In 2001, Sangita Sharma set up Annadana as a seed bank with 20 varieties of indigenous seeds on her five-acre farm in Bengaluru. Over the centuries, nature has provided us with good quality seeds that did not require any chemicals or fertilizers to yield the desired crop. Till 1970, India owned 1,10,000 varieties of rice. In the current situation, only 6,000 of these are surviving today.
When Annadana’s seed bank was set up in 2001, they had conserved over 800 heritage crop varieties, with specific focus on vegetables. Sangita stated that because they are based in tropical regions, their focus is to multiply semi-tropical and tropical seeds. It is said that Sharma is a firm believer of the fact that varietal purity is the need of the hour. She stated, “We safeguard not just what is indigenous (green gram, gourds, pepper, paddy, turmeric), but also the diversity of the world. Most of what’s on your plate, like tomatoes, potatoes and wheat, did not originate in India.”
Dr Prabhakar Rao, an agricultural scientist who started collecting native seeds seven years ago claims that India has lost 99% of biodiversity in vegetables. He holds farming workshops that attract urban farmers to reintroduce these varieties to people.
Dr Rao is among the few people who have realized the long-term sustainability of chemical agriculture. He affirms that most people don’t know that native seeds can’t be grown using chemicals. As per him, if urea is added to a native wheat variety, it will grow tall, but easily get snapped in the wind. GMO and hybrid seeds, however, cannot germinate without using fertilizers and pesticides.
Further, Dr Prabhakar Rao says, “If you went to the market a 100 years ago, you could choose from 544 cabbage varieties, 480 types of peas, nearly 408 tomato species and over 341 pumpkins and squashes.”
The current generation has failed to realize the need of the hour, which is to move our focus towards the ides of “Save Vegetables” It’s time that we think about preserving our native variants. People like Sangita Sharma have proved to be a crucial contributor in realizing this dream. For the rest of us, the sooner the better!