Did you know: the estimated diversity of beans varieties is 2,000; that of tomatoes are 6,000; while that of rice is a staggering 20,000? Sadly, we have access to only a few commercially grown vegetables – so uniform, pesticide-laced, waxed with chemicals and deceptively attractive. The loss of biological diversity, particularly in the "gene-rich" countries of the Third World, undermines the very essence of sustainable agriculture, as it destroys choices for the future and robs people of a key resource base for survival.
India may have only 2.4 percent of the world's land area, but it has over eight percent of the world's biodiversity, and is one of the seventeen mega-diverse regions in the world. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources has collected 3,02,348 accessions of crops of which 18, 862 are vegetable accessions only. In India, there are 51,000 plant species, and only about 30 percent has been accessed so far; the remaining 70 percent lies untapped.
Seeds embody Life
This unassuming potent gift of life – that which is most sacred to us – is under siege and assault. We, at Annadana, have been consistently bringing into focus, the importance of safeguarding our traditional organic seeds. Seeds form the very kernel of life itself, the source of our food, and when contaminated, have an adverse effect on our health and the health of our planet – resulting in a very sick society, which we can see, is the state of affairs in the world today!
As far back as the Rig Vedas, there are instances of women guarding a standing field, and these guardians of the seeds were called ‘Kalamgopis’. Harmony and balance prevailed in society due to sustainability. For, a woman, like the seed, symbolizes fertility. The soil is akin to an expectant mother, into whom all nourishing nutrients are carefully administered. The seeds are her children, to be nurtured with care and devotion. The ‘seeds belong to no one; it is a gift of life to life itself’.
Seeds embody Health
Not too long ago, each day was an occasion for celebration, and was built around Nature. Compared to the grandeur and mass commercialization of festivals these days, those like Sankranti, Baisaki, Pongal and many more were about marking the changing seasons and giving thanks to Nature for her abundance; an occasion to serve home-made nutritious food made of aromatic healthy produce. Possibly one reason why chronic diseases were far and few in number! And importantly, also because the soil and traditional seeds were nurtured with so much care and devotion. Both the soil and seeds, once rich in minerals and micronutrients, have fast disappeared thanks to the diktats of the Green Revolution. The control over our food chain now rests with a handful of seed giants and MNCs.
Medical experts are unveiling more and more diseases, a scenario further exploited by the pharmaceutical industry. Large sums of money are spent on medical research to provide remedies/cures and through advertising drugs to combat pain and suffering. Lifestyle diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. are becoming commonplace. The norm seems to be to pop a pill for small ailments like headaches and colds. We do not give our bodies the time to heal, and give ourselves the power to self-regulate.
The ground reality is that most such drugs provide short-term relief, which in turn reduces immunity. They suppress the disease, only accelerating the cause and making it chronic because the food we eat does not give us the required nutrition. When the soil and seed are infected, the food is toxic, devoid of nutrition, which poisons us in the bargain. There seems to be a growing feeling of apathy amongst the general populace, for we do not question the source of our food, nor do we have the time to connect with the source.
Seeds embody Freedom
Often, the freedom to stay alive is at stake. Seeds cannot be imprisoned by the yoke of legality or become the property of a handful of corporations, to be patented by laboratories, to be modified or sterilized by transnationals. It is beyond doubt that “food integrity is impossible without seed integrity” and that any hybridisation, or genetic manipulation of seeds will destroy our heritage of seed integrity that evolved through centuries...
Unfortunately, the objective of the greed-driven seed corporations has eroded this long-standing tradition, only to make the farmers dependent on them. Every year, the farmer has to purchase sterile seeds along with its corresponding chemical fertilizers and pesticides at obnoxious costs. Mounting debts and deaths is primarily the outcome of farmers having to adopt these intensive corrosive methods.
Even after 60-odd years of Independence, the monthly average income of a farmer remains a paltry Rs. 2,200, far below the poverty line (Source- NSSO). Yet, he is expected to purchase industry-driven manipulated seeds, not replicable and that too, at unaffordable costs. To quote Devinder Sharma, a Food and Trade analyst, “A chaprasi (clerk) in a government office is far better off than a farmer. He earns a sizable amount of Rs. 10,000 per month with perks like medical, bonus, leave benefits, thanks to the sixth pay commission. But the backbone of our economy – the farmer who feeds this nation – is not considered worthy of any State benefit but expected to live off credits.”
Agriculture is no longer sustainable. With a faulty seed bill, designed to fill industry coffers, farmers are left with little choice but to walk away from their fields. Neither food security measures nor the overall health of the nation is of any consequence to policy makers. And who suffers, apart from the ones producing it? Again, it’s the consumers!
Adopt a Seed
Not all is lost. If consumers and farmers are to take charge of their food chain, they have to be re-skilled to become farmer researchers, seed savers and breeders. In order to do so, introduce an innovative approach for each one of us to become a seed guardian. Adopt a seed.
We can sow seeds of consciousness amidst each other. An enterprising home gardener could save a seed in her balcony or kitchen garden, and invite all other friends in her building or colony to join in. Conserve a vegetable variety to ensure its varietal purity, and then deposit the seeds in a central pool. One can then create a network of seed growers from home gardeners to farmers. For instance, if there are 20 traditional brinjals native to our region, each one could nurture and conserve a particular variety, and make them available to many more… This way each one of us becomes responsible for securing food and conserving biodiversity.
Open-pollinated seeds are genetically diverse treasures that have been passed on from generation to generation. When we buy and plant open-pollinated seeds, we help protect our health, environment and conserve this valuable resource for the future. Join us in our endeavor.
Sangita Sharma is a self-contained organic farmer and a seed guardian based in Bangalore. Her trust Annadana Soil and Seed Savers conserves 150 varieties of organic open pollinated seeds. “From Soil to Seed” workshops are conducted regularly. Contact email@example.com for details.