1. Success Story

Meet the Seed Bankers Who are Saving India’s Local Crops

Pronami Chetia
Pronami Chetia

Annadana”, a seed bank of indigenous seeds founded by Sangeeta Sharma, a former communication professional offered 800 varieties of native seeds that are cheaper and more productive than the hybrid seeds.  Sharma had established “Annadana” as a startup in 2001 with 20 varieties of indigenous seeds on her five-acre farm in Bengaluru.

To properly understand India’s rich agriculture history, we need to go back to 10,000 years of the past. Over the centuries, nature gifted this land with the most resilient seeds that thrived in Indian condition without the help of chemicals and fertilizers. However, the native seeds lost out to high-yielding hybrid seeds of the 1960s as part of the green revolution.

“India owned 1, 10,000 varieties of rice till 1970. Out of these, only 6000 are surviving today”, said Dr. Debal Deb, a plant scientist in Odisha.

Individuals like Sharma are fighting for the revival of the rich food diversity of India, by preserving desi seeds from all across India.

“I love food. And I wanted to know where it comes from,” said Sangeeta Sharma who now cultivates and preserves seeds for a living.

Visitors can see a number of desi vegetables in bloom at Dr. P Prabhakar Rao’s farm near Bengaluru. They can see different colored vegetables including Red bhindi, red corn, violet peppers and tomatoes which they never get to see in the market.

Dr Rao, an agricultural scientist who started collecting native seeds seven years ago, and today has 540 in his bank said, “India has lost 99% of biodiversity in vegetables”.

Rao holds farming workshops that attract urban farmers to reintroduce these varieties to people.

“Most people don’t know an important fact about native seeds: they cannot be grown using chemicals. If I add urea to a native wheat variety, it will grow tall but easily snap in the wind. In contrast, GMO and hybrid seeds cannot grow without the use of fertilizer and pesticides. Also, they are designed to not reproduce. This ensures that the farmer has to go back to the seed corporation every sowing season to buy seeds,” says Rao, who realized the long-term unsustainability of chemical agriculture.

Babita Bhatt, a software engineer by profession left a corporate career in Gurugram three years ago and moved to Dehradun along with her husband Alok to preserve heirloom seeds. She also set up an e-store, Himalaya2home which sell these seeds and other agri-products.

“There’s so much pesticide in our food. Cancer cases are increasing. What's happening to our food chain is obviously affecting our health,” says Bhatt, who collected seeds from all over Uttarakhand.  

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