Seed banks have for generations been a crucial resource for storage and conservation of germplasm. Our ancestors from the beginning of agriculture and domesticity ensured that they always stored some seeds with them. The reasons behind these were not only social or spiritual but also scientific. Seeds are the primary resource that enable any form of plant growth within the soil, and a lack of them or an unavailability would result in no plant or crop growth. Such an understanding might have been the reason why the first thing to be protected during ancient battles amongst different tribes were seeds. In the present scenario the utility of a seed bank becomes more visible during times of acute crop failure which has become very prominent due to erratic rainfall, unprecedented droughts which are all a result of climate change.
More and more farmers both small- and large-scale ones can be seen suffering from issues pertaining to a change in weather patterns which have adversely affected their crop production by altering previously known crop cycles. Farming communities around the country have been struggling to sustain themselves which is reflected by the increasing migration of people from rural areas like that of Uttarakhand and in the rising number of suicides committed by farmers. In such trying times, when crops resilient to changing weather patterns appear as a boon, a place for storing and protecting their seeds becomes extremely important. What seed banks offer then is exactly that place where such resilient seeds can be stored for future to obtain more crops that would have similar resilient characteristics use as well as to create a buffer in case of an emergency when something like a crop failure happens.
Storing seeds using traditional farming practices
Mountainous regions especially within the state of Uttarakhand are marked by water scarcity with regards to the irrigational need of crops. Coupled with the changing climate that has harshly affected both the rainfall pattern and the amount of rain, seeds that can survive even under stressed rainfall spells are exactly what farmers hope for. As such whenever there is any batch of crops that the farmers come across which survived the brunt of low and erratic rainfall the protection and conservation of its gene pool becomes of utmost importance. A seed bank again comes in handy as it provides the right storage environment and a place where such resilient seeds can be kept to be kept in a dormant state, planted in the next sowing season or distributed within the community in hopes of helping fellow farmers.
Seed distribution to fellow farmers
As a common practice, crop plantation and cultivation involves sowing of seed and harvesting of crops to then again obtain seeds. However, after a due course of time, seeds either lose their fertility or acquire some form of mutation that makes them susceptible to one or the other form of disease. Another more important issue that becomes prominent once seeds from the same parent plants have been used over and over again is that the nutritional value that it holds falls down exponentially.
In such a case planting seeds that have been derived from the same parents over and over again increases the probability of crop failure. As such seed banks ensure that all seeds do not belong to the same parent plant or are a few generations old. Just like a bank that stores money, there are different clients who have varying amounts of money stored in the same bank. In a similar way by the help of Lok Chetna Manch, I- Bhupendra Joshi of Galli Village (Uttarakhand) developed a community seed bank that allows storage for different types of seeds thus promoting agro-biodiversity.The seeds are obtained from different parent plants and contributed by various members within the farming community. To further increase their viability, I ensured that a mixed procurement of the seeds was conducted not only from the mountain regions of Kumaon and Garhwal, but also from terai regions and some parts of Nepal.
The seed bank presently has 30 varieties of paddy, 3 varieties of finger millets (such as golmandwa, nangchunimandwa, jhumkiyagarhwaimandwa), 3 varieties of wheat, 2 varieties of amaranth (kala chua and safedchua), 2 varieties of lentil, 2 varieties of horse gram, of foxtail millet and of barnyard millet. The seed bank also houses black soya bean, buckwheat, mustard, maize, rice bean, kidney bean (rajma), sesame, bottle gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, beans, cowpea, pea, black gram, barley.
Different varieties of seeds in the seed bank
Apart from these the bank also stores drought resistant crop varieties like moth beans, dudh-dhan(a type of paddy) and seeds of endangered plant species like that of perilla, flax (linseed), daulatkhani gehu (a variety of wheat).
Board of the Seed Bank
The seed bank has been a great help to the farming communities of neighbouring 12 Gram Panchayats of Dwarahat and Hawalbagh Development Blocks during the COVID-19 pandemic. As most of the country is still under the phase of unlocking and seed demand is high, the seed bank made it possible for the farmers to procure and continue farming much readily and easily. However, the seed bank is an endeavour which is community based and not individually owned. Its success depends on the community investing some amount of their healthy seeds back to the bank so that the process remains in continuation which can be seen through the increasing number of seeds within the bank. In the end, I would like to extend my thanks to Lok Chetna Manch and NMA II program that made the community seed bank a reality.
Compiled, Translated and Edited by Shreyas Joshi