The ‘Amazing Kind of Brain’: Food Crusade Preserving India’s Heritage | Global development

A A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is leading a movement in India to revive and preserve the country’s rapidly declining food biodiversity by bringing back the rich varieties of crops that thrived in the past, but It is on the verge of extinction.

Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old software professional, is just one of the crusaders who are buying packets of career and fat salaries set up to become farmers, workers and businessmen.

Fear of feeding his young daughter covered in pesticides prompted Bhatt to head for the hills of Uttarakhand. The financial insecurity of a business person. Starting a business with a steady income, he started Himalayas 2 Home, A self-financing scheme, in 2018.

Babita Bhatt left her career in software to start her own business in natural products growing in the Himalayas.
Babita Bhatt left her career in software to start her own business in natural products growing in the Himalayas. Photo: Handout

Growing up in the mountains, I was accustomed to eating delicious, organic foods grown in the mountains. So when I moved to the city after the wedding, I was hit hard by low-grade production and a lack of stable, reliable organic production, “says Bhatt. It was polished white and tasteless, in contrast to the uninhabited and delicious hills, and the city’s vegetables and fruits also lacked luster, texture and taste.

Bhatt launched a sustainable indigenous and hereditary seed-based agricultural supply chain model. “The list of unknown or lesser known indigenous crops in India is astonishing,” she says. He said that all these varieties were grown and eaten on a large scale only 100 years ago. However, they disappeared with it Green revolution [initiated in the 1960s]Which has kept crop production at a premium over soil conservation and quality production.

“The use of pesticides and seed tampering by GMOs has led to the death of many varieties of indigenous seeds that have medicinal and therapeutic properties. A document on seeds stored in community seed banks. Documentation takes time as it can play an important role in preserving rapidly disappearing indigenous products.

In three years, Bhatt has forged successful partnerships with a number of grassroots NGOs in Uttarakhand and the northeastern states that share his vision. It now has fully functional production and packaging facilities in Dehradun and an online marketplace with more than 110 products and about 3,500 regular customers across India.

She says: “We want to use traditional knowledge of agriculture to help improve income through guaranteed buybacks by building community partnerships, providing training and building a reliable supply chain.” Are also working together Seed rescue movement, To revive and promote traditional seed-based agriculture through an active group, Seed Protection and Promotion, through the Hereditary Seed Bank.

Experts say Bhatt’s concerns reflect an agricultural trend that has led to tectonic changes in farming techniques across India and around the world. Since the late 1800s, the rapid growth of farm mechanization has prioritized productivity at the expense of soil conservation and genetic diversity. The Indian Green Revolution further damaged agricultural diversity, replacing it with less and less nutritious but flexible varieties of crops.

There are 60 varieties of emeralds, including leafy vegetables and grains, as well as ornamental plants.
Amaranth is an ancient grain that is gaining fresh attention today as a ‘superfood’. Photographer: Hitinder Sankar / Global

in this The first global report Regarding the state of biodiversity for food and agriculture, which was released last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization at the United Nations found that 6000 species of plants Cultivated for food, it contributes less than 200 percent to global food production, and only 9 percent to 66 percent of total crop production.

In India, wheat, beans, pumpkin squash, cucumber skins and many more eggplant (aubergine) are lost.

“For India, the protection of biodiversity is important not only because it provides the goods and services necessary for human survival, but also because it provides livelihoods to millions of indigenous peoples and the economic conditions. It is directly linked to improvement, thus contributing to sustainability. A report from the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity states that development and poverty alleviation.

Natbar Sarangi, a teacher at the Retired Octogenry School, co-founded the Rajendra Desi Agriculture Research Center in coastal Odisha to preserve, multiply and distribute more than 700 varieties of rice in 25 years.

Sarangi says that India once had more than one million acres of rice lands with diverse and valuable properties. But after the Green Revolution, when some high-yielding varieties were introduced, the vast majority disappeared.

There are many varieties of cabbage in India, including Pride of India and Golden Acre.
There are many varieties of cabbage in India, including the Pride of India and the Golden Acre. Photographer: Sam Pentke / AFP / Getty Images

“After 32 years of service as a government school teacher, I returned to my native profession of chemical-free farming on 3.5 acres. [piece of] Sarangi, 87, says that in agriculture, along with mindfulness mechanization, I can change the land without any use of chemical fertilizers / pesticides that are destroying the land.

Sarangi has trained more than 2,000 farmers on the use of indigenous seeds, organic fertilizers and pesticides. This work is funded by the sale of seeds and donations from well-wishers.

“We want to revive traditions and restore the former dignity of the ancestral castes,” he said. Our library has more than 500 books on organic farming from different countries. People have concerns that organic farming cannot open up the entire population. “But its competitiveness and more than 65 years of experience in farming show that not only can it feed our country, but it can also produce more to export to other countries and boost our economy.” ۔ “

According to Dr. Prabhakar Rao, proponents of natural or Vedic farming – instead of organic farming Green seedIndia has lost about 99% of its biodiversity in vegetables in the last 100 years. Seedbank was started in 2009 by an agronomist with a PhD in genetics and plant breeding as a result of traveling to remote corners of India and interacting with celebrities and other agricultural stakeholders.

Variety of produce from Prabhakar Rao's farm in Bangalore.
Variety of produce from Prabhakar Rao’s farm in Bangalore. Photo: Handout

“In the last decade, I have consolidated (genetically and environmentally) 200 of the 600 seeds I have collected. It takes three to four years for a seed variety to stabilize, a process that prepares it for use and distribution.

Rao’s farm near Bangalore is a mess of unrealistic colors. The red oyster peeks through some of the bushes, while the scarlet corn and violet peppers turn upside down like the ornaments of others. Black and indigo tomatoes and sapphire hood cucumbers add to the amazing kaleidoscope. “Right now, my biggest focus is working with urban finance to introduce these varieties to consumers. Once this trend becomes commercially viable, farmers will have a bigger and more profitable market for their vegetables.” The market will be found and there will be massive success.

In addition to the irreversible loss of biodiversity, Rao warns that the loss of vegetable varieties poses a serious threat to India’s 5,000-year-old cultural heritage. “Cookbooks written over a hundred years ago mention dishes made from a variety of vegetables that no longer exist. Those utensils have disappeared from our repertoire, as well as that part of our precious sacred heritage.

He says the biggest challenge is that, unlike GMO / hybrid vegetable seeds that are sold by name and commercially, the newly discovered indigenous seeds are struggling with an identity crisis.

Dr. Prabhakar Rao (in a blue brief) at his farm in Bangalore.
Prabhakar Rao (in a blue shirt, in the back row) at his farm in Bangalore. Photo: Handout

“Currently, we have more than 30 varieties of tomatoes, with different flavors and textures, including blue, brown and purple. 28 types eggplant; 10 different cucumbers; Seven types of Okira and so on. But how to name them?

To temporarily relieve anxiety. , Production is being named after the places where they came from. For example, there is Meghalaya Red Pumpkin, named after one of the northeastern states of India, and Pune Kakri, a type of gourd that grows in a city in Maharashtra. But Rao says the government and institutions need to take steps to guide people like him.

According to Rao, indigenous crops are not only good for health, but they also protect us from climate change. “Hybrid or GMO seeds work on the idea that weather conditions will last forever. This water will be very high, the soil will have nutrients. But as climate change becomes more severe, This will happen, the basic principles on which these seeds are grown will be shaken very lightly.

“At the moment, if we don’t have the genetic diversity that is found in hereditary seeds, how will we get the genes to cope with climate change?” Where do seasonal fluctuations and second-tier types come from? The worker asked.

Find out more about coverage of extinction, and follow Biodiversity Correspondents Phoebe Weston And Patrick Greenfield For all the latest news and features on Twitter

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