Conservation of Traditional Varieties of Crops and Vegetables by Sahaja Samrudha, Karnataka
Agricultural ecosystems provide food, forage, bioenergy and medicines along with regulation of soil and water quality, carbon sequestration, support for biodiversity and cultural services. Sahaja Samrudha (SS), an organic farmer’s association in the state of Karnataka, commenced in 2001 as a farmer's initiative to revive traditional crop varieties, exchange ideas, seeds and knowledge on traditional agricultural practices. From its modest beginning, today it has grown into a vibrant organization spearheading the promotion of traditional practices in agriculture through revival of indigenous seeds. With support from the extensive network of NGOs, farmer groups, research institutions, media, consumer councils and academic institutions, the organization has instilled biodiversity based ecological agriculture systems across approximately 3000 acres in Karnataka, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, biogeographically representing the Deccan peninsular, Western Ghats and Gangetic plains. These agricultural lands are managed by Organic farmer groups, Women Self-help Groups and seed savers, who monitor the agricultural practices, use of organic inputs and resolving disputes.
Need for the Initiative
Karnataka, which once boasted of rich genetic diversity of all traditional food crops is fast losing its status due to steady replacement with high-yielding new varieties which are supplied to the farmers. These new varieties have a narrow genetic base, require synthetic inputs and large water quantities for irrigation. They usually do not yield the desired harvest or survive the local climatic and geological conditions. Traditional crops, by contrast, are adapted to local soils and climatic conditions. They have the potential for high yields, and they are mostly pest and drought resistant.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
With this knowledge and motivated by the concern for conservation of nearly extinct local varieties, Sahaja Samrudha was created by the farmers in Bangalore as an informal farmers group who began the collection and cultivation of traditional varieties of crops in their lands. The rich harvest from their fields motivated them to further expand and disseminate the traditional farming practices using indigenous varieties of crops. Thus, in-situ conservation of the revived varieties of crops was initiated across the state, involving several individual farmers and their groups. In 2006, Sahaja Samrudha was registered as a trust and in 2010, Sahaja Samrudha Organics Producer Company Ltd. was instituted as its marketing division, which helped in building brand value and creating suitable market linkages for the product on a large scale. At present, SS, consists of more than 5000 farmers and conservers of seeds, across 20 districts in Karnataka, including women farmers, landless agricultural labourers and marginalized members of communities. SS has developed farmer breeding practices that has revived and multiplied about 25 traditional deep-water rice varieties. Since millets grow well in arid and semi-arid environments, require relatively fewer inputs and have high adaptability to drought, SS farmers have reintroduced millet based multi-cropping, which has helped bring about food security and seed security to the small and marginal farmers. Food festivals and fairs have been organized which have helped in creating more demand for local products prepared from these crops and build a good clientele within Karnataka and other states such as Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra and cities such as Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. The SS farmers are popularly recognized as ‘Barefoot Scientists’ due to continuous efforts towards evolving on-farm conservation of agro-biodiversity through participatory varietal selection, crop improvement and breeding of traditional varieties. The women are recognized as Beeja Mathas (Seed Mothers) since community seed banks are managed by women’s collectives and SHGs throughout the state. Akkadi, a traditional multi-cropping system was revived through women’s groups which involves cultivation of finger millet mixed with 9 other crops (oil seeds, cereals, vegetables, pulses), in order to increase on-farm diversity and improve soil fertility. Community seed banks have been established to provide seed security. SS also established ‘Desi Seed Producers Company Ltd.’, which is India's first organic farmers seed company that markets under the brand name 'Sahaja Seeds', in 2014. SS publishes unique agro-biodiversity calendars every year, which have gained popularity amongst consumers and farmers. It has also published a cookbook with recipes on traditional maize varieties. In Mayasandra in Karnataka, a group of women organic vegetable cultivators supplies US$ 9,782 worth of produce throughout Bangalore and other South Indian cities every month. Recently, SS was successful in reviving climate-smart crops in the drought-prone Kundagol Taluk in Karnataka, where nine varieties of millet were grown successfully over 300 acres. SS especially takes pride in reviving ‘Brown Top’ millet (Panicum ramosum), the forgotten crop. As a result of initiatives by striving to conserve more than 800 varieties of rice, 120 millets, 23 Indian cotton, 32 wheat, 56 eggplant, 52 pulses, 182 vegetables along with traditional varieties of fruits. SSOPC has grown year after year with a turnover of about US$1,423,096 in 2019-20.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
Sahaj Samrudha received Special Mention in the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Conservation of Domesticated Species’ in 2018.
Krishna Prasad G Tel. +91 9880862058 Email: Sahajaindia@gmail.com