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Community Seed Bank Campaign transforms lives in Hills

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Imparting of agricultural education to school students with a focus on traditional farming.

By Avdhesh Sharma

Seeds are fundamental to the reproduction of crops that help meet our day-to-day food needs. Seed scarcity can drastically reduce the variety of crops available for consumption and impacts local food self-sufficiency. The villages of Uttarakhand have suffered from the loss or scarcity of seeds with several known seeds earlier planted in such villages lost to time. The impact has been the reduction in the variety of crops and vegetables available to the people of these regions. Trade has traditionally been restricted in these areas due to terrain which discourages the import of such crops. In such a situation, saving seeds was an immediate necessity. The problem required even more immediate attention due to the growing dependence on cash crops and green revolution-based commercial seeds which were for commercial purposes without fulfilling local consumption needs.

The seeds available at the seed bank are displayed to those
coming for exposure as part of the outreach program

The chemicals required for the cultivation of such seeds, the impact on health due to consumption along with the irrigational needs of commercial seeds makes them environmentally unviable for the hilly regions of Uttarakhand. Seed saving is a process in which growers collect and replant open-pollinated seeds. Between 1994 and 2003, I took intensive action towards seed conservation and creating seed banks which helped communities diversify their crops and plant the crops which they had lost with time. The initiative works on inter-village interactions where seeds available in other villages are collected and distributed to the villages where there is an absence (seed swapping). A seed bank has been created which includes information on who has the seeds so that other villagers can take the seed from them and plant the crops. The inter-village interaction over the span of nine years helps in the creation of seed banks which is available to the villagers. The seed bank consists of 81 varieties of crops and vegetables including Jwar, Makka, luminous seeds, Tor, Khira, etc.

Bottle gourd cultivated by traditional farming
methods from the seed restored

The aim of the initiative was twofold – it helps in the conservation of seeds that were lost in the parts of the region and it restores and promotes traditional methods of farming for 12 varieties of seeds essential to their life. The seed bank was also a response to the harmful effects of the green revolution which includes the extensive use of fertiliser and other chemical inputs. The seeds were those used by the villagers to organically cultivate crops. The distribution of seeds through a network of seed banks helps restore organic and traditional farming practices for various crops in the hilly regions of Uttarakhand. This comes with additional environmental benefits as the crops that were restored acted as fodder and had other uses for the communities. The seeds restored do not require chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Alongside this, the distribution of seeds to the villagers led to the establishment of kitchen gardens which help in meeting the nutritional needs of the family. The effort continued post-2003 in the form of school awareness and giving insights into the functioning of this initiative to the people of other states. Cuts International came for an exposure visit as part of the awareness and outreach initiative, which they further implemented in Jaipur with the support of the Rajasthan government. Agriculture was made a mandatory subject in RLEK-run schools whereby students from class 5 onwards are provided education from seed plantation to crop harvesting where I am the school coordinator. The schools also act as seed banks with students taught about the benefits of the seeds. By making agriculture part of student education, the campaign imparts them with skills that are useful in gaining employment in the region in the present times of unemployment. Cultivation acts as a source of income for the villagers allowing them alternatives to migration in the plains and service sector employment.

Turmeric andPumpkin that are grown in the kitchen garden for personal consumption of the family from the seeds conserved during the campaign.

At present, the save seed campaign has resulted in greater accessibility of traditional and local seeds to the villagers. Focus on organic and traditional farming has resulted in greater nutritional outputs for the villagers. The villages have become more self-sufficient in their cropping pattern which is evident from the fact that such areas do not have beggars and extremely poor individuals. The traditional approach to plantation has resulted in environmental and soil sustainability. The initiative also resulted in the conservation of bees and other insects by minimal use of pesticides and chemicals. The initiative draws its inspiration from similar actions carried out in the Tehri regions by individuals like Vijay Jardhari and Kumar Prasun. His ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ offers useful insights which have been adopted with modifications in the present initiative to conserve seeds in Chakrata, Jaunpur village in Tehri, and Mori village in Uttarkashi district. His advocacy for returning to traditional seeds, crops and practices resonates in this campaign where the beneficial role of traditional seeds and practices is recognised and conserved through awareness and the establishment of seed banks. Awareness campaigns have been carried out once the seed bank is established to allow villagers to understand the importance of these seeds and the benefits of the traditional farming approach. This includes slogans and rallies along with interactions in villages and schools.

Slogans raised during the
campaign for the
conservation of traditional
and local seeds and
imparting awareness about
their benefits.

With 81 ancient and local seeds restored and sufficient awareness raised, the community seed bank campaign is a successful step towards rural empowerment in regions of Uttarakhand. As the campaign continues the focus is retained on the conservation and distribution of seeds. Additionally, by roping in farmers engaged in traditional cultivation the campaign aims to pass the knowledge to the next generations and galvanise support for traditional farming in the hill regions.

(Avdhesh Sharma is an Activist, Himalayan Tribes Uttarakhand)

Figure 1: Imparting of agricultural education to school students with a focus on traditional farming

Figure 2: bottle gourd cultivated by traditional farming methods from the seed restored

Figure 3: crops (Dhan)are grown without the use of chemicals using traditional farming with the seeds restored

Figure 4: turmeric andPumpkin that are grown in the kitchen garden for personal consumption of the family from the seeds conserved during the campaign.

Figure 5: Slogans raised during the campaign for the conservation of traditional and local seeds and imparting awareness about their benefits.

Figure 6: Providing exposure about the campaign and its functioning to people from other states as part of the outreach

Figure 7: School students are given a tour of the areas impacted by the campaign to impart education on traditional methods of farming and the implementation

Figure 8: Small children engaging in plantation after the awareness campaign carried out in the village.

Figure 9: Awareness about Barahaanaj or twelve crops being raised through posters which are sources of nutrition that can be grown together on the same farm. These crops are environment-friendly and do not require chemicals for their cultivation. These seeds are available in the seed bank.

Figure 10: The seeds available at the seed bank are displayed to those coming for exposure as part of the outreach program

Figure 11: The individuals from Cuts international given exposure to the seed conservation practices and how the school act as a seed bank in the Jaunpur area of Uttarakhand

Figure 12: Local crops (Red Araranthus) planted in one of the regions. The seed is available in the seed bank for individuals to plant.