India’s ‘Seed Mother’ Single-Handedly Preserved 122+ Native Crop Varieties; Film On Her Life Wins Cannes Award

Image Credits: MITTRA

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Recently, a short film by Indian filmmaker Achyutanand Dwivedi was awarded at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The three-minute film, titled ‘Seed Mother’ won the third prize at the Nespresso Talents 2019 for its brilliant portrayal of an unsung hero of India – Rahibai Soma Popere.

Recognised as ‘Seed Mother’ by India, and now the world, Rahibai is a 55-year-old tribal woman farmer hailing from Kombhalne village in Maharashtra. Over the course of the past few decades, she has single-handedly managed to conserve hundreds of native varieties of crops which would otherwise have faced the cruel crux of extinction. Last year, Rahibai was featured in the coveted list of 100 Women 2018 by BBC, where only three Indian women had found place. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

She has preserved 122 native seed varieties

To involve more women in her noble mission, Rahibai has founded the Kalsubai Parisar Biyanee Samvardhan Samiti – a women’s self-help group in Kombhalne exclusively devoted to urge farmers to preserve native seeds and do away with hybrid varieties as much as possible.

At Rahibai’s backyard, a frail wooden door reads – “Biyane Bank Kombhalne” (Seed Bank Kombhalne). Inside the quaint mud cabin lies a treasure trove of the rarest of rare seeds native to Maharashtra – ranging from grains to vegetables, herbs to fruits. A staunch opposer of chemical farming, Rahibai has saved over 60 indigenous vegetables, 15 varieties of paddy, 9 varieties of peas and oilseeds among others. At her seed bank, one can find up to 122 varieties of 32 different crops, states a report by Homegrown. She conserves all these seeds in completely primitive methods, without resorting to any modern chemical preservatives. In fact, this is how director Achyutanand Dwivedi came in touch with this incredible woman while searching for some rare native seed varieties for his sustainable kitchen garden, reports Indian Express.

A single-handed effort with no prior experience or knowledge

In her youth, Rahibai used to work as a labourer most months of the year. Like most families in drought-ridden rural Maharashtra, her family also practised agriculture only during the short span of monsoon and migrated to nearby suburbs and villages to work as labourers in sugar factories. In their meagre landholding of three acres, his family used to grow native crops using all natural and organic means.

Through her sole efforts, Rahibai turned two acres of wasteland in her present village into a productive farm, by creating traditional water harvesting system like a jalkund there. She organically cultivated vegetables throughout the year in her farm until the Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (MITTRA) stepped in to support her. With their help, she established a nursery for preserving native crops and also started rearing poultry at her home. The most astonishing part must be that Rahibai had no training or knowledge about seed preservation and she has achieved everything through her personal experience.

She is strictly against hybrid seeds and chemical cultivation

“Villagers were falling sick frequently after eating food prepared from hybrid crops,” she shared the details in an interview with VillageSquare. It caught Rahibai’s attention how the deficit of nutrients is increasing among the village children and how the general immunity of the villagers has degraded since the advent of hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers or pesticides. She also observed how hybrid crops require a lot more water than indigenous varieties, which added on to the water scarcity in these drought-prone regions.

Rahibai could remember the healthier, tastier and more nutritious rice or vegetables on her plate during her childhood. Her palate and her conscience could never get acquainted with the hybrid varieties, which in her opinion, were the root cause of all health disorders.

Inspiring farmers and enriching agro-science

So Rahibai travelled across the state of Maharashtra, collecting local seeds from here and there. She also spoke to the village inhabitants everywhere and explained to them the importance and benefits of growing native seeds.

In her own courtyard and farm, she has planted nearly 500 native plants, shows a documentary by BBC. Her prized collection of an unbelievable range of hyacinth beans has not only drawn admiration from all over but has also earned her a place in science, as some of these seeds are now being studied for their unknown genetic properties. Inspired by her, local farmers are also adopting the cultivation of native seeds from her seed bank, rather than procuring expensive hybrid seeds with loans. Her village has also acquired the traditional habit of consuming wild vegetables (Ranbhaji) which grow during the monsoon.

A Good Samaritan in more ways than one

Rahibai wishes to take the count of seeds preserved by her to 250 and bring more than 25,000 families within the ambit organic and native crop farming. When not toiling in her garden or seed bank, she will often be found organising health camps in adjoining villages and also distributing solar-powered lamps.

Efforts For Good salutes the amazing endeavour of Rahibai and wishes more farmers of India follow her footsteps.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Budget 2019 Promotes Zero Budget Farming: No Chemicals & No Production Cost May Double Farmers’ Income

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Zero budget farming – the term was alien to many until today when it was mentioned by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during the presentation of the Budget 2019.

While highlighting the importance of “going back to basics” in agriculture, she proposed to popularise the concept of zero budget farming all over India, to boost production and promote farmers’ income, while bringing down investment cost as well as minimising the use of chemicals. “Zero budget farming can help in doubling our farmers’ income by the time of our 75th year of Independence,” Sitharaman quoted in her budget speech.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

No More Debt Traps For Farmers

In April 2018, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN-FAO) suggested this farming method to be replicated worldwide to combat the imminent agrarian crisis. Efforts For Good delves into this unique concept – technically known as Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) – a brainchild of Padmashri agriculturist Subhash Palekar.

Zero Budget Farming
Subhash Palekar

In simple terms, ZBNF ensures zero production cost for growing any crop. It negates the purchase of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, advanced machinery or privatised seeds to achieve the huge production demand. The high expense incurred at the very start of the sowing season often ends up driving the farmers into a debt burden, as they fail to repay their loans in frequent cases of crop failure.

How Palekar Came Up With Zero Budget Farming

Subhash Palekar, a graduate in agricultural studies, himself had practised modern methods of chemical farming till the mid-1980s when he spotted a gradual decline in production rates and quality, despite increased use of chemical additives.

After thorough research into traditional methods of Indian farming, he inferred that adopting natural farming methods holds the key to the future of agriculture. He formulated the four-step zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) following a meeting with legendary Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka. Palekar now holds a strong apathy towards chemical farming as he believes all necessary nutrients are present in the soil itself, as evident from our dense tropical forests with bountiful production, unless and until the natural soil ecosystem is tampered with chemicals.


The Four Aspects Of Zero Budget Natural Farming

  • Jivamrita/jeevamrutha: A fermented microbial culture that catalyses the microbial activity in the soil, serving as a boost to soil nutrition.
  • Bijamrita/beejamrutha: Natural seed treatment with 100% organic ingredients to protect seedlings for diseases.
  • Acchadana/Mulching: Mulching is an alternative to soil tilling which adds biomass waste to the soil instead of ploughing which often destroys the soil retention capacity.
  • Whapasa/Moisture: Sustainable use of water and air-borne moisture instead of modern irrigation methods helps in conserving water, especially in drought-infested areas.

Read the details about the Four Pillars of ZBNF here: Zero Budget Natural Farming in India



The ZBNF Movement In Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh

The ZBNF movement was launched in Karnataka, in collaboration with Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) – the state farmers’ association. Estimates by UN-FAO reveal that nearly 1,00,000 farming families in the state have resorted to this method and achieved success. Later, ZBNF was officially adopted by the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP), considering it “very effective in addressing the uncertainties of climate change.”

The farmers across India, particularly in South India, who have voluntarily taken up ZBNF, are already reaping benefits due to drastically reduced production costs, almost negligible in most cases. It is relieving farmers from the vicious debt traps which often leave them at the mercy of unscrupulous moneylenders. Also, it is uplifting small-scale farmers who cannot afford expensive chemicals to enhance their production.

As of now, the ZBNF farmers’ movement works through a network of volunteer farmers, local leaders and independent activists at a district level. The participants coordinate with each other over each and every aspect of their individual farming activities. Additionally, ‘Krishi Ka Rishi’ Palekar himself continues to conduct training sessions across India. 

New Hope From Union Budget 2019

Through training camps, workshops and awareness initiatives, the ZBNF practitioners are actively promoting the concept. The recognition of the method by the Central Government as a crucial part of the Union Budget will definitely propel it to a higher level.

It is worthy to mention here that the government has also announced the mentoring of 75,000 skilled entrepreneurs in the agro-rural sector to promote agricultural entrepreneurship among enthusiasts from all walks of society.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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