Many traditional seeds varieties are almost lost. Fortunately there are remarkable and positive community conservation initiatives like the Indigenous Seeds Festival. This colourful celebration was organised by Lok Vikash Sangathan, a local farmers' organisation and networking partner of Living Farms.
'Seeds are the link to our ancestors. We would not have the wonderful heirloom varieties if our forefathers hadn't kept the seeds from year to year.'
People of Saradhapally and nearby villages experienced something new during the last paddy harvesting season. The first Indigenous Seeds Festival "Bihan Parab" was held in Bargarh district of Orissa on the 26th and 27th of December 2008. The local farmers' organisation Lok Vikash Sangathan organised this event to make people aware of the threats to their heritage of seeds. More than 500 men and women, young and old farmers from villages attended this festival. They made it very attractive with colourful seeds, crops, fruits and vegetables.
A procession of women carrying decorated earthen pots containing seeds accompanied by youth with drums, was welcomed by each village they passed. The leading woman carried a special pot that was constructed with paddy seeds, symbolizing the Goddess of Wealth Maa Lakshmi. Finally all the seeds were displayed at a school building with details about their respective name, farmers' name, special characteristics... Cultural programmes based on related themes like biodiversity, organic farming... were organized in the evenings.Lok Vikash Sangathan members decided to add this new seeds festival to their local farming calendar. It's their wish to expand this festival and to collect more different seeds.
President of the organisation Smt. Sukhi Meher said in her speech: 'We -the farmers of our area- are losing control over our seeds. This devastation is coming hard and fast. Farmers who purchase seeds on the market become very vulnerable. Not only because of the increasing seed prices but also because of the narrow choices. Varieties that we were using for particular purposes are simply withheld by corporate seed suppliers, technology contracts, genomic control through genetic engineering and marketing contracts.
President of Lok Adhikar Sangathan, Sri Hajjar Mallick said "Farmers have been saving seeds ever since they settled in one place and started growing their own food. Thanks to seeds saving and sharing between generations we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today. It's only since the Green Revolution that we have the option of buying commercial seeds. Before this the only way to procure prospective plants was to save our own seeds or to exchange them with our neighbours."
Sri Siba Prasad Sahu of Ahimsa Club and the man behind Lok Vikash Sangathan: "We need to go back to a local agriculture system because globalisation divides farmers. Food is our common ground. We should produce more food locally according to the farming seasons so that we become less dependent on the market. Traditional seeds conservation and organic farming are very important steps to reach this goal. The event is an eye opener for others. Locals were astonished to see so much varieties. Now they demand traditional seeds and farmers show interest to learn about organic farming. Others like local school teachers, media persons etc. appreciated the conservation of traditional seeds as a noble step taken by the farmers themselves.
Background info on Lok Vikash Sangathan
In the past farmers cultivated locally grown paddy varieties based on their cultural, nutritional, medicinal and food needs. Today traditional varieties are replaced by hybrid and high yielding varieties like Swarna, Lalat. Fortunately few older farmers are still conserving traditional seeds. In 2006-2007 these seeds were collected with great effort and 60 farmers took the initiative to multiply them. The next year, 200 farmers multiplied and shared seeds. The farmers also initiated collecting, conserving and documenting local varieties of pulses and vegetables.