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Rare rice seeds hidden by ancestor fleeing from slavery have been harvested for generations — now the rice could be key to climate resilience

"After fleeing the plantations, where do you find food to survive?"

"After fleeing the plantations, where do you find food to survive?"

Photo Credit: iStock

In the South American country of Suriname, the Maroon community is growing incredible, rare strains of rice made to flourish in the world's changing weather, The Guardian reported.

The Maroons are descendants of Africans brought to Suriname as slaves by Dutch landowners in the 17th century. Their ancestors escaped from coastal plantations and established hidden communities in the forest.

Albert Aboikoni is the "granman," or highest chief, of the Saamaka, a Maroon subgroup, The Guardian explained. Aboikoni told the outlet the story of Ma Paanza, an ancestor who escaped slavery with rice grains cleverly hidden in her hair.

"After fleeing the plantations, where do you find food to survive?" he asked.

The answer was a strain of rice that is still grown today and is still named after Paanza, who first brought the rice to the secret communities in the jungle.

The Maroon community is home to an incredible number of rice species, The Guardian reported. An agricultural archive called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault includes 183 unique rice samples from Suriname.

That variety is important because it boosts resilience — just like when researchers developed a new disease-resistant rice strain. Maroon farmer Albertina Adjako told The Guardian that some species of rice are "sun-lovers" and others are "water-lovers."

Per the outlet, Surinamese rice expert Nicholaas Pinas explained: "There are varieties that thrive in dry weather, requiring less water than some others. In a year with little rainfall, they naturally produce much more than the varieties that need more water." By cultivating many varieties, he said, "You'd always have something to eat."

That's a growing concern in a world wherein the rising temperature of the planet is causing more extreme weather all the time.

However, floods and storms can still wipe fields away, The Guardian detailed. That's one reason Suriname's state-backed rice research center, SNRI/ADRON, exists. There, Pinas and others have collected and preserved grains from many varieties of rice, a large portion of them from the Saamaka people.

Meanwhile, SNRI/ADRON has distributed rice samples back to farmers after the loss of their crops. The hope is that by growing new crops from those samples, the farmers can both feed themselves and participate in preserving these rare strains of rice for SNRI/ADRON.

"I never knew there were so many rice species," said Adjako, who is one of the farmers experimenting with these strains, per The Guardian. Through their efforts, these rare rice strains will be preserved and promoted — possibly even providing the key to feeding humanity in the future.

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