R “Nel” Jayaraman, who revived over 174 traditional paddy seed varieties in Tamil Nadu, died in Chennai on Thursday. He was 54 and is survived by wife and a son.
Jayaraman began his journey to revive lost seeds in 2004 with his mentor late Nammalvar, a pioneer of organic farming, by collecting over a dozen varieties believed to have been lost. While Nammalvar died in 2013, Jayaraman continued his efforts, collecting up to 174 traditional seeds.
T Jayaraman, an expert and a traditional farmer, said Nel Jayaraman’s efforts to revive native paddy seeds have a major significance at a time when farmers in delta and many other parts of Tamil Nadu are facing climatic challenges with new short-term varieties.
G Sivaraman, medical practitioner in Siddha medicine and a popular speaker on traditional functional food, said, “Jayaraman had been conducting a paddy festival for the past 12 years with an aim to not only recover but also propagate traditional paddy seeds. He never sold those seeds. Rather, he would give one kilogramme of rare paddy seeds to a farmer at the festival on the condition that they return him two kilogramme of seeds of the same paddy variety next year,” he said.
It was his contribution to conserve traditional seeds that earned him the name ‘Nel’, meaning paddy seed in Tamil.