As part of its mandate, Chetna Organic (FFID-COFA) promotes the cropping systems approach in cotton cultivation among marginal and smallholder farming households (predominantly tribal) from the rainfed and ecologically depressed regions of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. This includes cultivation of pulses like pigeon pea, black gram, green gram, cowpea, millets and vegetables in farmers land along with cotton. Unlike in mono cropping, adopting biodiversity in the field takes care of crop health while inclusion of pulses improves soil fertility. On the whole, this approach helps farmers achieve economic and nutritional security.
The Seed Guardians project adopted in India by Chetna Organic, is primarly an initiative supported by Textile Exchange and Inditex. The project is being implemented in 5 clusters spread over three districts of Kalahandi, Bolangir and Rayagada in Odisha. The program aims to promote women managed and controlled seed enterprises, focussing primarily on conservation and multiplication of open source seed systems. The goal is also to empower women to deliver organic cotton to the markets without compromising on family food and nutritional safety through seed saving. Over three years the project aims to establish five viable seed banks producing at least 25 varieties of fibre and food crop seeds. This would improve living conditions for over 500 families touching a minimum of 2,500 men, women, and children.
Since its inception in January 2013, 72 women /men have been identified as Seed Guardians and 18 women have undergone rigorous training as master trainers and seed custodians. Seed Custodians are individual farmers who assume leadership roles and responsibilities to plan and maintain the 6 seed banks initiated in 6 villages. Low cost infrastructure required for conservation of seeds, like slotted angle racks, containers like earthen pots and bags have been made avilable in each of the seed banks.
In these handful villages, each seed guardian farmer is now growing 5-8 varieties of cotton and food crops in his/her own field. They have been trained in keeping registers, indexing of varieties in various crops and maintaining stock registers. These selected tribal farmers have been familiarised with the seed bank principles of sharing quality heirloom seeds with fellow farmers in the surrounding villages. Participating farmers who borrow these seeds, after harvest, return double the quantity of seed borrowed.
Front Line Demonstration (FLD) with cotton variety Suraj – Chetna Organic, in collaboration with Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, has taken up front line demonstrations for cotton with 95 farmers in 41 acres across 9 villages. The demonstrations are mainly about enhancing cotton productivity through High Density Planting System (HDPS) in light soils under rain fed conditions. The variety tried under this is Suraj, a medium duration (160 days) variety, with a staple length of above 30 mm and gtex-25. Since this is a straight variety, farmers would have the opportunity to reuse their own seeds, avoiding the dependency on companies for seeds.
Capacity building and networking
As part of orientation, Seed Guardians were motivated to participate in seed festivals and training programs organised in the region. Participants across the states exchanged traditional varieties and distributed them to selected farmers in four villages for multiplication. Farmers who participated in the seed festival put up a stall to display their traditional seeds. In the festival, these farmers also participated in a competition - “Possession of highest number of seed varieties”. Enthused after participating in the festival, Chetna farmers developed contacts with seed conserving farmers in other States and exchanged 20 food crop varieties.
Since inception in January 2013, Chetna Organic conducted several pre-season training programs at cluster and village level. These trainings covered issues of seed, including problems and pit falls with GM crops, importance of cultivation of heirloom varieties, their nutritional value, resistance to abiotic stress like water and heat; biotic stress like pests and diseases.
Midseason training was organised on ways and methods to reduce cost of cultivation, improving soil fertility and pest management. The trainings also covered Chetna’s standards in organic farming, certification procedures and further steps. Workshops were organised to brainstorm the traditional and modern seed preservation / storage methods.
One farmer from each seed bank attended a national level paddy conservators training in Muniguda organised Dr Debal deb, renowned paddy conservator on identification and maintenance of varieties and keeping them true to type. This is a season long program in three stages, viz., at sowing, flowering and harvesting, which imparts them with basic skills that are applicable in general to other crop seeds.
Villages selected for Seed Conservation and initiation of Seed banks: Bhimdonga, Tentulipada, Sialjudi, Motkera, Pakhanmunda, Dandra
No. of women/men involved in seed collection: 72 women / men
Seed Custodians:18 women
Heirloom seeds /improved varieties: 50 varieties
Types of crops: Grain crops, pulses, cotton & spices