Farmers from 17 States have arrived here with 2300 seed varieties they have conserved through generations to put them on display at the National Seeds Festival that opened here on Saturday.
The seeds of various crops, vegetables, fruits, tubers, and millets developed by the farmers proclaim the unique biodiversity of the country and back their demand to be treated on a par with agriculture researchers for minimum income security.
The farmers announced the formation of a National Seed Savers Forum to strengthen conservation and breeding. They plan to impress upon the government the need to promote diversity conservation and prevent bio-piracy and corporate monopolisation.
At the Adchini exhibition ground, farmers from West Bengal and Assam came with the ‘Komol’ variety of rice that requires no boiling. Debel Deb from Odisha, credited with conserving 920 varieties of paddy, showcased his nutritious paddy varieties. Dr. Deb distributed free seeds to farmers. As a matter of principle, he does not share his priceless germ plasm with seed companies or breeders.
Speaking to The Hindu , Dr. Deb gave examples of farmers who have, through the generations, saved paddy varieties that are drought and flood tolerant and rice that is rich in Vitamin B and iron. “I give my seeds to farmers on their doorstep. But I will never give them for commercial benefit. The private sector is interested in collaborating with the industry only so that they earn royalty. Farmers are forced to keep returning to them to buy their requirements.”
Dr. Deb said indigenous farmers have paddy varieties that are rich in Vitamin B, but the government ignores them and goes for the GM Golden rice variety being developed by Monsanto. He lamented that nutritious foods, crops and millets are being allowed to disappear.
“We have displayed the richness of India’s biodiversity and seed sovereignty here in the city so that the urban class can appreciate what we have and understand what we stand to lose,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture. “Millets,” she said, “were wiped out because the government is promoting cereals.”
Several farmers said that they were ignored by government and “tricked” by breeders into parting with their valuable heritage. Award-winning seed conservationist Dadaji Ramji Khobragade from Akola toldTheHindu that a breeder from the Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth took away “samples” of three paddy varieties he conserved and later released them as varieties he developed. “We are indigenous seed breeders, but are treated as consumers,” he rued.
Nitish Kumar from Nalanda, who became famous after he achieved high yield in paddy, has brought with him seeds of a variety of vegetables, fruits and paddy.
Activist Shahul Akhtar Ridwan from Jorhat, Assam, described his success in teaching schoolchildren. “Over 340 school children from 17 schools are taught about organic farming and vermi-composting, among other things. They grow their own food and consume for mid-day meals.”
“Our fear is that with the environmental release of genetically modified organisms, this rich biodiversity that the farmers have conserved through generations will be irreversibly contaminated,” said a worried Ms. Kuruganti.