Nel Jayaraman – an agriculturalist and farmer who dedicated his life to reviving traditional varieties of paddy, died early on Thursday morning at a private hospital in Chennai. He was 54, and had been battling cancer for the last two years.
Jayaraman was born to a family of farmers in Thiruvarur district’s Adhirangam village. He could not complete school, and started working on his family’s farm. From a young age he showed interest in cultivating and preserving native paddy varieties. And when agricultural lands in Cauvery Delta were affected year after year by calamities, he started learning about traditional paddy varieties in coastal areas, and their potential to withstand climate change. Agriculturalist G Nammalvar encouraged him, and Jayaraman considered him his guru.
In 2004, he became the state coordinator of Save Our Rice Campaign, training and encouraging many young farmers to turn to organic farming. In 2005, he organised Nel Thiruvizha in his village, and distributed 2 kg of paddy to about 300 farmers who participated. In 10 years, the paddy seed festival became one of the largest in the state, and in May 2016, 160 varieties of traditional seeds were given to over 7000 farmers who visited from across the state. In that decade he revived 169 varieties of lost paddy seeds, 51 of which were handed over to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research to be preserved.
Some of the varieties were Kattuyanam, Poongkar, Karunguruvai, Kuzhiyadichan, Kudavaalai, Gauvuni, Mappillai Samba, Samba Mosanam, and Arupatham Kuruvai. Most importantly he revived Kai Varach Samba. He had found a handful of it and farmed it in 1969. He got a yield of 500 kg in 2012. And agro scientists said it will now stay and grow for the next 43 years at least.
In a report by TNM, Jayaraman’s friends and other organisers of the vizha talk about his indomitable energy. They say Jayaraman did not give up on his work even after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. In September 2017, he organised the All India Kisan Mukti Yatra in Tamil Nadu even though his health was deteriorating.
That year, to raise funds for his immuno therapy treatment in Chennai, campaigns were launched, and it seems Jayaraman was overwhelmed by the support he got. And after many appeals, this November, Tamil Nadu Health Ministry announced an aid of Rs 15 lakh for his treatment.
Actor Sivakarthikeyan was one among the first to visit him at the hospital, and offer to hep with medical expenses. Kathukkutty director Era Saravanan, who also comes from a family of farmers, put out tweets in November asking people to pitch in for financial support. Actors Sathyaraj, Karthi, and director Seeman also visited him at the hospital, and assisted financially.
நெல் ஜெயராமனுக்கு உடல்நிலை சரியில்லை என்ற உடனேயே அவரை மருத்துவமனையில் சேர்க்கிறார் சிவகார்த்திகேயன். நடிகர் கார்த்தி ஓடி வருகிறார். சீமான் தைரியம் வார்க்கிறார். சத்யராஜ் பண உதவி வழங்குகிறார். ஒரு விவசாயியைக் காப்பாற்ற நீளுகிற அத்தனை கரங்களும் கோடி நன்றிக்குரியவை! pic.twitter.com/iONC9KWrap
— இரா.சரவணன் (@erasaravanan) October 25, 2018
After the news of his death last morning, Sivakarthikeyan, who is said to be travelling for a shoot, has reportedly offered to pay for Jayaraman’s body to be taken back to his hometown for last rites. He has promised to fund Jayaraman’s son’s education.
Actor Karthi spoke to Silverscreen and said that when he last met Jayaraman, he told him about the other varieties of rice that he wished to conserve. “He said he wanted to address farmers and students on farming, that was the only way he would gain energy, but his health didn’t permit… I think it’s important to show respect. We need to celebrate people who have gone out of the way to serve the society.”
He also asked, “What is the price given to a farmer for his produce and what is the price paid by the consumer? Someone has to keep both ends aware of what is the actual price. Pubic should encourage and pay more to naturally produced grains and vegetables.”
Karthi had also invited Jayaraman to one of the success meets of his recent film Kadaikutty Singam, which spoke of the life of present-day farmers in Tamil Nadu.
Other actors offered condolences and tweeted in support of Jayaraman’s work.
Kamal Haasan tweeted saying, “Nel Jayaraman’s demise is an irreparable loss for all of us. He preserved and revived our grains after recognising that our culture and traditions are interwoven with food… We all should preserve his thoughts and vision.”
தமிழர்களின் மரபும் வரலாறும் உணவுடன் உறவாடிக்கிடந்ததை உணர்ந்து, அதை மீட்டெடுத்து பாதுகாத்த திரு. நெல்.ஜெயராமன் அவர்களின் மறைவு நம் அனைவருக்கும் பேரிழப்பு. அவர் பாதுகாத்திட்ட பாரம்பரிய நெல் போல அவரின் சிந்தனையையும் செயலையும் நாம் ஒவ்வொருவரும் பாதுகாத்திட வேண்டும்.
— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) December 6, 2018
Actor and TFPC president Vishal said, “His contributions towards agriculture and farming is immense. He led many youngsters towards agriculture.”
Deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Nel Jayaraman Ayya….His contributions towards Agriculture & Farming is immense. He led many Youngters towards Agriculture. May his soul RIP & my condolences to his Friends & Family…. #NelJayaraman #RIPNelJayaraman
— Vishal (@VishalKOfficial) December 6, 2018
Nel Jayaraman’s body was kept at Teynampet, Chennai till 3 pm yesterday. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, O Panneerselvam, MK Stalin and other ministers paid last respects. His body will be taken to his hometown today.