India is a country known for its rich cultural heritage and diverse ecosystems. One of the important components of this heritage is the traditional agricultural practices that indigenous communities have followed for centuries. Millets, also known as coarse grains, have been a staple food for millions in India for thousands of years. These hardy and resilient crops can be grown in diverse agro-climatic conditions. However, due to the Green Revolution and the promotion of high-yielding crop varieties, the cultivation of millets has declined significantly in recent decades, resulting in the loss of indigenous seed varieties.
Indigenous millet seed preservation in India is crucial to maintaining these crops’ biodiversity and ensuring food security for future generations. There is a growing awareness of the importance of preserving traditional seed varieties, and various people, organizations, and communities are working towards this goal. This preservation effort ensures the availability of diverse food sources, promotes sustainable agriculture, and helps adapt to climate change. This article will explore the significance of indigenous millet seed preservation in India, the heroes who have contributed to millet seed preservation, and the challenges and opportunities involved in this process.
What are Indigenous Millet Seeds? Why is it Important to Preserve them?
Indigenous millet seeds refer to traditional varieties of millet that indigenous communities have cultivated for centuries. These seeds are important to preserve because they have adapted to local climates and are well-suited to the environment. Additionally, they are often more resilient to pests and diseases, making them a valuable resource for farmers facing the impacts of climate change. Preserving indigenous millet seeds also helps maintain genetic diversity, which is critical for ensuring our food systems’ long-term health and sustainability. By protecting these seeds, we can help to ensure that future generations have access to diverse and nutritious food sources.
Another major reason for preserving indigenous millet seeds is that Monsanto, a hybrid seed company, threatens indigenous seeds because they promote using genetically modified seeds designed to be used with their proprietary herbicides. These seeds are often marketed as higher-yielding and more efficient, but they can lead to a loss of genetic diversity and reliance on a single company for seeds. This can negatively impact the environment and the economic and social well-being of small-scale farmers who rely on diverse seed sources. Therefore, promoting and preserving indigenous seeds to maintain diversity and resilience in our food systems is important.
Importance of Millets in India:
Millets have been integral to Indian culture and cuisine for thousands of years. The cultivation of millets dates back to the Indus Valley Civilization, and they have been mentioned in ancient Indian texts like the Rigveda and the Atharvaveda. Millets have played a significant role in the lives of rural communities in India, serving as a staple food, animal feed, and a source of income.
Millets are highly nutritious and contain high protein, dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They are also gluten-free and have a low glycemic index, making them ideal for people with gluten intolerance and diabetes.
Additionally, millets are suitable for cultivation in diverse agro-climatic conditions, ranging from arid to semi-arid regions, and can withstand drought, pests, and diseases. These properties make millet important for India’s food security and sustainable agriculture.
Challenges in Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation:
Indigenous millet seed preservation in India faces several challenges. One of the significant challenges is the need for more awareness and knowledge about traditional seed varieties among farmers, consumers, and policymakers. The promotion of high-yielding crop varieties by the Green Revolution has led to the neglect of traditional seed varieties. This has resulted in the loss of valuable genetic diversity and threatens food security.
Moreover, inadequate policy support and market incentives hinder efforts to promote millet cultivation and seed preservation. The government’s policies and programs mainly focus on high-yielding crop varieties, neglecting traditional crops like millet. Policy support would make it easier for farmers to access inputs, markets, and credit for millet cultivation.
Access to resources and funding for seed conservation and storage is also a major challenge. The lack of proper storage facilities and infrastructure for seed conservation threatens millets’ genetic diversity. The high cost of seed conservation technologies and limited funding for seed conservation initiatives make it challenging for small-scale farmers to preserve traditional seed varieties.
How to Address these Challenges?
Addressing these challenges will require a multi-stakeholder approach involving the government, farmers, civil society organizations, and the private sector. Increasing awareness and knowledge about traditional seed varieties and promoting policy support and market incentives for millet cultivation can help preserve indigenous millet seed varieties. Additionally, increasing funding and resources for seed conservation and storage can help protect the valuable genetic diversity of millets for future generations.
People and Organizations Involved in Millet Seed Preservation:
Several people and organizations have played an important role in millet seed preservation in India. Here are some of them:
Women-led community initiatives:
Several initiatives have emerged in India to promote millet cultivation and seed preservation. These initiatives involve women farmers who have formed seed banks to conserve traditional seed varieties and promote biodiversity. Following are India’s most significant female contributors, who have done wonders in preserving indigenous millet seeds.
1. Contribution of Mogulamma in Preserving Millet Seeds in India:
Mogulamma, a 62-year-old farmer from a small village in Telangana, has been a trailblazer in the field of millet seed preservation in India. A champion of traditional farming practices, Mogulamma has dedicated her life to preserving indigenous seed varieties and promoting biodiversity.
Mogulamma started her journey in millet seed preservation in the 1990s when she realized the importance of traditional seed varieties for food security and sustainability. She began collecting and conserving local millet seed varieties on her farm and set up a small seed bank to store them. She also encouraged other farmers in her village to adopt traditional farming practices and preserve traditional seed varieties.
Mogulamma’s efforts have been noticed. She received several awards for her contributions to millet seed preservation, including the prestigious Padma Shri Award in 2020. Mogulamma’s work has inspired many farmers in Telangana and other parts of India to adopt traditional farming practices and preserve indigenous seed varieties.
Mogulamma’s contributions to millet seed preservation testify to the power of grassroots efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation. Her work inspires farmers and conservationists, highlighting the importance of preserving traditional seed varieties for food security and sustainability.
2. ‘The seed queen, Chandraamma.’
Chandraamma, popularly known as the “Seed Queen,” has significantly contributed to millet seed preservation in India. Based in Telangana’s Zaheerabad, Chandraamma has worked tirelessly to promote traditional seed varieties and sustainable farming practices for over two decades.
Chandraamma started her journey in seed conservation by collecting and preserving traditional seed varieties on her farm. She then set up a seed bank to store and distribute these seeds to other farmers in her village. Over the years, Chandraamma has collected and conserved over 300 traditional seed varieties of millet and other crops.
Chandraamma’s work has not gone unnoticed. She has received several awards for her contributions to millet seed preservation, including the National Plant Genome Saviour Award and the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award. Her efforts have inspired many other farmers to adopt traditional farming practices and preserve traditional seed varieties.
Chandraamma’s work highlights the importance of preserving traditional seed varieties for food security and sustainability. Her contributions to millet seed preservation have helped to promote biodiversity, ensure food security, and preserve India’s rich agricultural heritage. Chandraamma’s work inspires farmers and conservationists alike, showcasing the power of grassroots efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation.
3. Seed Mother of India: Lahari Bai.
Lahari Bai, also known as the “Seed Mother of India,” has significantly contributed to preserving and promoting indigenous millet seeds. Born in a small village in Madhya Pradesh, India, Lahari Bai was introduced to the importance of seed preservation and diversity by her father, a traditional farmer. After noticing a decline in traditional crops in her village, she became determined to preserve them.
Lahari Bai began collecting indigenous millet seeds from neighboring villages and experimenting with different cultivation methods. She also started sharing her knowledge and seeds with other farmers, particularly women, encouraging them to adopt traditional farming practices and avoid reliance on costly hybrid seeds. Over time, her efforts led to the establishment of a seed bank in her village, which now houses over 150 traditional millet varieties.
Lahari Bai’s work has significantly impacted the preservation of indigenous millet seeds in India. Her efforts have helped to maintain genetic diversity and ensure the long-term sustainability of traditional farming practices. She has also empowered women farmers, often marginalized in traditional farming communities, by sharing her knowledge and encouraging their participation in seed preservation and cultivation.
In recognition of her contributions, Lahari Bai has received numerous awards, including the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India’s highest civilian honor for women, in 2019. She continues to inspire farmers and activists worldwide with her dedication to preserving indigenous seeds and promoting sustainable agriculture.
4. Narsamma’s Contribution to Millet Seed Preservation.
Narsamma, from Metalkunta village in Telangana, India, is a farmer and seed saver who has significantly contributed to preserving and promoting indigenous millet seeds. Narsamma began collecting and preserving traditional millet seeds after noticing a decline in the availability of local varieties. She recognized the importance of preserving these seeds for their nutritional value, cultural significance, and resilience to pests and diseases.
Narsamma’s work in seed preservation began in the 1990s when she joined the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a grassroots organization that promotes sustainable agriculture and rural development. With the support of DDS, Narsamma started collecting and storing indigenous millet seeds from neighboring villages. She also began experimenting with different cultivation methods to promote traditional farming practices and increase the yield of these crops.
Over time, Narsamma became an expert in millet seed preservation and cultivation. She trained other farmers, particularly women, on the importance of seed preservation and the benefits of traditional farming practices. She also encouraged the use of millet in local diets and worked with chefs to develop new recipes showcasing these crops’ nutritional value.
Narsamma’s efforts have significantly impacted the preservation of indigenous millet seeds in Telangana. Her work has helped maintain genetic diversity and promote sustainable agriculture while empowering women farmers and promoting community development.
In recognition of her contributions, Narsamma received numerous awards, including the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, in 2020. She continues to inspire farmers and activists worldwide with her dedication to preserving indigenous seeds and promoting sustainable agriculture.
5. Himachal’s Millet Man
Nek Ram Sharma, also known as Himachal’s Millet Man, has significantly contributed to promoting and cultivating millet in Himachal Pradesh, India. Sharma began his work in millet cultivation in the early 1980s when he noticed a decline in the cultivation of traditional crops in the region. He recognized the importance of preserving and promoting millet as a nutritious and climate-resilient crop.
Sharma has since established himself as a millet cultivation, experimentation, and promotion expert. He has developed new varieties of millet that are better adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and has trained thousands of farmers on the benefits of millet cultivation and traditional farming practices. Sharma has also established a network of millet seed banks to promote seed preservation and exchange among farmers.
Sharma’s work has significantly impacted the promotion of millet cultivation in Himachal Pradesh. He has helped to increase the availability of traditional millet varieties and promote sustainable agriculture practices. Sharma has also been recognized for his contributions, receiving numerous awards and honors, including the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian honor, in 2020.
6. Manas Ranjan Sahu, who built Kalahandi Seed Bank
Manas Ranjan Sahu, a farmer and social activist from Odisha, India, has significantly contributed to preserving traditional millet varieties. In 2011, he established the Kalahandi Seed Bank, a community-driven initiative that collects, conserves, and distributes indigenous seeds, including several millet varieties.
Sahu’s interest in millet preservation stemmed from his own farming experiences. He observed that farmers increasingly relied on high-yield but genetically modified seeds, which were expensive and required large amounts of water and fertilizers. On the other hand, traditional millets, which had been grown in the region for centuries, were drought-resistant, required fewer inputs, and were more nutritious.
To promote the use of millets, Sahu started collecting and conserving local seed varieties. He worked with farmers to identify the most resilient and high-yielding varieties and stored them in the Kalahandi Seed Bank. The initiative has since expanded to include over 100 traditional seed varieties, including several varieties of millets such as Kodo, Little, and Foxtail.
The Kalahandi Seed Bank has not only helped conserve traditional seeds but also provided farmers access to diverse and locally adapted seeds. Farmers can borrow seeds from the bank, grow them, and return a portion of the harvested seeds, thereby ensuring their continued availability for future use. The initiative has also helped revive interest in millet farming, especially among young farmers who were previously unaware of traditional crops’ nutritional and ecological benefits.
Sahu’s contribution to millet preservation has been widely recognized. He received several awards and accolades, including the National Youth Award in 2015 and the Innovative Farmer Award from the Odisha government in 2018. His work has also inspired similar initiatives in other parts of India, helping to promote sustainable and diversified agriculture practices.
Preserving indigenous millet seeds ensures food security and promotes sustainable agriculture. These seeds have adapted to local conditions and are often more resilient to pests and diseases, making them a valuable resource for farmers facing the impacts of climate change. Preserving indigenous millet seeds also helps maintain genetic diversity, which is critical for ensuring our food systems’ long-term health and sustainability.
To promote millet cultivation and seed preservation in India, it is important for different stakeholders, including farmers, NGOs, governments, and private companies, to collaborate and support each other’s efforts. This can be done through initiatives such as seed banks, farmer cooperatives, and knowledge-sharing platforms that promote the use of traditional farming practices and increase awareness about the nutritional value of millet.
Increased support and investment in millet cultivation and seed preservation can also have broader economic and social benefits, including improved livelihoods for small-scale farmers, increased biodiversity, and the promotion of cultural heritage. Therefore, all stakeholders must work together toward promoting the preservation and cultivation of indigenous millet seeds for the benefit of both present and future generations.
What is Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation in India?
Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation is the act of saving and keeping millet seeds that have been grown for generations by indigenous communities.
Why is Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation important in India?
Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation is important in India as millets are highly nutritious, drought-resistant, and climate-resilient crops that can provide food security to the country’s marginalized communities.
What are some challenges faced in Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation in India?
Some of the challenges faced in Indigenous Millet Seed Preservation in India include the lack of awareness, government support, and infrastructure and the threat of hybridization due to the introduction of high-yielding varieties.