Most farmers in Nepal need a variety of seeds. Not all of these types of seeds are available in the market or can be bought. Traditionally, farmers used to store many kinds of seeds in their own homes and sell or barter the insufficient amount of seeds among neighbors, relatives, and friends, and this practice is still followed to some extent.
But this trend is gradually declining. Especially among farmers around the city and inaccessible areas, the practice of buying seeds from the market instead of keeping them at home is on the rise. With the expansion of advanced varieties and hybrid seeds and technology developed to meet the growing demand for food grains for humans and livestock, the practice of buying seeds from the market began.
After the commercialization of seeds for food security, the seeds of indigenous or local breeds gradually began to disappear. There is no doubt that the availability of improved varieties and hybrid seeds will help increase production. But in the case of Nepal, with few exceptions, the hybrid seeds available in the market are imported.
Due to the growing trend of buying seeds from the market, on the one hand, farmers are becoming dependent on seeds and on the other hand, traditional knowledge, skills, and technology of selecting and storing native seeds are also being lost.
The data of the Government of Nepal also shows that the import of seeds is increasing every year and the native seeds are gradually disappearing from the farms of the farmers. If this trend is not stopped, in the future, not only in urban areas, but also in the kitchens of rural farmers, the market will determine what to cook, and there will be a limit to what they can eat.
After the expansion of Mansuli breed paddy in Chitwan, the farmers are missing beaten rice from ‘Dudhraj’ and ‘Achhame Masino’ and ‘Aapzhutte’ breeds. Rana Tharu of Kanchanpur is still remembering ‘Rahimunma’ paddy breed, the fragrance of which smells in their hands even after eating rice. There are no reliable statistics of such native seeds in Nepal. Neither the government has the records, nor the farmers have the seeds.
Is this the goal of our agricultural research and development? Farmers, agriculturists, policy makers, and planners need to be aware of this. None of the indigenous seeds have been developed at the Agricultural Research Center. It cannot be developed today or in a few years.
These are the result of thousands of years of continuous agriculture by our ancestors. Nepal’s diverse climate and geography: Due to religious, cultural and ethnic diversity and the practice of cultivating quality seeds and plants by farmers adopting traditional methods and techniques from generation to generation, thousands of species of indigenous seeds have developed.
Before harvesting paddy and millet, farmers used to pick well-ripe, wrinkle less smooth seeded long and healthy rice panicles. Long and disease-free cucumbers, large bean, and pumpkins are set aside for seeds. Although the practice of planting hybrid seeds has increased, the knowledge about seed selection and storage is also gradually disappearing.
Indigenous species are of special importance in terms of agricultural research and development, food security, nutritional diversity, and the environment. Some indigenous species can withstand a variety of diseases and pests, drought or drought, and over-watering, some are sweet and delicious to eat, while others have medicinal properties and are indispensable in various religious and ethnic cultures.
In Bara and Rautahat districts, there is white rice like a milk variety of paddy such as ‘Dudhisaro’, which grows in waterlogged khalla fields with silhat and sand in fields. In those districts, there still exist ‘sixty’ variety of paddy. These varieties ripen without going oozing out, have compulsion use during the Chhath festival.
In case of injuries, accidents, or other causes of limbs or pain in the body, it is customary to eat Aanadi rice by making a ‘latte‘ in the Gandaki area. Who can forget the taste of ‘Rukhbhenda’ chutney which grows only towards the lake and the dusty pickle of ‘Belchan’ which grows in the valley! If you search, there are thousands of indigenous seeds in Nepal with such qualities and characteristics. But today’s farmers are neither interested in it nor aware of the need to conserve such seeds.
Efforts by government and non-government sectors to raise awareness among the general farmers for indigenous seed conservation are also limited. This is one of the reasons why native crops are disappearing from farmers’ fields.
Thousands of indigenous seeds have become extinct and the survival of the remaining indigenous seeds is in crisis due to the expansion of mono-crop seeds and technologies developed to meet the growing demand for food and livestock for people around the world.
Before the formal start of agricultural research and development in Nepal, more than two thousand indigenous varieties of paddy were in the farmers’ fields. But now that number is estimated to be around a quarter of that estimate. The situation is similar with other cereals, vegetables, and fruits.
Indigenous seeds, which are rapidly disappearing due to various reasons, are being conserved in the homes, farms, and orchards of farmers to promote their use, increase the easy availability of various local and improved varieties of seeds required for farmers and ensure farmer rights to seeds as per international treaty regulation by WTO. The community seed bank is expanding as a successful system.
The Community Seed Bank is an arrangement for farmers to join a cooperative or organization to find, collect, conserve, produce regular seeds and provide seeds as per the needs of the farmers.
Community Seed Bank was started in 2052 BS in Nepal and so far 22 community seed banks have been operating successfully in 19 districts of all seven states. These community seed banks are producing 1620 varieties of indigenous seeds of 75 crops every year. The seed bank provides seeds to the needy farmers for free or on nominal payment.
If these community seed banks had not been established and operated, most of the seeds they currently conserved would have disappeared forever.
Community Seed Banks established in Nepal for indigenous seed conservation are mostly established with the financial support of international donors. Although some time ago, the bodies under the Department of Agriculture followed it, almost all of them were closed due to non-compliance with the rules and procedures.
Some community seed banks established with the help of donors are developing as role models not only for Nepal but also for other countries. Shivgunj Community Seed Bank of Jhapa district has done an exemplary job by re-expanding the endangered ‘Kalununiya‘ variety of paddy. This variety is in the final stage of the registration process at the Seed Quality Control Center.
Shivgunj Community Seed Bank is producing and selling 3 to 4 tons of improved Kalununia paddy seeds annually. Community seed banks at Jungu in Dolakha, Ghanpokhara in Lamjung and Rampur in Dang are also working on ethnic seed improvement, production, and expansion of endangered ‘Yellow Bean’, ‘Tilki Dhan’ and ‘Bario Kaguno’.
There has been a lot of study and research on community seed banks in Nepal and a replicable model has also been developed. The Karnali state government seems to have put forward policies and programs for the promotion of organic agriculture and indigenous crops. Although the body under the Department of Agriculture has made some efforts, it lacks long-term thinking and planning.
Apart from this, most of the farmers, municipalities and state government bodies in Nepal do not seem to have a clear idea of promoting the identity, protection and use of indigenous seeds. So far, there is no reliable assessment of the number of indigenous seeds in 753 municipalities of Nepal. Conservation research and promotion of indigenous seeds in farmers’ fields is a long way off.
In paragraph 3 of the Local Government Operation Act 2074, under the ‘Functions, Duties and Rights of Villages and Municipalities’, to protect and promote agro-environment and conservation and promotion of biodiversity within a single right and to record and conserve and promote biodiversity in coordination with the states is included. What is clear from this is that the municipality should take the lead in identifying, archiving, conserving and promoting the indigenous seeds in the municipality.
For this, the establishment and operation of ‘Community Seed Bank’ should not be delayed by mobilizing the farmers’ groups, cooperatives, and institutions already formed. But as this is a technical issue, the municipalities have no choice but to move forward with long-term thinking, planning, and programs by coordinating and cooperating with governmental and non-governmental bodies at the federal and state levels.
-By Pitamber Shrestha (a researcher on local crop diversity) in setopati.com. Translated by Sunil Sapkota.