Most people have the lost the taste for traditional varieties of food. We want the uniform, easy-to-cook, modern varieties of rice. Many South Indians are not aware that there are different kinds of wheat. When it comes to vegetables, we do not look for the local and seasonal varieties. But there are people who are working to conserve our seed heritage and keep it alive for future generations. And the Covai Seed Festival 2018, at Ksirs School, Saravanampatti, will offer a bird’s eye view of the richness of traditional foods and seeds. Here’s a look at the people and networks who will be present.
Bharat Beej Swaraj Manch (BBSM)
The BBSM, which began in Delhi in 2014, strongly asserts “the rights of farmers to freely plant, use, reproduce, select, improve, adapt, save, share, exchange or sell our heritage seeds, without restriction or hindrance, as we have done for past millennia.” This is the cornerstone of seed conservation.
BBSM, which is now spread over 20 states, is led by Krishna Prasad. “Seeds belong to the farmers and seed sovereignty is an integral part of food sovereignty,” he says, adding that each individual needs to take responsibility for saving seeds. “We should not cede control of seeds to corporations but should be able to freely grow exchange and multiply them.”
Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
Kavitha Kuruganti, one of the founders and the current convener of ASHA, recalls the birth of the movement. “We set off on a Kisan Swaraj Yatra on Gandhi Jayanti 2010, starting from Sabarmati Ashram to reach out to farmers in the country. We travelled 20,000 km through 20 states before we reached Rajghat on December 10. We wanted to let farmers know that adopting the path of sovereign ecological agriculture was a solution to multiple problems they were dealing with and we believe that it addresses several root causes of the agrarian distress today. From this yatra was born ASHA.”
ASHA focuses on four aspects related to our food and farming — income security for all farm households; environmental sustainability in agriculture; resource rights over land, seed, water, forests and other commons to be vested in farming communities; and safe, nutritious and diverse foods for all citizens.
Save Our Rice Campaign (SOR)
Begun in 2006, this is among the oldest campaign across the three southern rice-growing states. Today it has helped conserve more than 800 varieties of paddy seeds. Many local networks and farmer groups have taken up paddy seed conservation and increased the number of traditional varieties that are not only being conserved in-situ but also being introduced into the food chain. SOR runs a Nel Thiruvizha in Tamil Nadu in May every year and in November, the famous rice diversity block maintained in Wayanad has become a destination for rice and seed lovers.
The festival is not restricted to food. Poison-free or pollution-free clothing will also be showcased. Ananthasayanan, who coordinates the Safe Food Alliance, has also founded the organic cotton initiative Tula. “The fact that more than 70% of farm suicides happen in cotton belt and a huge amount of pesticides used in India is for cotton are two important factors (cotton is grown in 5% of the agricultural land but 55% of the pesticides sold in India is used on cotton) for us to look at organic cotton and pollution-free clothing. In addition, the high pollution especially in dyeing combined with the loss of livelihoods of hand spinners and handloom weavers led us to create these fabrics.”
Tribal health Initiative (THI)
The founders of THI, which is in Sittilingi Valley are Dr Regi George and Dr Lalitha. They found that going back to traditional foods in tribal areas made a great difference to the malnutrition status of the tribals. “Not only was it cost effective but also they did not have to resort to fancy and costly formulations available in the market. People could actually grow and use it in their diet. In an urban milieu, stopping packaged food and shifting to traditional foods like millets will provide a balanced diet as well as prevent ingestion of harmful additives.” Dr George believes that the magic wand to solve the country’s nutrition problems and water usage is to grow and eat millets. “Unfortunately our nutrition and agriculture ‘experts’ do not want to see it. It is too simple a solution, they say. But often the most profound truths are the most simplest.”
The festival will have stalls on food without cooking, traditional toys and games, books on food, farming and nature, vegetable seeds for kitchen gardens, mentors to help you restart your kitchen gardens and organic retailers. Join the network and become a seed saver.
Covai Seed Festival 2018
When: July 21 & 22; 10.00 am to 7.00 pm
Where: Ksirs School, Chinnavedampatti Road
What: Open to all. No entry fee. Bring your own cloth bags and water bottles. No PET bottles allowed. Water will be available in cans and taps for refills. Plastic carry bags will not be available.
Call: 9994447252 or 9698373592 for details
Listen to them
Karthikeya Sivasenapathy, of the Senapathy Kangayam Cattle Research Foundation, will talk about indigenous cattle breeds
Kavitha Kuruganti and Sridhar Radhakrishnan will touch upon traditional seeds and politics of seeds
Arachalur Selvam will offer a perspective on the journey of being local and global
Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty is a Consultant to the Save Our Rice Campaign and the Co-Founder of Bio Basics, a social venture retailing organic food