Planting seeds of hope: Community seed banks empower farmers and address climate risk in India

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In April 2022, India experienced its hottest recorded month in more than a century, a red flag for the monsoon-dependent country. India’s weather patterns, particularly drought and irregular rainfall, are increasingly generating lower farm yields. To mitigate these agricultural challenges, plant genetic resource (PGR) initiatives are being implemented to maximize the use of local genetic diversity, with a particular focus on climate-resilient crops.

For Alliance India Country Coordinator Dr. Jai Rana, community seed banks are an effective medium to address climate risks as they:

  1. Improve farmers’ access and availability to seeds that are locally adapted to climate stresses but are no longer available with farmers,
  2. Allow farmers to access seeds from other areas where seeds have adapted previously
  3. Enable farmers to practice crop diversification through increased availability of varietal diversity.

India is one of the 12 mega gene centers of the world, with rich agrobiodiversity that has adapted to local conditions. Many of these landraces and traditional varieties are “lost” or severely underutilized, making community seed banks an appropriate approach to help conserve these varieties amidst the climate crisis.

An important aspect of this work involves institutionalizing community seed banks. By collecting diverse seeds in farming communities, seed banks have generated wider genetic diversity, plant sustainability, and self-sufficiency. Community seed banks are especially helpful for farmers in isolated areas with limited access to resources and modern technologies.

A vast majority of small and marginal farmers in India have access to limited variety of seeds that are of poor quality and accessed from local markets or seed exchange.

“Good quality seeds of diverse varieties and crops accessed through community seed banks can mitigate risks, reduce yield loss and increase farmer incomes,” Ronnie Vernooy, Senior Scientist at the Alliance and a specialist in community seed banks, said.

The scientist added that community seed bank farmers are trained to harvest, treat, store and multiply seeds that are of better quality than those available in local market.

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