Return of indigenous crops helps reduce farm distress and restore ecosystems

Bata Majhi of Dupi village, Odisha dries an indigenous millet variety harvested from her field for de-husking. Photo by Basudev Mahapatra.

Pots with indigenous seeds arranged at the seed festival in Nayaghar district, Odisha. Photo by Basudev Mahapatra.

Tribal communities lead the change

Disillusioned with the government-supplied hybrid seeds, tribal communities of Kandhamal district’s Tumudibandh block have returned to indigenous varieties of paddy, millets, legumes, tubers and vegetables since the last five years.

Talking about the reason of shift to local landraces, Dambarudhar Majhi, 70, a tribal farmer from Kutia Kondh community of Dupi village explained that “hybrid or HYV seeds supplied by government agencies didn’t suit to our soil. Birds and other insects predating on pests didn’t visit our fields. As new pests started emerging in the fields, the plants didn’t grow well and the production either failed or was too less to meet our basic needs.”

While the tribal communities were resistant to apply inorganic fertilisers and pesticides for better yield, the traditional organic practices didn’t work well with the hybrid seeds. As observed by Bata Majhi, 60, a woman farmer of the same village, “HYV seed cultivation also hampered growth of tubers and other traditional food crops in the same fields. Instead of getting better yield, we rather faced food shortage. Even, availability of leaves, fruits and honey in the adjacent forest also reduced,” she highlighted.

Recalling his experience in 2011, Mohanty said, “Most of the local landraces were lost when we first visited the area for research. Then we thought of mobilising the tribal farmers to revive indigenous crop cultivation in Kandhamal. The tribal people appreciated our idea and led the process of change.”

“There was no other way but to shift to our own varieties of seeds and traditional agricultural practice because the hybrid seeds were the main culprit behind all our miseries,” Mathura Patra, 65, a Gond tribal woman of Kaobali village, argued. “Apart from variety of traditional millets and maize, we grow our own paddy varieties named Kundha dhan, Kala dhan, Bhataburai, Surukulinga etc. in the upland fields.”

Over 1000 farmers spread over 50 tribal hamlets of the block are now growing about 100 varieties of indigenous food crops by adopting their traditional organic and crop diversification methods. “The only change they have brought to their traditional practice is line-sowing method for paddy and millet crops,” said Suresh Chandra Bisoyi, director of Nirman’s programme promoting cultivation and conservation of local landraces of crops. “We also support them with de-husking mills for millet processing and marketing of their farm produces to boost their income,” he added.

While these tribal farmers of Kandhamal have successfully evaded crop loss due to climate change and weather disturbances, they are also content having conserved about 200 varieties of indigenous seeds of paddy, millets, maize, vegetables and pulses. Every year, they exchange new collections of seeds among themselves to increase the number available with specific communities.

Farmers with seed pots on the way to the indigenous seed festival, a celebration for the farmers of 18 villages who have revived the practice of growing indigenous crops. Photo by Basudev Mahapatra.
Farmers with seed pots on the way to the indigenous seed festival, a celebration for the farmers of 18 villages who have revived the practice of growing indigenous crops. Photo by Basudev Mahapatra.

This apart, the surrounding forest and environment has regained its health. “We get fruits, tubers and leaves from the forest as before. Honey bees and butterflies have returned to our villages enabling each of our families to consume at least three liters of honey a year,” said Praneswar Majhi, 55, of Dupi village. Happy with the revival of their agrarian practices, the tribal farmers of Kandhamal now openly claim that their own traditional crops, which they abandoned for years under illusion of hybrid seeds, have brought richness to their communities again.

Appreciating the reintroduction of local landraces of crops by the tribal farmers, Mishra of KVK, Kandhamal, observed that such practice if expanded can relieve farmers from the current distress, help conserve local landraces, and change the food production scenario. “However, it needs expansion gradually in a phased manner by ensuring adequate protection and infrastructural support to the farmers,” he emphasised.

Basudev Mahapatra is a senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar city of Odisha, India. He writes on environment and issues based in rural India.

This article is republished from MONGABAY under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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