One of the principle bottlenecks to food production in rain-fed areas is the shortage of seed. This situation becomes worse as climate change impacts become manifest and food production comes under stress. There are four reasons for this. One, farm saved seed is in short supply as farm families are not able to divert sufficient grain for sowing because stored grain is being consumed more and more as food. Two, there is very little assured seed production of the varieties farmers need—especially those adapted to conditions of drought and disease—by state designated organizations such as Agriculture universities. Three, local varieties are being displaced from farmers’ fields as new, high yielding varieties take over. Four, alternative cereals to rice and wheat such as horse gram, millets, which are hardier and less resource intensive, and which were once part of the food basket are no longer eaten. This puts pressure on having to produce rice and wheat in water and soil stressed regions.
In this context there is need to develop seed of rice and contingency crops to provide appropriate planting material to farmers for disturbed monsoon events. This involves the multiplication of certified seed of rice to ensure a seed supply of locally adapted varieties, to increase stability of food production and reduce climate induced risks.
Gene Campaign’s Activities
Gene Campaign is assisting rural and adivasi farmers of Uttarakhand and Jharkhand in collecting traditional varieties and land races of rice, millets and pulses. These varieties are being developed for certified seed multiplication so farmers can continue to have access to locally adapted seed. This has laid the foundation for a community plant breeding programme that has begun to breed locally adapted crop varieties for seeds to be available to all small farmers during the sowing season.
The purpose of the seed multiplication programme is to
- Develop seed of rice and contingency crops to provide planting material for disturbed monsoon events.
- Make the programme as a community-led seed multiplication programme to create planting material of good quality, locally adapted crop varieties.
- Ensure seed quality certification.
- Conduct farmer consultations to identify locally adapted, popular crop varieties
- Multiply popular varieties of rice for upland and lowland field types
- Multiply planting material for contingency crops like horse gram, moth bean, high Vit A (‘golden’ ) sweet potato.
- Create Farmer Federations over time, to manage seed production and develop self reliance.
Towards multiplication of adapted crop diversity for distribution in future, Gene Campaign has begun a programme with farmers to generate good quality, certified seed of locally adapted rice varieties (both traditional and high yielding varieties) to improve seed availability. Starting with a pilot community based seed production programme to supply seed to 5 villages initially, the plan has been scaled up.
Interested farmers are included in the seed production program with an agreement that Gene Campaign will buy their crops after harvest.
Farmers are trained for three days on sowing practices such as isolation distance, seed treatment, maintenance of seed plots, plant protection, harvesting methods and post harvest practices such as seed cleaning, grading, seed treating, bagging storage, seed sampling and the sending of seed to the testing laboratory for analysis.
Seed samples characterized by their ecosystem (lowland, medium land and upland) are multiplied.
After the training is completed foundation seed is supplied according to need and land holding. The seeds are sown in demarcated plots of 3m by 3m, isolated from each other to prevent mixing. And after harvesting, the seed is purchased from the farmers. Locally adapted seed of five varieties of paddy—Gondaribhog, Swarna, Rajendra Mansuri, Lalat which is resistant to gall midge disease and BVD 109, which is a drought resistant variety—is being produced during the Kharif season.
The seed multiplication programme comprises both in situ and (localized) ex situ conservation as well as production of locally available, certified seed.
The community-led seed multiplication programme is helping to alleviate seed shortage far more effectively than buying seed from other states. Apart from the issue of self reliance, seed procured from surplus states of Andhra Pradesh and Punjab is often not adapted to dryland conditions as in Jharkhand. In addition, the seed usually comes late since the surplus seed is released only after the state’s own requirements are met. Often the seed is of poor quality as they are the leftovers after the best seed has been selected for home use.
Farmers maintain careful field protocols and plot designs as trained by the scientists. Every season Gene Campaign encourages more farmers to join the seed multiplication programme with the ultimate aim of handing over the entire collection (including what will be added to the collection every season in future) to the larger body of farmers who grow traditional crop varieties.
The longer term goal is to encourage farmers to restore some of the traditional varieties on part of their lands so that there is field level conservation as well. This work will be expanded to include more areas where genetic erosion is increasing, as also new species, like the indigenous cucurbits (karela, cucumber family) which serve as vegetables and medicines in rural areas and fodder grasses.
Gene Campaign’s effort in this project is to work with the community, train and develop skills of farmers and youth in quality seed production and seed certification so that good quality seed is produced locally and is available on time.
Increasing the number of seed banks will after some time be accompanied by a supply of quality seed for some percentage of the farmers of the area. The long-term vision is to establish a network of banks which will in time be able to supply at least part requirement of farmers for seed across several hundred villages.
This will be accompanied by lobbying and advocacy efforts to persuade the government to support decentralized seed production through a collaboration of state agriculture departments, local communities and civil society groups.