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Community Seed Bank Initiative Traces & Revives Heritage Rice Varieties in Tamil Nadu

The purpose of collecting and preserving traditional rice landraces is to aid in the sharing and exchange of knowledge about varieties with inherent capacities to withstand climate uncertainty, drought and flood resistance, medicinal and nutritional properties.

Shivam Dwivedi
Paddy field
Paddy field

Around 20 Tamil Nadu heritage rice varieties are being traced, collected, redeemed, and restored at least through 10 community seed banks, benefiting over 500 farmers across the state. Due to hybrid monocropping, the majority of Tamil Nadu's small and medium farmers have lost their heritage seeds, which were once owned traditionally by their community forefathers.

These varieties were chosen for their distinct nutritional, medicinal, and ecological qualities, as well as their climate resilience. The genetic erosion of paddy varieties' heritage and indigenous gene pool, loss of knowledge on the therapeutic/curative properties of extant native varieties, and lack of access to seed stocks pose a challenge for the sustenance and future of agriculture and human health in Tamil Nadu.

These community seed banks have been promoted by identifying willing farmers based on location with the help of local NGOs in 24 districts: Ariyalur, Chengalpattu, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Dindugul, Erode, Kanchipuram, Karur, Madurai, Mayiladurai, Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Ranipettai, Salem, Sivagangai, Tenka A lead farmer cultivates one to many traditional varieties on his farm, a portion of which is harvested and shared with other interested farmers in neighbouring localities and districts for free or for a small fee. This is a loose structure with only voluntary participation. To strengthen the heritage rice community seed banks, each beneficiary farmer received Rs. 2000 in seed bank capital.

The SASTRA initiative Deemed to be University is reviving, conserving, and characterizing traditional rice varieties with funding from the Department of Science and Technology's (DST) Science and Heritage Research Initiative (SHRI).

Memory banking of ethno-ecological knowledge, promotion of medicinal knowledge, and special agronomic qualities through associated cultural belief, as well as their conservation, are operational principles of these banks. Regional festivals also help to promote seed exchange. For example, the 'Nel Thiruvizha' paddy seed exchange festival, organised in collaboration with CREATE, a Tiruvarur-based NGO, assisted in the distribution of heritage rice seed varieties such as Karuppu kouni, Thuyya malli, Mapillai samba, Karunkuruvai, and others.

During Paddy Seed Festivals, lead farmers may volunteer to distribute seeds of these traditional varieties at a cost of 1-2 kgs per farmer to hundreds of farmers. Furthermore, interested farmers from across the state are permitted to visit the on-farm standing crops of these varieties. The state allows visitors to the on-farm standing crops of these varieties. Apps and online media are used to communicate about the availability and quality of these varieties.

Field gene banks have been established to facilitate the propagation of heirloom varieties through seed exchange programmes and organic seed multiplication. Farmers are trained in conservation methods and methods of enriching and revitalising indigenous heritage germplasms, as well as in situ trials for climate adaptability on a pilot scale in the farmer's field. The initiative to collect and preserve traditional landraces of rice varieties can aid in the sharing and exchange of knowledge about varieties with inherent capacities to withstand climate uncertainty, drought and flood resistance, medicinal and nutritional properties.

Farmers can help prevent knowledge erosion once knowledge about these indigenous rice varieties spreads beyond the tiny localities where they are confined. In the event of climate change uncertainties, the initiative has the potential to provide all rice-based farmers with a sustainable yield. 'Past Seeds' saved to reserve 'Future Seeds' can be promoted for upscaling in the coming years.

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