrochemical inputs; Basudha’s adobe house is built using no cement, kiln bricks, timber and plastics, nor even grid electricity.


The story of CISThe story of CISThe story of CISThe story of CIS

Local Organising Committee