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Tribal women preserving indigenous seed varieties

The concept of the green revolution drastically shifted the focus of Indian agriculture away from biodiversity to high-yielding crops. This resulted in the reduction in the genetic base of traditional seed varieties that are now on the verge of extinction.

Their extinction is badly affecting the farmers and consumers, as these varieties are inherently compatible with local farming conditions, economically practical, and environmentally more sustainable than the high-yielding varieties that are being used today. Besides, traditional seed varieties are pest resistant so a limited use of chemical pesticides is required. While many farmers are dependent on the seeds being given by the government or private firms, there are small and marginal farmers who have been preserving the traditional seeds, and knowing or unknowingly they have kept the indigenous seeds alive. One such women group called ‘Saksham Samuh’ of Sangela village, Garhi Tehsil, Banswara district in Rajasthan has been preserving traditional seeds. One of the group members Kanti Devi says,

“What do men know, we women have been preserving seeds, we have taken it up as our responsibility. Preserving seeds have been a part of our culture and tradition from time immemorial and we are just taking it forward.” She notes that women know very well, where and in what quantity seed has to be preserved. What started as a tradition and culture has now been taken up by these women as a mission in form of ‘Beej Swaraj’; Indigenous seed sovereignty. Through group discussion and training by Banswara-based Ngo Vaagdhara, these women have very well understood the link between crop diversity and climate resistance varieties. Kukundevi, a member of Saksham Samuh says, “Apart from paddy and maize, we cultivate leafy vegetables and other vegetables like okra, flat beans, tomato, brinjal, chili, pumpkin, and turmeric in our courtyard. We also have cilantro, papaya, and mango trees, which meet our domestic needs.” She noted people residing in the tribal belt of Rajasthan mostly practice rain-fed cultivation of paddy, maize, tur and other pulses, moong, and wheat. But, we women aren’t confined to these only, rather preserve seeds and prefer doing a variety of cultivation to meet the family need. Sharing the process of preserving seeds, she said, for us, preserving seeds has been a part of childhood; we were said by our mother about this. “We decide on the seed according to the weight and quality and keep it separately.

Later fill it in a sack and seal it well and keep it in the granary for the upcoming season. And for vegetable seed, we allow the vegetables to ripen and later let them dry and separate the seeds and keep in store.” Talking about the Covid crisis and how big farmers faced the problem of seed procurement as travel restriction was in place, at that time these women farmers said they had surplus seeds and in fact had enough to share with others too. “Following the tradition and preserving seeds helped us at the time of crisis, we are thankful to our ancestors for having taught us this practice of saving seeds.” So, it is important that whether small marginal or big farmers, all must follow seed saving techniques and from time to time have seed swopping events. This will not only fulfill the need for climate resilience seeds but also make farmers resilient in the future if a Covid-like situation arises.

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