The Green Foundation in Thalli
09 / 1997
The Green Foundation chose the small town of Thalli, a few hours from Bangalore, to establish its biodiversity conservation center. The protagonists of the organisation are of the opinion that ex situ conservation alone is inadequate for the preservation of agricultural diversity. Indeed, the germplasm collections stored in national genebanks are hardly accessible to farmers.
About 60 farmers from 18 villages take part in the on-farm conservation project conducted by the Green Foundation and tailored to the farmers’ needs. The project - based on an approach elaborated by the Navdanya team - begins with a regional survey to identify the main cropping patterns, the diversity of species used in various ecosystems, the extent of high yielding and hybrid varieties coverage. Primary contacts are also established with the farmers. Indigenous seeds are collected in accordance with the needs expressed by farmers for specific crops or characteristics. In the Thalli region, for instance, ragi, jowar, horsegram, dryland and wetland paddy rank high on the priority list for crop conservation. Drought tolerance, resistance to pests and diseases and high tillering (which usually means higher yield)are favored characteristics among farmers in this agro-climatic zone.
For the past three years, the Green Foundation has been organising annual seed fairs in Thalli. These fairs have stimulated exchanges of indigenous seeds, and they have generated discussions among farmers on the value of biodiversity and traditional farming practices. Fairs are also a means for the Green Foundation to build up its seed collection.
At the centre, all seeds are carefully labelled. The vernacular and scientific names, the features of the location (soil type, elevation, land type)and the date of collection of the plant are recorded. Farmers are asked to characterize each plant (cropping season, varietal performance, agronomic features, yield, grain quality, uses of the crop, availability in the area...)for documentation purpose (1). The Navdanya and Green Foundation teams believe that "information gathering is part of an empowerment strategy to strengthen farmers’ knowledge systems and help them regain control over seed supply" (2). Recording farmers’ knowhows before they fall into oblivion is a matter of priority to the Green Foundation. Traditional skills are fast eroding due to the advent of new ’modern’ seeds and new products and technology (chemical insecticides...).
A vast knowledge is associated with the cleaning, treating, and storing of seeds. Thus, farmers know about many different natural additives used to treat the seeds, thus preventing them from rotting and protecting them from plant diseases or storage insects such as termites. Black pepper, lemon grass, neem leaves or neem oil, red chillies are among the many plants featuring insecticidal properties. Ash and minerals like fine sand or clay dust can also be mixed in with the grain or the seeds for preservation. Drying and storing techniques are also varied in kind, and they may differ from one region to the next in accordance with humidity levels. At the Green Centre in Thalli, most seeds are preserved in glass jars or in aluminum tins - depending on the seed - at room temperature.
Apart from storing seeds, the Green Foundation multiplies them on its own farm after conducting germination tests. These seeds are distributed to farmers on the occasion of the seed fairs. Some of them decide to grow these seeds on a small plot of land, either to evaluate their performance, or to take part in the process of multiplication. They are asked, however, to comply with the four following conditions : the produce grown from these seeds, if not entirely consumed, should only be sold to the Green Foundation; only green organic manure should be spread on the crop; the Green Foundation should be given a chance to intervene with its newly-developed bio-pesticide in the event of a pest attack on the farmer’s fields; and the farmer should take good care to produce high quality seeds from the seeds supplied. These principles embody an attempt towards sustainability : by making organic farming practices more familiar to farmers, by encouraging farmers to be self-reliant in terms of seed requirement, and by building an economic back-up for the project through the sale of produce in the city.
The Green Foundation is reaching more and more farmers every year. Yet the establishement of a conservation center in a fixed place forces the farmers to come to the organisation, which goes against the principle of effective on-farm conservation. At the Green Foundation, decisions are made jointly with farmers, but one hardly gets a sense that the process is in their hands. The dynamics is shaped by the very essence of the organisation, torn between its desire to conduct thorough ground work and its obligation to prove to the funding agency that the work is progressing (often by providing statistical evidence...).
1. Vanaja Ramprasad, Krishna Prasad, Janavi Devi, Nagaraj, Hanumesh, Narasimmaih, Kamalamma, Rama (Green Team), 1996, Seeds of the Future, Bangalore : Green Foundation.
2. Vandana Shiva, Vanaja Ramprasad, Radha Holla Bhar (Navdanya Team), 1994, Sustaining Diversity : Renewing diversity and balance through conservation, New Delhi : The Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy.
Contact person at the Green Foundation : Vanaja Ramprasad.
Address : Green Foundation, 839, 23rd Main, X Cross, J.P. Nagar, II Phase Bangalore 560 078.
Personal study on biodiversity in India. A book is on the point to be published in India. For further information, please contact the author (see address)or Fph.