Two of the best quality saline tolerant rice varieties (Hamilton and Malta) of the Sunderbans (literal translation: beautiful forest — the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans ) is now lost forever. Sunderbans is also the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger.Introduction of high yield paddy (non-local varieties) gradually pushed a number of traditional saline tolerant varieties to extinction as delta dwellers preferred cultivating the big produce variety rather than the types that had endured ages of evolution and adapted to the local conditions. However, when salinity rose alarmingly with the ingress of saline water after the cyclone Aila, the high yielding varieties just did not stand a chance. They failed to adapt to the changed conditions of the soil. As a result, the Sunderbans is now going through serious food scarcity and things will get much worse in the days to come. As the population rose and the number of mouths in a family went up, people turned to high yielding paddy which doubled the crop quantity. Gradually, the cultivation of traditional paddy stopped and their seeds became rare and some of them became extinct in this highly sensitive ecosystem. All this happened in the last 25 to 30 years. The big and false assumption was that local varieties were low yield. There are other losses too. The saline resistant varieties not only tasted better but also the straw provided better and stronger thatch roofs of the huts of the local inhabitants. Moreover, such varieties did not need fertilizers and pesticides to survive. Traditional organic variety has ingrained pest-repellent properties. The soil and the sub-soil water also gets better and better over the years with less and less use of fertilizers and protects other species in the environment that are dependent on the soil and water to survive. It is not therefore surprising that the decisions that we take today to determine the way we live and earn affect others in our rather delicate uncertain relationships of our ecosystem. What else got affected? The Royal Bengal Tiger is now close to extinction. There are now about 1400 of the majestic animals left. 50 years back there were more than 30,000 of these beautiful animals. Lessons learnt:
a) Don't play with a system unless we understand the relationships completely. Understand the context.
b) Assess the risks, uncertainties and the consequences before taking a decision on living and earning. Nature keeps score with consequences
c) Focus on Development; Not Growth
d) Critically examine the assumptions
e) Adaptation is the rule of Nature; don't violate speed limits
f) Think Big, Think Local, Act Local, Learn Global