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Agro-biodiversity through seed identification, conservation, replication, crop selection

By Kuntal Mukherjee, Basant Yadav, Shivnath Yadav*

This article is mainly based on a journey of the three of us since 2010 based on field experience, study of different articles, reflective journeys with local community based organisations, villagers and practitioners in Chhattisgarh.
The slow growth of Agriculture in India with near stagnation in productivity since mid ‘80s in contrast to the remarkable growth during the green revolution period has come to the front as a great concern. In post WTO era Indian Agriculture has been witnessing structural changes, uncontrolled influx of agriculture goods and commodities from foreign countries due to open market nature. The gradual reduction in subsidies from internal production leads to increasing cost of production of agriculture produces at the farm gate. It causes gradual decrease in internal production as well as productivity and posing threats to small farm and stakeholders. 
Despite adoption of modern methods of crop cultivation with a steep rise in the use of fertilizers and pesticides as external inputs, the rate of growth in food production has not become steady in recent years. This results in gradual decrease in production as well as productivity, leading into a miserable farming situation. The incidence of farmers’ suicide is now a common feature at different corners of the country.
Intensive cultivation with faulty cropping system, non-judicious application of fertilizer and indiscriminate use of pesticides has promoted deposition of poisonous chemical residues in soil and crop produces; the product hazard of biotechnology, gradual loss of biodiversity, reduction of soil carbon and lowering down ground water table, nitrate and arsenic toxicity ultimately cause deep concern in soil health, food security, profitability of agriculture commodities and trade of agricultural commodities.
Predominance of small, marginal farmers with poor resource base, vast rainfed areas, ethnological backwardness among the farming community with low rate of literacy coupled with emerging problem in soil health and environment due to surplus use of technologies particularly injudicious use of chemical fertilizers and indiscriminate application of synthetic pesticides calls for introduction of alternative approach for agriculture development which would be socio-techno-economically fit with long term sustainability and profitability. 
At the same time marginal, sub-marginal land even cultivable waste land should be brought under cultivation with prior cropping benefits to supplement food production to feed over increasing population. The vast land Southern districts of Chhattisgarh is low productivity due to rainfed (95.4% of total land) cultivation and problematic nature of soil and climate. The majority of tribal population is living in this region. Although agriculture is the main way of their livelihood but low productivity of all grain crops, low cropping intensity, higher rate of illiteracy and poor rate of industrialisation are the principle causes of poverty resulting different ethnological and other social problems. 
Therefore, accelerating biological processes in cultivation practices through improvement and effective utilisation of natural resources without use of any purchase inputs like costlier chemical fertilizer and synthetic pesticides with a farming system approach aiming at raising multiple/companion cropping based upon their requirement of solar energy and honouring the natural nutrient recycling process is a plausible alternative option at this junction to make the agriculture evergreen even under constant dynamic changes.
In Chhattisgarh (Hunger Index 2008 26.63, which gives it rank 14th out of 17 states), rice is the principle food crop (62 percent of the gross cropped area falling under rice cultivation). In one side it creates pressure on soil for augmented mono crop cultivation and in other hand it decreases the chance of diversified food options from dish of poor families. The context is some how more problematic when paddy cultivation is going on more by hybrid seeds, for that the use of traditional seeds(mainly red rice), millets and other crops( leafy vegetables, pulses and oilseeds) is decreasing day by day. The area of other crops of all land patterns has decreased from 39.19% to 8.97% from last two decade in Central and Kanker district of Chhattisgarh.
The vanish of different food options from land to food dish, creates over dependency on outside products and causes huge pressure on cash requirement of a family. The cash requirements of rural people of project area has increased 109% in last six years where as availability from own land as compare to direct consumption has decreased to 68% as per family.
Along with that, the reduction of nutritious traditional crops like millets, leafy vegetables, pulses and oilseeds from land and dish creates a negative effect on nutrition of people mainly women and children. In depicts that in proposed project area(demarcated in Fig ), near about 60% of women has lower haemoglobin rate as compare to ideal(12-16g/dl) and 55% of pregnant women has lower haemoglobin rate as compare to ideal(11-12g/dl). In also pertinent to mention that in this area the 55% of children has lower BMR in compare to desirable

Rational:

Over dependency on chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticide based hybrid technology with intensive monoculture to meet immediate food requirement for the country resulted in the stagnation of all the principle grain crops over decades. Despite adoption of modern crop cultivation practices with a steep rise in use of fertilizers and pesticides as external inputs, the rate growth in food production has not been steady in recent years.
Chhattisgarh comprises of two distinct agro climatic regions with diverse soil and water resources greatly influencing cropping pattern, cropping intensity, irrigation potential, etc. which ultimately leads to wide variation in inter regional crop mix and productivity depending upon comperative advantage of crop production.
Predominance of small, marginal farmers with poor resource base, vast rainfed areas, ethnological backwardness among the farming community with low rate of literacy coupled with emerging problem in soil health and environment due to surplus use of technologies particularly injudicious use of chemical fertilizers and indiscriminate application of synthetic pesticides calls for introduction of alternative approach for agriculture development which would be socio-techno-economically fit with long term sustainability and profitability. At the same time marginal, sub-marginal land even cultivable waste land should be brought under cultivation with prior cropping benefits to supplement food production to feed over increasing population. 
The vast land in these three districts of Chhattisgarh is low productivity due to rainfed cultivation and problematic nature of soil and climate. The majority of tribal population is living in this region. Although agriculture is the main way of their livelihood but low productivity of all grain crops, low cropping intensity, higher rate of illiteracy and poor rate of industrialisation are the principle causes of poverty resulting different ethnological and other social problems. 
Therefore, accelerating biological processes in cultivation practices through improvement and effective utilisation of natural resources without use of any purchase inputs like costlier chemical fertilizer and systhetic pesticides with a farming system approach aiming at raising multiple/companion cropping based upon their requirement of solar energy and honouring the natural nutrient recycling process is a plausible alternative option at this junction to make the agriculture evergreen even under constant dynamic changes.

Present status of Technology:

The green revolution of India substantially increased the production of food grain through use of high yielding and hybrid varieties of crops and higher inputs of fertilizers and plant protection chemicals. But, it has now been realised that the increase in production was achieved at the cost of soil health, environmental pollution, and loss in crop diversity and poorer health among rural people. The faulty agriculture practices have contributed irreparable damage to soil fertility, structure and water holding capacity. Indiscriminate killing of useful insects, micro organism parasitoids and predators has deprived the privilege of keeping that would keep natural check on insect-pest and diseases. 
Pollution with toxic chemical have not only endangered the health of the farmers and the workers, but also poisoned the food, water and environment with high toxic residue. In brief, the benefits were short lived and effects more damaging. Moreover, the modern farming practices have become very costly especially for the resource poor farmers because of requirements of higher quantities of chemicals in order to achieve satisfactory yield of saleable produce.
No doubt green revolution has an impact on production enhancement and brings food security throughout the country. The reflect back picture of our country of early 60s or late 50s clearly depict the necessity of the input driven approach in green revolution but after that indiscriminate use of inorganic fertilizer, use of hybrid seeds as much as possible has made our farming highly market dependent and far away from many sustainable practices. 
In modern agriculture, the high input cost creates financial burden as well as fear of crop failure due to various climatic uncertainties in present days. It also creates serious impact on human health and ecology. For all that in present days farming become less remunerative day by day and is creating farmers more dependent on external environments. It’s results high debt to small and marginal farmers.
The concern about environmental safety and sustainability of land productivity is growing in the society. Therefore, strategy adopted during the green revolution era cannot be valid under prevailing conditions. This needs strategy of living with nature and nurturing for sustainable high productivity.
Natural resource degradation is an issue of major concern in all over world, particularly in South East Asia. Appropriate technologies and research to reverse this process and simultaneously improve farm productivity and income are essential components. Chemical free traditional farming technologies are gaining momentum all over the world as it offers a means to address self-reliance, rural development and conservation of natural resources. In recent years, various forms of organic farming have gained momentum globally which has spread over 23 million hectares (mha) area and 20 mha is under process of conservation. In India, around 2.25 lac hectares area is already covered under organic cultivation, which includes paddy, cotton, coffee, tea, basmati rice, medicinal & aromatic plants (Pathak & Ram, 2006). So, it is not possible just now to bring total area under organic because of unavailability of organic matter but gradually the matter may be disseminated in a cost-effective manner.
The effect of this adverse condition is very prevalent on some basic such as seed pf agriculture. The above-mentioned opinion results the food insecurity and poverty have captured the country side the rage of modern agriculture depends on high water demanding rice varieties, use of chemicals and high external input (inorganic practices) and infringement of genetic resources have further mounted pressure on farmers that tended to entrap even the capable farmers into new cycle of poverty. Some of the environmental trends in agriculture of the area have brought an element of uncertainty whether the food grain production would continue its lead over the fast-multiplying human population? Sustainable development in agriculture seems to be the only solution to this overriding issue. Side by side sustainability in the context of technological dissemination will be emphasized more rather than input driven approach in community level.
Land, water, climate, flora and fauna are the basic natural resources for agricultural development, which are subjected to various kinds of deteriorating influences. Since agricultural development cannot sustain on deteriorating natural resource base, it is imperative to develop strategies for conservation and improvement of resources. So, we need to follow the agro- eco technology that reduces the demand on land, water and biodiversity without adverse effects on agricultural production and nutritive value of food, nurses the soil back to health, changes cropping patterns to maximize ecological productivity efficiency and improves water use efficiency.
In Chhattisgarh, practice of natural farming has been initiated sporadically at different parts. However, lack of organised effort and location specific technologies, the practice of natural farming i.e. conservation and rational utilization of natural resources through enhancing biological process of crop cultivation practices should be enhanced in regional level.
In Chhattisgarh, farming situation is varied over different agro-climatic zones having a dispersed use of technologies for getting short term benefits to meet food requirements. Side by side increasing population caused degradation of lands and environment. This is now being a challenge in the sustainability of agriculture. Moreover, cost of inputs gradually reaches beyond the capacity of farmers in Chhattisgarh, particularly in the industrial belts where inorganic now become a life loop induction to the people. To bring the long term sustainability in the agricultural sector and profitability the work on natural conservation of resources, use of traditional techniques in scientific basements, gradual upgradation in cropping base mechanism etc is much needed along with lower down the pressure on soil. In this view of developing crop module in a area for the benefit of small marginal poor is necessary.
By history of Chhattisgarh also prevails that the old Dandakaranya ( Presently South of Chhattisgarh, South of Odisha, North of Andhra Pradesh and West Maharastra) province is the origin of paddy seeds. The oldest documentation found around 320 BC in the book “ INDICA” by Megasthenes in the name of paddy seed of Bastar “Khut-Keshri”, a variety of 80-100 days. In later stage, it was confusion on this variety with Basmati for similar size and scent. But in the documentation time period of both, it has been proven the presence of ‘Khut Keshri’ variety in the time of 1st Chandra Gupta/ Chadra Gupta Maurya. It also sporadically documented in the many cultural documentation of Bastar that it was a place of 10000 rice germplasm from 10000 BC. Anthropologically, it’s also some parallel thoughts prevail between Dandakaranya and Ethiopia on paddy/ coarse grains germplasm origin and distribution. But it’s almost proven that one significant part of Chhattisgarh which consists seven districts of state has one of the oldest pedagogy of germplasm of farming from history immemorial or from pre domestication of farming (10000 BC). It also found the presence of 10000 paddy seeds in old Mahakalantar as well as later on Dandakaranya since around before 10000 B.C.
But today it’s hard to remember and find more than two to three traditional seeds in village. It’s known by practiced that indigenous seeds are miracle seeds which has deep climatic adoption, resistance from ecology point of view and used for generations. It has health benefits and less prone to crop failure.

Farming practices and it’s connection with culture of Chhattisgarh:

It’s pertinent to mention here that the farming and most especially paddy farming and its various practices (especially seed aspects) are linked with several traditional myths, taboos, culture and festivals of Chhattisgarh. We can take such names as reference:
  • Hareli: Hareli is a festival which observed after completion of broadcasting of paddy; not necessarily transplantation. In the festival myths of Gond Samaj is documented a festival of worship nature by green. Later on it’s linked with call of first phase of seed practice and also a worship of agricultural implements like plough, spade etc.
  • Pola: Pola is a festival which observed after completion of all seed spwing and transplantation practices. It’s come in tribal as well as Dandakaranya culture in the after phase of Vedic age. It’s basically a day determined as shift of crop from vegetative to reproductive phase. As because in traditional seeds the date has been fixed for the shift; for that Pola is being observed as call off day of all hard practices in farming. Interesting indeed, the children in villages play with earthen play tools of livestock, utensils etc.
  • Etwari: After completion of main agricultural works, the each and every Sunday is a non working day in every village. On that day farmers worship land by auspicious food like ‘Chila Roti’. By concept it’s a rest day of crop in reproductive phase to get maturity.
  • Gobardhan Puja: It’s observed just after Diwali. It’s a day of worship cattle; the main power force of farming. The shepherds ( Charbaha ) are being felicitate on that day with food, cloths and money etc. The all cattles are being decorated and feed ‘ Khichdi’ first even before human on that day. This festival also same value of ‘first food’ ( mukh jhutai) festival of children of the area. In Mahabharat also this festival has been documented with the connection of the birth of Abhimanyu ( Son of Subhadra and Arjun).
  • Gaura Gauri Tiwhar: It’s also observed in the same time of Gobardhan Puja festival. The big landholders who are called Dau in this area, are taken responsibility to eradicate odds from village by beating up by crop leaves. The rauts/ farm labours beats big landlords( Dau) by crop leaves.
  • Badhona: It’s a festival observed after completion of individual family’s harvesting and threshing. This has been observed in individual family level.
  • Gaon Badhna: It’s a festival observed after completion of harvesting/ threshing of all families. It’s festival of sharing experience of farming practices of full cropping season . A culture of common fooding has been done in village level.
  • Kothar Marenga/Kothar Manana: In some parts of state, it’s called Kothar and in some parts Kothar Marenga and in some parts in Byra Banana. It’s observed after harvesting of crops. Basically, it’s basically a festival cum get together of all villages where they share their experience and learning of full cropping season. The common food of new grains for full villages is the catchiest things of this festival.
  • Teej: A festival after harvesting and completion of main farming season. A rest of field and also women. Naturally they spend time to maternal house and spend time with their friends. After fasting, usually they take ‘KADU BHAT’ of bitter gourd and paddy. It’s also to clear appetite of stomach after tedious farming season.
  • Chatrai: It’s observed in the month of Chaitra. Basically, it’s a time to shown pulse crops in field after paddy. The pulse which use in “ Sitla” for full season is started from this time and it’s in the same time of Hindu Nawawarsha and Nawa Khai. It’s also a festival of selection of new helper(s) of farming for the year. This festival is perfectly in winter just before wheat harvesting and after onset of flowering in Mango.
  • Aktti: It’s a festival of to take seed at field for farming at the eve of kharif season with religious puja in field and seed. Basically a kick off of farming season.
It’s very clear understanding that from the time immemorial, the farming (it’s ingredients and practices of it) has a very close link with culture, taboos and myths of Dandakaranya and especially in Chhattisgarh. These taboos are very closely linked with the family’s culture, society’s norms and individual farmers’s action orientation towards farming. It’s a common strength of these rituals to linked women in every step from Atti(worship of seed) to Pola( worship of land for rest).
To see all these circumstances, research organizations, government and civil society organization (CSOs) started the work of traditional seeds preservation and replication works before 20-25 years. This work started in a very informal way by some local youths and knowledgeable persons of Samaj of Bastar regions but day by day after understand the above mentioned perspective and its usefulness, we feel to articulate the process in defined manner. The steps are following:
I. Identification and conservation
II. Replication
III. Storage and preservation
IV. Experience Consolidation
V. Ownership
VI. Support required

Identification and conservation of seeds: 

To identify and conservation of seeds the steps are:
A. Selection of villages: In practice it has been observed that the traditional seeds are present in the so called cut off villages. Mainly the distant villages separated by hills, forest and river and it also will be end margin of continuous patch.
B. Selection of key informants and meeting in villages: Naturally the old aged person(s) and experienced lady vegetable grower are the good key informants of this work. In the first meeting, it will be better to start with some deliberation on practices of farming in village presently and in past/practice of seeds in past and present/ ‘Bachpan me ap kaun sa dhan ka kheti karte the’- like that. The first meeting should be to give an idea of what we want to do and to listen more from villagers on this approach. In the first meeting, if possible we can request villagers to go with us for transact on some crop field with a matrix (Table 1) like:
C. Second meeting in village, verification of seeds and collection of seeds: If field visit/transact will not be possible in first visit then we can do before second meeting. After field visit we can request farmers to come with one handful of seeds if availability is “Yes” (can do in first meeting also). Facilitator will place the seeds in separate green leaf and will start to know about characteristics in given matrix( Table 2):
During this meeting facilitator will request farmers to give the seeds ( 1-2 kg per specimen) and also will finalize the return conversion( preferably 1:2) to farmers after one year. The acknowledgment will be documented in any meeting register (preferably VO/GP register).
D. Collection and Preservation of seeds: It is natural not able to collect all seeds in a single meeting. So, if needed facilitator will request to come in another meeting of villagers and also request to come with seeds.
E. Documentation: It will be better to do it in any field office after complete in all villages. Facilitators will do final verification of presence of seed in region, ancestors of seeds, physical characteristics etc. Better to use magnifying glass to capture actual physical character of seeds.

Replication:

The replication part will cover seed back and experience consolidation also through KISAN MELA/ KOTHAR MARENGA/ SEED MADAI/ VO SAMMELAN etc. It can be done through traditional festival like Chatrai/Atti (in the month of February and May respectively). Trial No/ Year No…………………….. (Initially Trial Number and Year Number will be same) Table 3:

Storage and Preservation: 

After harvesting farmers will back seed by 1:2 ratios to seed bank. The storage and preservation can be by following methods:
  • All varieties should be preserved in variety wise separate earthen pot.
  • At least 3 days sun drying before storing.
  • Earthen pot should be layered by mud more than half portion
  • Seeds should be upto mud layer.
  • Sample teeth taste of seeds( 10 each variety) before storing if moisture meter will not available.
  • Arrangement of Halogen light during December last to February during cold( when temperature is below 15).
  • 0.5 kg dry neem leaves in each earthen pot.
  • Earthen pot should be on a bamboo floor or rack; better not to keep on floor. If rack not available should be on brick mud layer or hang from the roof by rope.
  • If seed amount is more than 3 quintal the Bamboo Kuthi and if can be more than 5 quintal the Dhan kuthi can be prepared.

Experience Consolidation

After every season of harvesting, the event on experience consolidation should be organized on the objective of sharing goods and bads of this year farming and also to bring back the seeds in 1:2 ratio. This event is very much linked with the traditional festival Kothar Marenga of this area. Presently, the CRP round of CGSRLM caders and Kisan Mela also found effective for experience consolidation.

Ownership

After some years experience on this conservation cum replication experience, it’s very much urgent to nest these resource and investment under an umbrella. It’s felt that the village community are very much capable to do the each and every step of this. So, it will be better from the very beginning the concept of seed bank to it’s activities are being nested under the umbrella of any community organization like village organization, seed bank group, cluster level federation, informal livelihood groups, Gothan Samiti etc. The CSOs can do the handholding and mentoring role of these institutions for this work.

Support

By the experiences of above all process, the authors were able to conserve, select and characterize paddy varieties through the help of some CSOs like Dharohar Samity, Sahabhagi Samaj Sevi Sanastha, Sangata Sahabhagi Samaj Sevi Sanastha, PRADAN and also assistance and support from SAUs like IGKV, Department of Agriculture, GoCG. Till now 280 plus paddy and other crops seeds have been preserved and documented by their nature, character and time origin. As an example, Mr. Shivnath Yadav of Dharohar Samiti able to release Shivdharohar-1 and 2 variety on 2016-17 and authors are in a process of releasing Ranibala-001.
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*Kuntal Mukherjee completed his Master in Agriculture from Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya, West Bengal, is presently based in Chhattisgarh and associated with an NGO named PRADAN. Previously he studied in Ramkrishna Mission in schooling and presently he is working in North and South part of tribal belt of Chhattisgarh since 2010 especially on Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resource Management. He is a National Resource Person on sustainable agriculture of DAY-NRLM and NIRD , MoPR and RD.
Basant Yadav completed his Masters from Kanker of Bastar division of Chhattisgarh. He is associated with an NGO named Sahabhagi Samaj Sevi Sanastha as president for over a period of 20 years. He has wide experience of Natural Resource Management, Nurture Community Organization and Bio diversity Management. He was the director of Chhattisgarh Gramin Bank, and presently is member of State DISHA committee, Chhattisgarh.
Shivnath Yadav was born and brought up in Kondagaon and spent his whole life on seed conservation and bio diversity management. Shivnath started this work since his youth and is committed to his spend life for this. He received national award on behalf on Dharohar Samiti on seed conservation works in 2015-16.

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