History, geography and science, all in one class

By Punam Behera, Rajmuni Singh, Seema Sahu and Sunita Munda

The PARI story, Sowing the seeds of climate crisis in Odisha, covers the rapid rise of farmers growing BT cotton in Rayagada district and its impact on this biodiversity hotspot — rich in indigenous millets, rice varieties and forest foods. While teaching this story to our students from Kendujhar and Sundergarh districts in the same state, we introduced a connection between seed varieties and climate change. We brought in the region’s history of multiple cropping methods and how southern Odisha is seeing an alarming ecological shift. 

Earlier, in our classroom, we have used PARI stories from rural Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. So when we took up this story from our state, Odisha, the students were interested to know more and could associate it with what was happening in their villages. This learning also set off discussions with their peers and parents.

I teach students across Classes 3 to 6 at the Pipilia Upper Primary School. The story taught us that the region had over 1,700 rice varieties in 1959. It’s down to around 200 now. These numbers were useful when we were teaching the students. Just using words like “more” or “less” wouldn’t have had much of an impact on the students. They realised how large a drop it is from 1,700 to 200. 

The children had a lot of questions and shared similar stories about what was going on in our area after reading this story. They observed that people used to grow turmeric here, and in our Adivasi villages we grew saru (colocasia) but we don’t see that anymore. They connected this to how cultivation of millets and grains had stopped in Rayagada, and given way to BT Cotton. 

Most of the students’ parents and guardians are farmers, and one of them told me that my student had urged him to use organic compost (made of cow dung and dried leaves) instead of chemical fertilisers. One of the photos, of a farmer standing with a bottle of chemical fertiliser in front of him, was useful to show the excessive use of these fertilisers. The many photos and video also played an important role in helping me tell this story to my students. 

– Balabhadra Mahapatra, 22, Pipilia village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

I teach students, in Class 3 to 6, who are from the Bathudi and Dhoba Adivasi communities. Everyday my students go home and discuss what is taught with their families. They did the same with this story, and returned with questions about the differences in the chemical composition of organic compost and chemical fertilisers. They wanted to know what is in chemical fertilisers that destroys the soil and quality of the crop. My students realised how serious this issue is and were interested in knowing more.

– Rashmi Prava Patra, 22, Dhenkikote village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

Deshbandhu’s students Rupali Patra and Hemanginin Patra of Class 6 created a poster about this story. Photo by Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta

I teach students in Parsurampur village in Kendujhar district.

While chemical fertilisers are seen as a product of science’s progress, students learned why it is important to think about what we add to the soil and its impact. This story taught them history and geography as well as touched on other topics. 

In the story we could compare the system of cultivation and harvesting of the past to that of the present. This gave my students an idea of some of the history of their region and how it is changing. Students also learned about the quality of the soil and other aspects of geography in Odisha. I emjoyed teaching this story because it brought out the connection between these subjects. 

Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta, 25, Parsurampur village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

Most of my 58 students are from the Bathudi community and study in Balabhadrapur UG High School. After hearing this story, the students were curious about how cultivation took place in the past. They spoke to their parents and grandparents to find out how their great grandparents used to harvest crops twice on the same plot of land, preserve seeds and use some of these seeds for the next yield. However, once hybrid seeds were used, although the yield was good, the quality of soil was not what it used to be. Their grandparents explained this to them by saying the quality and the taste of food now is not the same as it was in their time. 

My students learned that when people use chemical fertilisers, microorganisms in the soil die and the quality of the soil deteriorates.

Ramu Naik, 24, Balabhadrapur village, Ghatgaon block, Kendujhar

Earlier students knew about climate change but they didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Ever since they read this story, they have realised that climate change happens not only in other countries, but in our own lives also.

I teach 35 students from the Munda and Ho Adivasi tribes in Classes 5 to 7. In our area people sell mahua flowers. It is the women who collect these flowers. The skin on their hands and fingers peel off collecting mahua due to the dry leaves under the trees. So they burn those leaves. Students say that this is dangerous for our environment as it can lead to forest fires and a loss of biodiversity. Since they learned about biodiversity and climate change, they are trying to avoid burning the leaves and have been trying to come up with alternative ways for the women who collect mahua flowers. 

– Rajmuni Singh, 26, Soyamba village, Koira block, Sundargarh

Rajmuni Singh’s students made this poster inspired by the story. Photo by Rajmuni Singh

People in Kamarposh village mostly work in the nearby mines. I teach 56 children from the Munda and Bhuyan Adivasi communities studying in Class 6 to 9. Their parents left farming to take up mining and earn a more stable income. 

When we read this story together, my students told their parents about the deteriorating soil quality. My students were motivated to begin growing food for their daily sustenance, and now parents are inspired to continue this practice too. 

A few months ago, a man from a neighboring village had set the forest on fire. Since our students were aware of the impact of forest fires on biodiversity, they tried to act fast and extinguish it with the help of other villagers. They spoke to their parents about the insects and animals who usually find shelter and food in trees and plants, and are likely to be harmed in these fires. 

– Seema Sahu, 25, Kamarposh village, Koira block, Sundargarh

This story has initiated change in students’ minds. Since a lot has changed in farming, they have realised that we can’t use only traditional practices but we should try to retain healthy ones and find ways to curb the spread of diseases. 

I teach 36 students in classes 5 to 8 at Malda village. They are from the Munda and Ghasi Adivasi communities. After reading this story I have seen students starting to grow vegetables in their gardens. They shared their experiences of cultivating small vegetables such as brinjal, tomato and chillies. My students’ ideas and actions have inspired their parents to become more aware about climate change as well.

– Punam Behera, 23, Kalmong village, Koira block, Sundargarh

If we don’t understand why our climate is changing then we can’t recognise the serious dangers that await us in future. 

I teach 32 students in classes 6 to 8 in Jamudihi. My students are from Munda and Mundari communities. I liked teaching this story because knowing the reasons for climate change is important and I felt the need to share it with everyone. 

– Sunita Munda, 23, Jamudihi village, Koira block, Sundargarh

This initiative by non-governmental organisation ASPIRE and Tata Steel Foundation is to bring stories of climate change’s impact on rural India into the classroom.

The PARI Education team would like to thank student interns Eesha Acharya, Siddhita Sonavane and Rohan Chopra for their enthusiasm and support in putting together this blog. 

About the teacher

Balabhadra Mahapatra, Rashmi Prava Patra, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Mahanta, Ramu Naik, Rajmuni Singh, Seema Sahu, Punam Behera and Sunita Munda taught  the PARI story, 'Sowing the seeds of climate crisis in Odisha’ with their students from Classes 5 to 9.

PARI Education has reached over 180 organisations across India.

Would you like to be involved?

Get in touch