Farmer’s Notebook: Group Farming Project in Tamil Nadu Aims to Preserve Native Seeds

South India's first 'Seeds for Needs' project will help farmers grow lost varieties of seeds and distribute them to other farmers.

Kanchipuram district: Bioversity International – an international agricultural research organisation – recently launched a project on preserving traditional seeds, and creating seed banks and communities along with Green Cause Foundation in Tamil Nadu’s Morapakkam village located in Madurantakam Taluk in Kanchipuram district.

The ‘Seeds for Needs’ project was first initiated in Madhya Pradesh and the second phase has been launched in Morapakkam village, said N.K. Krishna Kumar, the country representative of Bioversity International.

The programme for the launch was inaugurated by K. Ramasamy, vice chancellor of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, who emphasised that women empowerment was essential for any agricultural project or initiative to succeed. Without the participation of women, the likelihood of farm work succeeding is low, he said.

Kumar further mentioned that about 268 million tonnes of food grains are being produced in a year at present, and of this, about 45 million tonnes are being stored in godowns. He urged farmers to come together and practice organic farming and form seed banks – which can become a treasure trove for native seeds. There is an urgent need in the country’s agricultural arena to document several thousand native seeds.

Kumar said that “through sustainable and organic methods farmers can cope and handle climate change by judiciously switching to climate resilient methods,” but in the last few decades, millions of hectares of fertile soil has been degraded using vast quantities of chemicals. He also explained the case study of Punjab where a train called “cancer express” takes farmers afflicted with cancer to Mumbai for treatment. “All these are only warning signs for us to take precaution and use only natural inputs for our fields,” he said.

It is vital for farmers to know that the soil should be healthy and living, which means that hundreds of insects and earthworms should be living inside the soil.

Farmer's Notebook.

“When we look back to the last 50 years, we can see that in the name of progress vast tracts of fertile lands have been converted into concrete landscapes. In the next say 40 years just think how much damage we would do to the remaining ecosystem. Lakhs of trees have been and are being felled down, hundreds of native seeds and crop varieties have been lost and there is no database for many of them. It is time try our best to revive, protect and nurture those lost seeds in whatever way possible. It need not be on any specific seed or tree. Bioversity International is now actively involved in trying to help farmers to try to grow those lost varieties and also encourage them to grow and preserve them and distribute them to other farmers. It is sort of a community seed bank approach,” Kumar explained.

Green Cause foundation has been working for the last three years in an organised manner to bring farmers collectively into group farming and also engage them in different schemes provided by the government.

According to the programme coordinator of the foundation, in several places, farmers are not even aware of the different schemes available to them. Even now, amid a looming drought in the state, there are still many farmers who are not aware that the agriculture department is offering full subsidy for irrigation schemes which they can benefit from.

Nearly 100 farmers attended the inauguration and many of them said that the foundation and Bioversity International should also assist them in marketing apart from helping in growing traditional crops. At present, the government mandis are not aware of the value or cost of this traditional produce.

Farmers present at the launch of the project. Credit: M.J. Prabhu

Farmers present at the launch of the project. Credit: M.J. Prabu

Nel Jayaraman, a leading seed conservator and organic farmer who participated in the inauguration, assured the farmers that the next level of the project will address marketing the produce provided all of them give an assurance that they will grow the crops only using organic inputs.

According to him, in Tamil Nadu alone hundreds of native rice seeds have been revived by his team and numerous farmers are doing their bit in protecting these traditional seeds by growing them. Every year we distribute two kilograms of several varieties of native rice seeds to farmers with an assurance that they give back four kilograms of the same seed. In this way, our seed bank is always full and ready to be distributed to interested farmers.

“Protecting, reviving and preserving several native seeds cannot be done by a few farmers in say 20 to 50 acres. We need a battalion of farmers to carry forward this task and we have been doing it successfully for the last several years,” he said.

Bioversity International is providing technical for the project to the Green Cause Foundation. The foundation is at present working for the cause of small growers and its presence is being felt in and around seven villages among few thousand farmers in the region.

For more details, contact N.K. Krishna Kumar at 08447284636 or k.kumar@cgiar.org.