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Meet to conserve local seeds

Jorhat, Feb. 22: In a bid to conserve indigenous seed varieties of the region, the first seed banks would be opened in Jorhat schools on February 26 and the first annual Seed Mela held at Digboi on February 27.

Odisha’s Debal Deb, known as the saviour of germplasm, will attend the two events along with members of Canada-based NGO, Fertile Ground: East/West Sustainability Network.

Pompy Ghosh, an NGO member, told The Telegraph from Digboi that the fair will provide support for farmers, agriculture officers, students and interested individuals to learn about sustainable agriculture by saving traditional seed varieties of vegetables, paddy and pulses.

“There will be lectures by Deb, the founder of Vrihi Beej Binimoy Kendra, the first non-governmental rice seed bank for farmers and the largest folk rice seed bank in eastern India. Erin Harper, a young farmer, activist and seed saver, will speak on the seed movement in Canada and the world. Mahan Chandra Borah, seed saver and promoter of organic agriculture at Meleng in Jorhat district, will also speak on his experience in researching Assam’s traditional seed varieties and documenting farmers already saving local seed varieties.”

Deb told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta that he would be training persons at a programme in North Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya, and then coming to Jorhat on February 26.

He completed his PhD in ecological economics and marine and estuarine resources from University of California, USA. Deb has more than 700 varieties of seed grains stored in earthen containers at his house in Raygarah, Odisha.

Deb set up his seed farm in 1997 in Bankura district of West Bengal and cultivated these varieties on a small plot of seven hectares in order to promote cultivation of folk rice varieties and re-establish the vanishing culture of non-commercial seed exchange.

In 2011, he shifted to Raygarah owing to the volatile weather at Bankura and for other reasons.

On the other hand, members of the eco club of Government Boys Higher Secondary and Multi-purpose School have been working under the guidance of Jogendra Nath Bora and Dipankar Mahanta, have gathered 27 varieties of indigenous xali rice grains and stored them in sealed containers.

Bora said many people were unaware of the innumerable rice varieties, which had properties suited to the soil and climatic conditions of Assam. “The seeds indigenous to the region can withstand scanty rainfall, flooding, salinity, high clay content and attacks of pests, bacteria and fungi and other environmental vagaries.”

“Lectures to create awareness in this regard were first conducted by Mahan Chandra Borah and Sapan Bezbora of Baligaon, who helped the students to differentiate between indigenous species and hybrid ones before the collection got under way,” he said.

“We have collected 27 such varieties already and we will cultivate these in batches so they are preserved,” Bora, who teaches English at the school, said.

The school has its own power tiller and plenty of low-lying ground, suitable for cultivation, surrounding it.

On the first day, a seed bank will be opened at the multi-purpose school in the morning and in Mudoijan Bharalua LP School. A tour of Adarsh Seuj Prakalpa, an organic demonstration garden set up seven years ago on an abandoned housing site at Muliabari Digboi in Tinsukia district, is planned on the second day.