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Seed sovereignty for food security and livelihood improvement

Seed which was a ‘community resource’, carefully bred, conserved and evolved over thousands of years, has transformed into a ‘commercial proprietary resource’. Farmer led conservation and development of improved varieties gives hope for not only nurturing agro biodiversity but also for providing food security and sustainable livelihoods.

 Community level seed production of Proso millet. Photo: BAIF

Community level seed production of Proso millet. Photo: BAIF

Jawahar block in Thane district in Maharashtra is a hilly region. Being a part of the Western Ghats, the region is considered to be a biodiversity “hot spot”. The area is a host to an amazing diversity of rice and other food crops like finger millet, sorghum, pigeon pea and black gram.

With an intention to conserve the diversity of rice and other food crops, BAIF Development Research Foundation along with Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for rural areas (MITTRA) initiated community-led conservation and revival of crop landraces. The initiative focused on building on local knowledge by encouraging farmers to develop productive cultivars through trials and organic farming methods.

Participatory varietal development

Initially, farmers were organised into groups of 5-10 members. These groups of farmers were given exposure on the ways and methods used for conserving varieties. They visited insitu germ plasm centres where a number of landraces of paddy, finger millet, proso millet are planted in different land types. The farmers interacted with each other, saw crop performance and assigned a score based on criteria such as grain and fodder yield, resistance to pests and diseases, tillering, suitability to land, drought tolerance etc.

About 225 farmers, including youth and women farmers were trained in participatory seed and varietal selection. The training programmes helped in educating farmers on maintaining seed purity. Around 360 farmers were trained on various aspects of crop production of finger millet and proso millet, like seed treatment, nursery raising, paddy transplantation by single seedling method, ridges and furrows method.

After series of experiments for characterization and purification, upgraded and elite germ plasm of promising local cultivars were given to selected farmers for seed production. Organic methods of cultivation were followed. During kharif 2013, 26 farmers were involved in seed production of paddy, finger millet and proso millet. Worthy crop landraces based on certain criteria are selected by participatory method and are saved in community seed banks.

Biodiversity conservation and livelihood improvement

Selecting seeds from foxtail millet. Photo: BAIF
Selecting seeds from foxtail millet. Photo: BAIF

Earlier to this initiative, farmers had to depend on the market for seeds. Now they have a range of paddy, finger millet, proso millet landraces which are drought resistant, pest and disease resistant and nutritionally rich.

Paddy landraces like Kolpi (Early), Kasbai, Lalya, Juna Kolam, Rajghudya, Masuri, Dahvul, Banglya have been accepted by farmers for large scale cultivation. In finger millet, landraces like Kalperi, Dhavalperi, Shitoli, Nagali (Late), Dasarbendri and in case of proso millet, Dudhmogra, Ghoshi, and Sakali varai landraces are now quite popular among farmers.

Combined with better crop production practices, farmers have been able to realize improved yields. The grain yield of paddy has increased to 20-25 q/acre from 12-15 q/acre. Similarly, in finger millet, the yields have increased from 10-12q/acre to 17-22q/acre.

Farmers are producing and using quality organic inputs like vermicompost, vermiwash, natural pest repellents which have considerably reduced their costs of production and also dependence on external inputs. The cost of cultivation has reduced – from Rs.12400/ac to Rs.7500/ac in paddy and from Rs.7500/ac to Rs.5300/ac in finger millet cultivation. Use of organic inputs have also enhanced the soil fertility and water holding capacity.

Community level seed production

Sustainability of seed conservation programme requires a mechanism at the community level for seed selection, seed production and exchange and to establish an independent seed security system at the village level. A seed saver committee has been formed to ensure quality seed production, management of seed exchange and establish market linkages.

Seed production and seed selection methods are assured by seed saver committee through Shivar Feri (field visit) wherein they promote suitable methods to participating farmers. Seed saver committee has an authority of monitoring seed plots for quality seed production. Now these seed saver committees are capable of managing insitu conservation centres of paddy, finger millet and proso millet landraces. Presently 3 seed savers committees have been formed covering 11 villages. More than 250 landraces of different crops paddy, finger millet, proso millet, maize and sorghum are being conserved by community seed banks.

Around 724 farmers from 11 villages are directly involved in conservation, seed production and community level seed banking programme. To have wider spread, around 10 youth are trained for dissemination of these technologies in different villages. As “seeing is believing”, field exposure and field days are conducted regularly. Community-level seed exhibition is an important tool for increasing awareness of the farming communities about crop diversity in their area and the need for conservation. Community seed fairs, seed exhibitions and field days have helped reach up to 4200 farmers in different parts of Maharashtra.

Character List of Landraces
Resistant to Drought and short duration Kali Kudai,, Kali Khadsi , Dula-1, Dula-2, Hari bhat Dhaval, Dangi (Red), Dangi (White), Dhaval
Better Yield Kopi(Early), Kasbai, Raghudya, Surti Kolam, Lalya, Javyachi Gundi
Market value Banglya, Kasbai,Chimansal, Surti Kolam, Zini(Wada), Kolpi,Dangi (White), Raghudya, Mahadi
Medicinal value Mahadi (weakness, wound recovery, fracture recovery),Kali khadsi (weakness recovery), Dangi (White) (Used to prepare liquid gruel), Dangi (Red) (increase lactation for nursing mothers), Malghudya (weakness recovery from delivery)
Fodder value Kolpi, Raghudya, Pacheki, Vakvel Dangi (Red and white),Kasbai, Zini (Wada), Banglya, Mahadi
Deep water Kasvel
End use Biryani, pulav, special dishes – Banglya, Kasbai,
Kolpi, Masura, Rajghudya, Surti Kolam,Raghudya
Liquid Gruel (kanji) – Dangi (Red) and
Dangi (White), Mahadi
Papad – Dhundune, Rajghudya, Malghudya.
Beaten rice (poha),puffed rice (kurmura) –
Dula-1,Dual-2,Sagg bhat
Table 1: Paddy landraces conserved for their various characteristics

Nurturing diversity in home gardens

Tribal communities have diverse food resources in their backyards which are rich sources of nutrition and healthy food. The tribal communities have traditionally been establishing a complex backyard garden at each household. They are small plots next to houses of tribal families, which include multiple, multi layered and multipurpose indigenous trees, plants, herbs and shrubs. The home gardens mostly consist of seasonal and nutritious vegetables, medicinal plants grown during monsoon as well as few perennial big trees on borders. The trees and vegetable types are local. The produce of this small plot is sufficient to meet nutrition and food security needs of a family for entire year.

Gaining recognition

The seed saver farmer’s group has been awarded the “Plant genome savior community award 2011-12” by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority (PPV & FRA), Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India. This is a prestigious award for conservation of crop genetic resources. Also two innovative farmers Mr.Mavanji Pawar, Chowk village and Mr. Sunil Kamadi, Kamadipada village, received the “Plant genome savior farmer recognition 2011-12”, for their valuable contribution in conservation of crop genetic resources.

Way ahead

Strengthening farmer’s knowledge on seed production and improved crop production practices has proved to be successful in improving their livelihoods. In future, widening the focus on conserving pulses, vegetables and wild food resources could provide enhanced food and nutritional security to tribal communities.

Developing network of community seed banks will help in further reaching out to larger groups of farmers. Further, the network could facilitate better access to markets through collectivization and value addition. However, this also calls for improved storage facilities at the community level.

Though farming communities are involved in conservation and sustainable use of land races, they require some support to safeguard these resources. Registration of farmer’s varieties under PPV & FR Act becomes important. Also further studies at chemical and molecular level are needed for validation of people’s knowledge about nutritional values and for DNA finger printing and bar coding of crop landraces.

Seeds of hope, Seeds of future

Sunil Kamadi with ‘Ashiwini’ Variety of Paddy. Photo: BAIF
Sunil Kamadi with ‘Ashiwini’ Variety of Paddy. Photo: BAIF

Sri. Sunil Kamadi, is a young farmer aged 35 yrs, from Kamadipada village (Taluka Jawahar District Thane). His family of seven members is cultivating 3 acres of rain fed agriculture land. In the year 2008, he realized that fertility and water holding capacity of the soil is degrading rapidly because of excessive use of chemical fertilizers.

With technical support of BAIF-MITTRA, he learnt the technique of improving soil fertility and use of organic fertilizers. He also received training in production of organic fertilizers and cultivation of paddy with SRI method for higher production.

In the year, 2010, Sunil got involved in BAIF’s ‘Crop Germplasm Conservation Programme’. He conserved about 21 landraces of paddy through insitu conservation of the germ plasm and became an expert in ‘participatory seed selection’ in paddy, finger millet and proso millet.

He also collected local varieties of tubers (karande, kochi, suran), fruit vegetables (bottle gourd, bitter gourd, ash gourd, brinjal, pumpkin), leafy vegetables (cow pea, alu), lablab beans and tondli, which he cultivated for home consumption. Whole family was involved in this work.

Sunil, while inspecting his paddy crop, observed an unusual panicle of paddy in the field. The panicle had more number of grains and the grain size was bigger. He removed the panicle carefully and then planted seeds from this panicle in four successive seasons i.e. summer 2010, kharif 2011, summer 2012, kharif 2013. After three years of successive purification and up gradation under the guidance of BAIF experts, he was successful in developing new selection having specific characters.

Farmers in the area have favored this variety because of grain yield, short slender grains, non lodging nature and resistance to pests and diseases. In the kharif season of the year 2012, Sunil produced five quintal seeds of this paddy selection variety and supplied it to the seed bank for distribution, so that it reaches many farmers.

Sunil is an active member of biyanee savardhan samiti, Dengachimeth (Seed savers farmer’s group). The efforts of Sunil in developing the variety through selection method has been appreciated and conferred ‘Plant Genome Savior Farmer Recognition Award’ for the year 2011-12, at New Delhi. Sunil has named the paddy variety as ‘Ashwini’ after his daughter. Sunil is helping fellow farmers in conserving crop diversity in the area.

Sanjay M Patil

Mr. Sanjay M Patil works with BAIF Development Research Foundation, Dr. Manibhai Desai Nagar, N.H. 4, Warje, Pune- 411058, Maharashtra.
E-mail: sanjaypatil21@gmail.com