The story of HMT rice - A variety that brought prosperity to all except the farmer who developed it.
India - the land of ancient rice varieties.
Historical figures suggest, we had more than 1 lakh varieties of indigenous rice, which have come down to about 7000 varieties as per official figures and a little more than 20000 varieties as per the farming and rice conservation community. The numbers rapidly declined after the green revolution and its widespread adoption in the 1960s-1970s, as hybrid rice varieties and monoculture farming were promoted as a solution to increase in productivity.
In the past, we’ve had stalwarts like Dr. R.H.Richaria who dedicated their life to conservation of indigenous rice varieties which graced our land. These rice varieties were suited for various agro-climatic zones and could survive in extreme weather conditions. We had drought tolerant varieties and varieties that could grow in stagnant or salty water as well.
These regional varieties were a reason of food security and didn’t need the use of any synthetic chemicals or fertilisers.
Along with Dr. Richaria there have been an army of legendary farmers who have proven that rice can be developed on the fields through skilful observation. All these farmers need is some support and guidance, which we as a system and society have failed to provide most of them.
Similar is the HMT story. The story of a farmer and self-trained plant breeder Dadaji Khobragade who developed more than 9 rice varieties that had specific traits to benefit the farming community due to its productivity and the consumers due to its low glycaemic index among other nutritional values.
His journey and story though inspiring, is as miserable as well.
About Dadaji Khobragade & the development of the Dadaji HMT variety
Late Dadaji Khobragade hailed from a predominantly Buddhist-Dalit village called Nanded, in Nagbid tehsil of the eastern Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. From early on in life, he used to rear cattle and work with his father on the farm, observing every aspect of farming in detail.
His journey as a plant breeder found emphasis in 1983 when he noticed three yellow seeded paddy spikes in his farm, planted with the Patel 3 variety. Being a keen observer while on the farm, he picked these three spikes, brought them home and stored them. The following year he sowed the seeds of this yellow variety separately in the middle of his field.
The results were heartening, as these seeds produced a high yield.
The following year he cultivated these seeds separately and got nearly 10Kg of production. The fact to note is that when he cooked this rice he found it to be tastier than the Patel variety as well. Motivated by the results, with each passing year, the area of cultivation for this variety was increased and the seeds were also distributed to some more farmers.
By 1990, the rice had now reached a quantity where it could be traded, but there was no name to this newly developed, high yielding and nutritious variety. The story goes that since HMT was a famous watch brand of the time and liked by Dadaji Khobragade it was name HMT Rice. Another story says that the rice was named HMT as it was stored in godowns where the watches were stored as well.
Either way it is the Dadaji-HMT rice variety as we know it.
In early 1990’s the HMT story was a local legend and farmers’ demand for HMT seeds had peaked to a clamour.
The Unjust Incident
In 1994, an official from the Sindewahi Rice Station, under Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth (PKV) Agricultural University at Akola, visited Dadaji and returned with five kg of the Dadaji- HMT seeds “for experimentation”, signing a receipt for it. In 1998, Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth (PKV) released the PKV-HMT rice. It claimed to have “purified” the earlier variety – but it initially did not publicly acknowledge that it had sourced the seeds from the original farmer-breeder, which is Khobragade himself.
He was neither informed about it nor was his consent sought. The university later, did accept that it got the seeds from Dadaji, but stated that, unlike the farmer, it had the means to develop a purer strain of the variety.
The IPR Regime
Till the green revolution had not gone deep into our system, farmers would save and multiply seeds themselves. There was no dependence on market bought seeds.
During those days, the IPR law did not exist, but even if it did, Dadaji Khobragade had never been in favour of it. But in retrospect, the intellectual property rights (IPR) regime would have at least helped the farming community if the variety would have been registered just under Dadaji Khobragade’s name.
Much later in 2001, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Act was passed, while an authority to test and register seeds was set up in 2005.
Around the same time, Dadaji was awarded by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) and that was when he gave the organisation the authority to apply for registration of his HMT and DRK rice varieties. He was paid a meagre amount of INR 50,000 for each variety.
As for the registration process, the variety was registered under Dadaji’s name, the name being Dadaji-HMT.
there was a separate variety the PKV-HMT which was registered for the university who had taken the variety from Dadaji himself.
The NIF is critically blamed by many stakeholders of the farming community and there is still an ongoing court case regarding this dispute being fought with the support of senior activist and a legend when it comes to rice conservation and breeding in India – Jacob Nellithanam
A Miserable End to an Inspiring Life
On the 3rd of June 2018; Dadaji Khobragade passed away after a long spell of being ill following a paralytic stroke.
While he was ill, it was an unfortunate state to see such a prolific plant breeder financially struggling to make ends meet and even get decent treatment for his illness.
Even during such times, the Micro Venture Innovation Fund (MViF) of the NIF, rather than supporting him in some way, suggested a technology transfer of his varieties to a private company which was willing to pay for them.
This was heavily condemned by the farming community and the technology transfer did not happen. But also, there was no financial support for Dadaji apart from some that could be collated by the farming community.
Such was the end of a life that was as inspiring and innovative as it can be.
And such is the respect for farmers and innovators within our system.
This is the HMT story – the story of a rice variety that brought prosperity to all except the farmer who developed it.