Community Conservation

This final story provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenge of documenting the stories of innovative farmers. With an estimated 250 million farmers in India, innovative farmers can become easily lost in the crowd. At the same time, the number of farmers with knowledge to share would easily be in the thousands. Put simply, documenting the stories of innovative farmers in India could fill more than a life’s work.

This next story highlights BAIF Development Research Foundation’s community participation programme, Conservation, Management and Sustainable Use of Indigenous Crop Cultivars and Wild Edible Plants coordinated by Sanjay Patil.[i]

When Sanjay started the programme, in 2008, little was known about the innovations and conservation strategies happening in farmers’ fields. During site visits to farms, Sanjay collected not only seeds, but also basic information about the processes of conservation. He sought answers to a few key questions:

Who is conserving seeds? What are the traits of the conserved varieties? Why are farmers preserving certain varieties?

During these farm visits, Sanjay also found the innovative farmers within communities. BAIF then championed their work and helped to develop them into community leaders. While this story highlights projects supported by Sanjay, through his work at BAIF, the ultimate focus of the story is community.

BAIF uses a participatory, community-driven model for seed conservation. This model works by enhancing the connections between developing human capital through leadership and knowledge production, and social capital the sharing of knowledge and building of community through seed banks, seed exchanges, and self-help groups. In addition, BAIF extends networks by establishing links with other organisations including, but not limited to, the Department of Agriculture, Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission and research institutes.

BAIF recognises the need for a multi-faceted approach to seed conservation with each facet bolstered by community. The features of a community-driven model therefore include:

  • Educating the wider community through wild food demonstrations, seed festivals, and school initiatives[ii].
  • Fostering an open-access system of Intellectual Property where the community cares for the innovator. Anyone who deposits seeds to a community seedbank can withdraw any type of seed from the bank.
  • Encouraging the community in the documentation of indigenous varieties.
  • Supporting communities in evaluating field level variety performance and the morphological features of varieties.
  • Ensuring communities have the knowledge to maintain the purity and quality of seeds.
  • Developing in-situ conservation centres within communities, so that variety conservation remains specific to local areas.
  • Identifying farmers to share their field-based knowledge and to guide others within the community.

Farmers as Educators and Community Builders

Rahibai Soma Popere provides a shining example of the role an innovative farmer takes as a leader in the community and an educator. BAIF recognised Rahibai Soma Popere with the Best Farmer Award in 2014-2015. Now known as the Seed Mother of India, she was included on the BBC list 100 Women in 2018, and a film about her work was shortlisted from more than 380 videos submitted to the Nespresso Talents competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rahibai developed a local seed bank conserving the seeds of 114 varieties from 53 crops.  She unified groups of tribal women to conserve seeds through the establishment of self-help groups [iii]. By fostering a growing community of seed-savers, half of the farmers in the area now cultivate Indigenous varieties. She also guides farmers in seed selection and storage, and natural methods of pest control and soil fertility improvement.  Listen to her share her story of her work and the concerns that motivated her to become a conservationist.

Social Capital Spin-offs

Rahibai Soma Popere’s leadership developed social capital and community cohesion, while also conserving agro-biodiversity. Additional benefits include educating women about kitchen sanitation within the self-help groups. Once again, unexpected benefits arise from seed conservation. Similar to  Jitul’s story where seed innovations lead to other innovations, in this case a community-driven model for seed conservation established a space for spin-off community projects. Simply put, once a project strengthens a community by building trust, other projects begin from a stronger place with a higher chance of success.

For example, Sunil Bhoye initially went to BAIF to acquire a mango variety. For over 7 years he has been receiving a salary for providing rice seed to BAIF. When BAIF began an Herbal Tea/Coffee project, his family signed-up immediately. As leaders in the community, the family quickly attracted additional families to the project. The project strengthened the community, since prior to this work, the women left their families to seek employment outside of the region at the end of the agricultural season.

Conserving Communities

The model followed by BAIF demonstrates that farmers have a role as an educator and community-builder, in addition to the roles of conservator, scientist and entrepreneur. The BAIF programme engages with farmers leading in agro-biodiversity conservation to build teams of farmers conserving and innovating. Their model acknowledges the multiple approaches needed to engage the public and to highlight the work of farmers, while keeping community at the forefront.

Notes:

[i] The BAIF programme focuses on “securing tribal community livelihoods and nutrition through conservation and management of Indigenous crop cultivars and wild edible plants” within the tribal and hilly regions of Maharashtra. However, BAIF also supports organizations and farmers in Punjab (ex: KVM) and Gujarat with documentation and germplasm collection.

[ii] For example, one school programme invited students to draw the food on their plate and to request parents and grandparents to draw the food they ate as children. From this activity, students realise they are not eating locally grown food; moreover, their grandparents had 60 items on their plate, their parent’s plate had 30, while their plate has only 6 items. In this way, the loss of agro-biodiversity becomes more relatable to the lived experience of the students and their families.

[iii] While providing a face for the community, Rahibai does not complete this work independently. Kalsubai Parisar Biyanee Samvardhan Samiti (self-help group) consists of more than 1000 women farmers involved in conservation, seed production and marketing of vegetables seeds for kitchen and terrace gardens.

Further Reading:

  1. Conservation and Revival of Local Crop Cultivars and Livestock Biodiversity Resources – Climate Resilient Initiatives
  2. Germplasm conservation of Maize, Sorghum, Millets and vegetables from Dhadgaon and Akkalkuwa tribal block of Nandurbar district, Maharashtra State
  3. Morphological characterization of sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] landraces using DUS descriptor
  4. Nutritional Status of Crop Residues of Landraces as Fodder Resource
  5. Sustainable Development Stories from those Making it Possible
  6. Unconventional wild fruits and processing in tribal area of Jawhar, Thane District