The Optimist Citizen

A Museum where the exhibits are 850 different varieties of Rice and the curator is a farmer from Karnataka

“It is said that in the Puri Temple of Orissa, the deity is served a different variety of rice every day during the Daily Puja. This means that there is a serving of at least 365 different varieties of rice every year”. At first, this claim might seem exaggerated to an astronomical extent, but the story of Syed Ghani Khan might change your perception forever.

Syed Ghani Khan, the man behind the rice museum
Syed Ghani Khan, the man behind the rice museum

A 6th Generation farmer living in Kirugavulu village of Mandya District in Karnataka, Syed Ghani Khan’s life took a drastic turn when his father went into paralysis after an incident of brain haemorrhage about two decades ago and Syed had to leave his B.Com degree abruptly. Being the eldest son in the family, he filled his father’s shoes and took up farming on their 15 acre ancestral land called Bada Bagh, gifted to his forefathers by ‘The Mysore Tiger’ Tipu Sultan himself for their services. Initially, home to about 200 varieties of Mangoes, Syed began rice farming as well. He took up B.A. Archaeology and Museology to complete his Graduation in 2000 and that was when his fascination for Museum, archaeology and Rice culminated at a junction. Thus, the idea of a Rice Museum was born.

Today, Bada Bagh is home to about 850 varieties of Rice, 120 varieties of Mangoes and several other fruits, medicinal plants and crops. Although, most of the varieties of rice originate from India, Syed’s museum also houses varieties from Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan and several other parts of the world. Also, Syed has managed to turn the farm into a Bio-diverse ecosystem, which is a host to 60 – 70 species of birds.

When Syed started with his endeavour, people called him a “Diwana” and tagged him mad. But today, he supplies organic seeds, free of cost, to over 7000 farmers and also trains them in Organic farming. The farmers are also trained in creating Rice Jewels and other handicrafts to aid their income. “Chemical fertilizers were never used historically in Indian traditional farming and have only deteriorated health of the consumers in many ways. I want to give the gift of Organic and healthy farming to the future generations”, says Syed. And Syed has kept his promise. He trains young students on organic and traditional cultivation. He also prepares them for various courses in B.Sc. in Agriculture. He says very proudly that “even though these children might decide to become doctors or engineers in the future, but they should know their roots and understand traditional farming”

Syed Ghani Khan at Bada Bagh

Syed has dedicated a part of his house to preserve the lost varieties of Rice and other crops, fruits and plants in bottles, hangings and whatever resources he can manage. So far, he has managed everything from his own pocket. Along with support from his family and Milaap, India’s leading crowd funding website for social causes, Syed plans to raise money to take the project a step ahead and build a permanent infrastructure to provide training and preserve many more varieties of rice and other crops. When asked, which variety of rice is his favourite, Syed laughed and said “India is a host to almost 18000 varieties of Rice. I have been able to conserve about 850 of these at my farm. Each one is like my children and I cannot love anyone more than the other.”

And it is with this ingenuity and conviction that Syed has been able to create something that might seem absurd to most but has instead proved that change need not always come from the most powerful corridors of power, money and resources. It can, instead, come from something as small as a GRAIN OF RICE.


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