Women as custodians of biodiversity

Manjulamma knows the challenges of being a farmer: if it is not troublesome pests and diseases that cause worry, then it is the lack of proper water supply that pose a threat to her family’s food security. Sometimes, even when there is plenty of water, there is no electricity supply to work the pumps.
This was the case a few years ago in her village of Kulumedoddi. Lack of electricity cut off water supply to her fields for a month and most of her crops failed. “Everything was gone except for the indigenous varieties we had planted at GREEN’s suggestion. Those crops survived. That’s when we realized how important they are for us,” she says.

While every farmer may face these difficult challenges, a woman farmer also deals with the daunting chasm of the gender gap still present in the Indian agrarian world. “A few years ago, we were not very involved in decision making,” she says. For women farmers in her village of Kulumedoddi, Kanakapura Taluk, convincing decision makers in their families to take up the cultivation of indigenous seeds proved challenging.

Capacity building initiatives by GREEN aim to raise awareness of women farmers to increase their knowledge and understanding of the importance of indigenous seeds and biodiversity conservation. Traditionally responsible for managing the seed requirements of their families, they may be considered the custodians of biodiversity. Community Seed Bank meetings, exposure visits, training sessions on sustainable agricultural practices, good seed management practices among many others have contributed to better management of farm resources as well as improved social standing of women in their communities.

In Kulumedoddi, the influence of women farmers has played a very important role in the promotion of indigenous seed varieties. The Devaralamma Community Seed Bank facilitated by GREEN in Kulumedoddi, which is in many ways at the heart of biodiversity conservation efforts within the community, is run almost entirely by women of the village. Trained in good seed storage and management practices, they are also responsible for maintaining seed transactions. Speaking from experience, Manjulamma says that indigenous varieties have many advantages: “With indigenous seeds, you can use organic inputs to get good yields. When it comes to hybrid seeds, good yields are only possible with the use of expensive chemicals.” She was able to cut down the cost of her farming inputs once she took up cultivation of indigenous varieties.

Experiential learning of farmers and research conducted by GREEN over the years reveal that these varieties are more drought and pest resistant and well suited to local climatic zones, qualities which make then especially favourable to farmers. They can also be saved from year to year (a characteristic lacking in hybrid seeds) which cuts down costs of seed purchase for community members struggling to meet the expenses of farming.

For Manjulamma, conserving these seeds is very important; they have contributed to strengthening the food security of her family. “Seed saving gives us access to good seeds in the future that are suited to our needs,” she says. “We are more certain of good yields,” she adds.

Many community members were initially unconvinced of the benefits of these varieties, but such perceptions have changed over the years. The combined efforts of women in the village have resulted in more and more farmers taking up the cultivation of these varieties. This has resulted in increased seed and information exchange. Today, says Manjulamma, the demand for indigenous seeds is so high that farmers from surrounding villages are now requesting seeds from the CSB.