Though indigenous rice varieties are still preserved by a few farmers they are getting depleted at an alarming rate. It is becoming increasingly clear that to maintain biodiversity in farmers' fields an alternative system of seed supply has to be created. Although farmers greatly feel the need to regrow some of the traditional varieties they have lost, one has to be able to provide them with sufficient quantities of local seed varieties in order to fulfill this need. The community has to be convinced or has to feel the need to bring back lost biodiversity and any effort should be aimed at the community level. Several groups across the country are trying to preserve these varieties through on farm conservation.
CIKS has been involved in setting up farmer's seed banks in villages in different parts of Tamilnadu. More than 130 varieties of paddy and 50 vegetable varieties are being conserved in farmers fields and experimental farms. This work is currently spread in four districts covering 125 villages with a network of 3,000 farmers.
THE COMMUNITY SEED BANK PROJECT
Our community seed bank project is aimed at identifying important traditional seed varieties and orienting the agricultural community towards conserving and cultivating them. Currently, we are focusing on indigenous paddy and vegetable varieties. Our main aim is to enhance the livelihood security of small and marginal farmers through conservation of indigenous genetic resources and empower them with organic farming technologies.
- Setting up farmer's community seed banks for seed exchange, distribution and utilization.
- Setting up an in-situ conservation centre for the preservation of these varieties.
List of traditional paddy varieties conserved by CIKS.
- Evaluation, characterisation and multiplication of these varieties involving the community, namely the farmers.
- Survey, collection and documentation of Indigenous grain varieties in the study area.
- Encouraging farmers to grow these indigenous varieties organically.
- Creation of awareness in the community.
- Setting up organic farmers sangams in villages to maintain and run the community seed banks and drive the seed conservation effort.
- Marketing support through our Arogyam scheme.
As an outcome, it is hoped that the community seed bank would serve as a means of conserving traditional varieties and which eventually will be managed by the farming community itself, and that the in-situ conservation centre would serve as a model from which other farming communities can learn.
HOW COMMUNITY SEED BANKS WORK
The CIKS model for the maintenance and sustainability of the seed conservation effort involves the setting up of farmers sangams in every village. So far 37 organic farmers sangams have been established. These sangams have members who come together for a common cause of organic farming and indigenous seed conservation. The sangam members pay a monthly subscription which is maintained in a bank account. Elected office bearers take care of and give directions to the working of the sangams. The sangams maintain the village community seed bank. Storage structures for the seed bank are initially provided through the programmes with a beneficiary contribution and later it is maintained by the sangam. The borrowing and returning is controlled by the sangam. Sangams may also be provided with certain agricultural implements like sprayers, tarpaulin sheets for drying grains and so on which is hired out for a nominal rate. Some sangams also run biopesticide units as an income generating activity. The basic know how and the infrastructure is provided by the Centre.
A network of farmers are organized for exchange of seeds and exchange of information. Participants of the farmers seed bank then put aside a part of their land towards conservation of indigenous grain varieties. They are then provided with the initial supply of seeds, which are procured from the farmers who are already cultivating them in the local area and surrounding areas.
Farmers who are interested in cultivating these varieties are given the technical know-how of manuring their field organically, treating pests by natural control methods etc. At the end of the season the farmer then returns twice the quantity of seeds that he had taken from the seed bank. These seeds are the given to other farmers in the next season and this has a multiplying effect. The seed bank is organized in such a fashion that the collection made creates a revolving fund and the community takes over the management of it in due course of time.
Setting up of in situ conservation centres :
Plots are chosen in study areas where indigenous varieties are multiplied in-situ.This is done in addition to multiplying grain varieties in the farmer's fields. This in-situ centre also serves as a demonstration plot. It also enables us to multiply varieties which are rare and those varieties where the quantity of seeds are less.
Creation of awareness in the community :
An important component of this programme is the creation of awareness in the community about the diversity of traditional varieties and their importance. Such awareness is required not only among farmers but also among the youth, students and teachers of schools, women etc. To achieve this, the following efforts are being made:
Organising illustrated talks and competitions in schools. Students in rural areas are asked to provide and collect information regarding indigenous varieties grown in the area, the farmers who grow them, the characteristics of the varieties etc. They are also asked to collect samples (seeds, ear heads) of these varieties. Students are then asked to make presentations of their work along with displays and incentives and prizes are provided for the best entries. These competitions serve a two fold purpose - by creating an awareness among the student community regarding biodiversity conservation and it also provides leads to farmers who are cultivating indigenous varieties.
- Distribution of educational material and pamphlets through various schools and voluntary agencies in the locality.
- Charts, posters and educational material as well as displays of traditional varieties are arranged in stalls during village fairs and festivals.
Conservation of Indigenous Vegetable Varieties by Rural Women in Kitchen Gardens
Under this programme, more than 800 women farmers have established home gardens. In these home gardens they grow a combination of both vegetables and herbs. They produce vegetables worth Rs.300/- per month. They are also provided training on the use of these herbs for self help. Field workers continuously monitor their fields and provide technical support. Currently, 63 varieties of 10 different types of vegetables like Brinjal, Pumpkin, Ladies finger, Snake gourd, Bitter gourd etc. are conserved under this programme.