Gene Campaign, an NGO working in Uttarkhand since 2004, has been making all efforts to revive traditional crops like Mandua or finger millet. Efforts are on not only to revive traditional crops but also on value addition especially from nutrition point of view.
With Government’s support almost missing, Gene Campaign has taken the task to revive not only Mandua but all traditional crops and fruits in this area.With tie-ups with IITs and Food Technological Institutes for research in reviving traditional seeds and crops. The NGO’s field station is located in village Orakhan situated in Ramgarh block of Nainital district. A community seed bank, established here by Gene Campaign caters the needs of farmers for variety of crops and vegetables. It has been working with thousands of farmers of nearly 100 villages of Nainital districts. Providing advanced seeds, value addition, training and imparting knowledge about modern agriculture are main components of its functioning.
Seed is the main input. Farmers who cultivate vegetables often complain that when they buy seed from the market, they are often cheated with spurious seeds.
Suman Sahai , chairperson Gene Campaign and recipient of the Padma Shri and Borlaug Award says that Gene Campaign has been working in Uttarakhand for last 10 years. Its main focus has been on making agriculture and food production sustainable and climate resilient, conserving traditional varieties of crops and setting up seed banks to give farmers more seed choice, improving household nutrition by developing homestead gardens providing fresh vegetables year round and reviving the nutrition rich, wild and semi-domesticated plants like nettles and ferns that were eaten as vegetables earlier but are being abandoned.
“We are focusing on nutrition value and reviving traditional food grains like different millets and amaranth which are climate resilient , nutrition dense foods almost entirely displaced by the wheat-rice of the PDS system,” she says.
Detailing about advanced Seed Bank at Orakhan Field Station, Gene Campaign Chief says, “We have large variety of seeds of millet. It is not necessary that a farmer would also opt for a high yield variety, sometime they need for fodder. Keeping in view of several different needs, we have created different varieties of seeds not for millet but for other crops as well.”
“We need to do a lot of research focusing on the needs of these hilly areas. We are trying to revive traditional varieties of paddy and wheat as well. It is not only reviving but adding value is important. Uttarakhand faces acute problem of malnutrition, so emphasis should be on foodgrains which have high nutrition value,” Sahai emphasises.
Water is scarce in the mountains which are monsoon dependent, hence all the women wanted govt support to create water tanks in individual homes to conserve rainwater and use it to produce some additional food. Gene Campaign has been helping farmers to create such ‘jal kunds’ on a cost sharing basis and it would be very good if govt could scale up this critical and useful activity.
Efforts are sincerely being to attract new generation towards farming. Certainly they need to be convinced that farms are their biggest assets and they can earn handsomely. The government, civil societies and farmers need to work together to enhance agriculture contribution to our GDP. It is pity that 70 per cent population contribute only 14 percent to our GDP! The government, be it state or Centre, has neglected hilly areas of the country with reference to research. The government needs to make huge investment in agriculture especially in research for sustainable agriculture development.