Sujathamma: individual seed saver

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Confident and outspoken, Sujathamma is a natural leader of her community, mixing a strong sense of sense of purpose with a cool dose of truthfulness and honesty in everything she does. But as she explains, this was not always the case. “I used to be so shy that I could get nothing out when I wanted to say something.

I didn’t know how to express myself. But all that changed for her, she says, when she started attending intervention programs by GREEN. “The exposure visits gave me the confidence to speak up,” says Sujathamma.

The neat kitchen garden around her home stands testament to just how successfully she has implemented changes in her life, thanks to these initiatives. Her journey as an individual seed saver and community leader has been 12 years in the making. And as she says, it all began with the kitchen garden. GREEN initiates the setting up of kitchen gardens for small scale and marginal farming families, with an aim to strengthen their food security. Over the years, some 950 kitchen gardens have been set up through these efforts, positively impacting the lives of as many families.

GREEN makes use of the permaculture concept developed by Mollison and Holmgen to develop sustainable land use designs that minimize work and maximize productivity. Sujathamma has received training in various aspects of managing a garden. A vermicompost pit in the corner provides fertilizer for the kitchen. Like many farmers who undergo GREEN’s intervention programs, she makes fertilizer at home. “This is very good for the garden,” she explains proudly.

These kitchen gardens are also excellent sites for in-situ conservation of indigenous vegetable seeds. Around Sujathamma’s own garden at least 10 different varieties can be seen, even during the dry season. Arranged neatly about front yard are the various indigenous seed varieties she saves each year. She conserves over 40 different varieties of vegetables, 2 of paddy and at least 10 indigenous varieties of millets and pulses.

After being introduced to various concepts of biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture by GREEN, Sujathamma, with the support of her community members, was determined to start a seed bank. This, she maintains to this day in a room of her home. She believes very strongly in biodiversity conservation. As the seeds dry slowly in the sun, she explains how she came about converting a room of her own home into a seed bank. “I never knew much about indigenous seeds until GREEN told me about them,” she says. In the 12 years since she first became acquainted with GREEN, Sujathamma has learnt about the benefits of conserving indigenous varieties. There are approximately 16 households in her community of Saraswathinagar, in Ramanagara District of Karnataka. Almost all of them, she says, are subsistence farmers who make ends meet on a few acres of land.

GREEN’s work is based on the understanding that for such small scale and marginal farmers, biodiversity is essential to strengthening their food and livelihood security. Therefore GREEN enables and empowers farmers, particularly women farmers in biodiversity conservation activities.

Individual seed savers like Sujathamma work actively to enrich the biodiversity of their communities. “The seed bank is like our own small baby,” she says. “And it has become a routine part of our day to take care of it. I want there to be seed banks all over the state and our country, because they help farmers so much. It is my dream to see that happen,” she says.

© GREEN Foundation 2009