Farm-saved seeds are diverse and well adapted to local conditions – they also form the basis for healthy yet affordable nutrition. Therefore, it fulfils all the requirements for making local food systems more independent and resilient. Especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic and the global climate crisis, this sows hope.
CROPS4HD in India aims to safeguard the livelihoods of smallholder farmers against the impacts of climate change. To strengthen the food security of the rural population, the use and conservation of farmers’ seed varieties are promoted. In combination with agroecological cultivation methods, agricultural yields are increased and secured in the long term.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many smallholder families have lost almost everything. Their financial reserves have been depleted. They suffer from climate change, long droughts and floods. To counteract this, the industry is offering them high-yielding hybrid seeds. According to the manufacturers, this is supposed to deliver bumper harvests. But despite the fine promises made in theory, the reality in Indian fields is often different: Entire crop harvests are destroyed because the expensive seed is less resistant than expected. In addition, crop failures are followed by astronomical debts and soil depleted by pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
Today, the national food system does not provide adequate and healthy food for the approximately 1.4 billion Indians. Nearly one in seven people in the country is undernourished or malnourished.
Nationwide lockdowns have further exacerbated the situation in the country. The food supply for many rural families has deteriorated. In particular, the landless, the elderly, single women and the disabled have seen their lives severely impaired.
Sustainable markets and seed storage
The project is being implemented in the three Indian regions of West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka. To improve the food situation, local markets must once again play a stronger role in the food system. Currently, smallholder farmers have almost no opportunity to connect to these markets. On the one hand, it is often difficult for them to produce much more than they need for their own needs. On the other hand, selling their small surpluses to to markets is not profitable due to high transportation costs. Therefore, the project first promotes local, healthy and diversified products and then strengthens local markets and events to stimulate the exchange and sale of farmers’ products.
Through CROPS4HD, smallholder families in India discover old varieties from new angles. The agroecological cultivation methods increase yields and enable healthy nutrition at affordable prices.
Seed storages should also facilitate community access to local improved seed. Storing forgotten varieties in community seed storages facilitates exchange between farming communities. This also makes the knowledge needed for cultivation more accessible.
Back to the roots
The global climate crisis and the ongoing uncertainty about how the coronavirus will affect us in the coming years point to many major global challenges in the decades ahead. The CROPS4HD project takes these threats seriously in India, building on the traditional knowledge and diversity of farmer-grown seeds that have evolved over the past millennia. Because these indigenous seed varieties have been able to adapt to local conditions for thousands of years, they are particularly well suited to address the challenges ahead.
Supported by the increased demand, the project will therefore promote the production of these farmer varieties. SWISSAID employees on the ground are also supporting the farmers with further training in agro-ecological cultivation methods.
Debi Gharami, a farmer from the village of Kanaknagar, confirms the effectiveness of the measures taken: «We have learned how to save seeds and how to produce compost and other organic fertilizers using locally available materials.» The consequences are clearly felt by the villagers. Debi Gharami adds, «By selling surplus from the garden, we can save money to invest elsewhere.»
Seed fairs like these promote farmers’ seed varieties and facilitate exchange and sales. They also promote knowledge sharing among farmers and strengthen social networks.