a magazine on ecological agriculture
a one stop treasure of practical field experiences

Village level gene seed grain bank

An initiative to promote sustainable food and nutrition security

Village gene seed grain banks are one of the important methods used to provide seed, food and nutrition security and conserve agro biodiversity. Such decentralized system where villagers themselves plan, manage and undertake all stages of food production, storage, distribution and management are more sustainable in providing food security at local level.

Transactions at the seed-grain bank
Transactions at the seed-grain bank

Agriculture is the main stay of the people living in Koraput district in Orissa. The region is endowed with impressive biodiversity. The agro biodiversity recorded in this region includes 340 landraces of paddy, 8 species of minor millets, 9 species of pulses, 5 species of oil seeds, 3 species of fibrous plant and 7 species of vegetables.

Traditionally, rice was being grown on upland, medium land, lowland, crops like finger millet (Eleucine coracana), little millet (Panicum miliaceum), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), Niger (Guizotia abyssinica), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) and horse gram (Dolichos uniflorus) were cultivated in donger (land on hill slopes) and upland only. With the advent of Green Revolution, the state government promoted high yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice, also supplying seeds and inputs at subsidized rates with guaranteed buy back of the harvested paddy. Similarly establishment of paper mills, cashew processing company and their support to farmers triggered plantation of cash crops like, cashew and eucalyptus in donger and upland areas. As a result, farmers discontinued growing local land races of millets and pulses leading to their loss. From around 1750 landraces of paddy and more than 30 varieties of finger millet in the 1950s, the district was left with only around 340 varieties of paddy and 10 varieties of finger millets.

To address the issue of food security and conservation of local land races, M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) started working with the people in this region. Initially four villages were selected and farmers were shown how these traditional varieties could be grown in a better way. Processes like Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB), Participatory Varietal purification and selection (PVS) were used integrating practices like integrated pest management and integrated nutrient management to optimize productivity.

Farmers were trained on modified methods of cultivation in their fields from the stage of nursery raising to seed selection and purification. The results of participatory experiments were encouraging. Not only were yields increased but farmer preferred landraces were also conserved. One of the lowland variety through the PPB and PVS was Kalajeera. It had a black husk, high aroma and capacity to add taste to many items of food like biriyani in addition to its amenable properties for value addition like puffed rice and beaten rice. Now 150 farmers cultivated this landrace on a large scale. The extension of cultivation method of PPB and conservation of more landraces in tribal area, a number of farmer association were facilitated.

Village gene seed grain bank (VGSGB)

Farmers set up a village level seed, grain and gene bank to store, conserve and use the local land races as and when needed.

The gene bank restored the available traditional landraces of crops. While few varieties were available in villages, some were procured and multiplied from the community gene bank situated at MSSRF, Chennai. All varieties are grown by village gene seed grain bank committee on a community land. Besides, each farmer also grows his desired traditional variety along with one or two more varieties on his land for conservation. While the farmer preferred variety is cultivated on a large scale for his household and marketing purpose, the other varieties are grown on a small patch which will be returned to the gene bank for conservation and further use. In this way, the viability of every variety is protected.

The seed bank is promoted for conservation and large scale cultivation of traditional landraces among farmers. Each farmer contributes 5kg of seeds of paddy, 500 gm of finger millet, green gram and niger either from high yielding or traditional variety. The seeds of agriculture crops are stored according to a) farmer preferences for taste, size & crop duration and b) purposes like fodder, suitability based on land type. For example, cultivation of Sapuri traditional rice variety is preferred for its straw and grain, while cultivation of Janhamandia a traditional finger millet variety is preferred for its shorter duration. Now there are 10 varieties of paddy, 3 varieties of finger millets, and 2 varieties of little millets niger, black gram and green gram found in the seed bank.

Grain bank is intended to overcome periods of food scarcity. Earlier during the lean period (August to November), farmers generally took grain on loan from the landlords and returned with an interest of 100%. Grain banks were set up to check this exploitation. Each household contributes 10 kg of paddy, 1 kg of finger millet. MSSRF supplemented by providing horse gram and pigeon pea for nutritional security. The villagers now take loan  from the grain bank and repay it after availing from public distribution system.

Managing VGSGB

The VGSG bank is managed by a committee represented by members of the village. The members represent different sections of the society. Around 50% of the members of the executive body are women. The committee is responsible for the collection, distribution, use of surplus grain and fixing of interest rate for food grain and seed. Regular meetings are being held between management committee and villagers to discuss issues related to function of VGSG bank. MSSRF has been building the capacities of the committee members on the management aspects as well as organic cultivation methods.

Grain transaction goes on through out the year but seed transactions are made only once a year. A household cannot take loan from grain or seed bank as much he/she wants. The distribution depends upon the size of family, land holding and capacity to repay. Interest rate of seed varies 25-50% per year from village to village. Sometimes surplus seeds are transferred to the grain bank or sold (if the quality is not adequate for seed purpose). The money thus earned is deposited in the village developmental committee account.

Panchabati Gramya Unnayan Samiti (PGUS)

To institutionalize the initiative, a farmers federation, Panchabati Gramya Unnayan Samiti (PGUS) was formed which represented 16 village level committees. The total number of general body members is 100 of which 48 are women. Each village pays Rs.25 as a monthly fee. The institution has been instrumental in sustaining the initiative started by MSSRF.

PGUS is providing training to people and community institutions  like village gene seed bank committee and Self Help Groups onconservation of traditional varieties and its sustainable use. The VGSG bank committee and PGUS provide traditional paddy and vegetable seeds to the villagers and Women SHGs.

This initiative of PGUS was awarded Equator Initiative Award at the World Summit on sustainable Development held at Johannesburg in August 2002 and Genome Savior Award 2006 and 2011 by the protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Rights (PPV&FR) Authority of the Government of India. The award amounts are maintained in a trust as a fund for community development. Now the PGUS is utilizing interest money from the awards within the 16 villages for community farming like fish, poultry, goat, mushroom cultivation, create awareness on modern technology like SRI cultivation method. The formation of PGUS may be seen as one of the first and finest examples of institutionalization of benefit sharing.

Conclusion

Village gene seed grain banks are one of the important methods used to provide seed, food and nutrition security and conserve agro biodiversity. Such decentralized system where villagers themselves plan, manage and undertake all stages of food production, storage, distribution and management are more sustainable in providing food security at local level.

Acknowledgements

The author is thankful to NAIP, Indian Council of Agriculture Research, New Delhi for the financial support for infrastructure of Village Gene Seed Grain Bank.

Alok Kumar Badoghar
Scientist, Department of Biodiversity,
Biju Patanaik Medicinal Garden Research Centre
M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
Jeypore,Orissa
India
E-mail:alokbadoghar@gmail.com