The quest to collect seeds of native plant varieties has proved to be never ending for C. Yoganathan, a farmer of Thinnakonam village, near Musiri in Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu.
He started collecting the seeds in 2008 with the objective of preserving native breeds of vegetables, fruits, millets and pulses.
After a decade, he is now providing tonnes of seeds to farms and kitchen gardens through Agathiyar Farmers Producer Company, supported by NABARD. This is one of the few companies involved in native seed production in the State.
The company, which has 550 small and micro farmers as members, has seed production as one of its main objectives. It was formed in 2017 as a culmination of a series of seed festivals organised all over Tamil Nadu and in a few other States. “The inspiration to preserve native seed varieties came to me while meeting farmers along with Nammalvar, a green crusader.
“Identification and selection of native breeds took several years,” he says.
About 80 members of the company now produce 93 varieties of seeds of native vegetables, climbers, millets and pulses. They follow prescribed organic practices while raising the chosen crop and all farm inputs are provided by the company. Farmers process the seeds without using any machine.
“We do not treat the seeds as any treatment involves chemicals. Only traditional methods of processing are adopted utilising water and sunlight,” he says.
Seeds processed through traditional methods have a longer life and their yield tastes richer, he claims. The nutrient value is also high in these plants. Processed seeds are not ‘sold’ as commodities but exchanged as wealth. The beneficial outcome of this exercise is preservation of native varieties.
“For example, our focus on Manapparai Brinjal has revived consumer interest all over the State. There is a big demand for this variety in urban areas, especially in Chennai, where the company has over 1,000 households getting seeds for kitchen gardens. We provide the seeds along with other farm inputs like organic manure and pesticides,” he says.
Seeds of paddy varieties are easily available but it is difficult to get those of native vegetables. Seed production, Mr. Yoganathan says, is very beneficial to micro farmers as it is easy to get around ₹30,000 by allocating 10 cents of land for the purpose.
Pamayyan, an organic farming expert, says, “A country’s sovereignty is governed by agriculture. Agriculture’s sovereignty is governed by the seed. The government should encourage micro and small farmers to produce native seed varieties in every village.”
Agathiyar Farmer-Producer Company plans to set up a centralised processing unit for seeds, which could be used by all farmers. At present, seed processing happens in individual farms.