Restoring the link between crop diversity and climate resilience, tribal women in southern Rajasthan’s Banswara district have utilised traditional wisdom to preserve indigenous seed varieties, which are on the verge of extinction. The initiative has immensely helped small and marginal farmers in the region.
A women’s group, which has named itself “Saksham Samooh”, has taken up the preservation of seeds as a mission in the form of Beej Swaraj or seed sovereignty, helping out the tribal communities with training and guidance. The group is supplying seeds to the farmers regularly for cultivation of crops and vegetables.
The indigenous seed varieties are inherently compatible with the local farming conditions and are economically practical and environmentally more sustainable than the high-yielding varieties being used in agricultural fields. Besides, these seeds are pest-resistant and require a very limited use of chemical pesticides.
Saksham Samooh, based in Sangela village in Banswara district’s Garhi tehsil, has utilised traditional techniques for filling the seeds in sacks, sealing them and keeping them in the granary for the next crop season. “We decide on seeds during the harvesting of crops and keep them separately based on their weight and quality,” Kunkun Devi, a member of the group, told The Hindu.
To get vegetable seeds, women allow the vegetables to ripen and later let them dry, separate the seeds and keep them in a store. While several farmers are dependent on the government agencies or private firms for getting seeds, the women’s initiative had provided them with an alternative, with which they are keeping the indigenous seeds alive.
Kanti Devi, another group member, said the women in the tribal-dominated region had been preserving seeds as a family tradition and tribal culture. “We have taken forward this tradition by giving it an institutional shape,” she said, while affirming that the women had learnt the techniques to identify the quality and quantity of seeds to be preserved in their families.
Farmers in the tribal belt mostly practise rain-fed cultivation of paddy, maize, pulses, moong and wheat. Additionally, the female members of tribal households grow a variety of vegetables in their kitchen gardens to meet the family needs. In this process, preservation of indigenous seeds has become a part of upbringing of children.
Banswara-based Vaagdhara, which works on tribal livelihood issues, has generated awareness among the tribal communities about the significance of indigenous seeds. Vaagdhara secretary Jayesh Joshi said the concept of green revolution had drastically shifted the focus of agriculture away from biodiversity to high-yielding crops.
“This has resulted in the reduction of genetic base of traditional seed varieties that are now on the verge of extinction,” Mr. Joshi said. The Beej Swaraj philosophy, based on agricultural management with indigenous resources, would succeed in maintaining an appropriate health status for the tribal population, he said.
Significantly, the women farmers had surplus seeds, enough to share with others, during the pandemic, when big agriculturists were facing the problem of seed procurement because of travel restrictions. While adopting the seed-saving techniques, tribal women have also been holding seed swapping events to fulfil the need for climate-resilient seeds and make the farmers ready to face an emergency situation.