Mission possible: Turning a waste land into a forest with a bank of traditional seeds

A father-daughter duo grow 800 varieties of traditional seeds in a 2.5-acre land in Nayagarh district of Odisha

Published: Monday 17 December 2018

In 1988, Sabarmatee and her father Radhamohan bought an acre of degraded land in Nayagarh district of Odisha. They wanted to set up an experiment to see if a forest can be grown using organic techniques. Organic farming was not widespread in India at that time, therefore they had to rely on trial and error.

But over time their efforts succeeded and after nearly three decades their one-acre has expanded in to 90 acres and with a lush forest cover. They did this by using soil and water conservation techniques like mulching and harvesting water in ponds.

In 1989, the duo registered a NGO called Sambhav, which would work on organic farming and ecological conservation.

Within their forest is also a 2.5-acre plot, which is used for seed preservation. Over the years, they have managed to collect, grow and preserve nearly 800 varieties of traditional seeds. More than half of these seeds are of paddy that can grow under different climatic systems and under different climatic stress levels.

Some of their seed can tolerate water logging and heavy rain while the other varieties can tolerate drought. There are also certain varieties that are highly nutritious.

Sabarmatee is promoting food security through crop diversification. She believes that at times of extreme weather events or pest attacks, crop diversity is what is going to protect farmers.  In case of a monoculture the entire crop can be destroyed if a natural calamity like flood or drought happen. But if farmers follow multicroping, then varities that are resilient to a particular weather phenonmenon will survive and the farmer will not lose all his or her crop.

Sabarmatee's efforts have built up an important repository of seeds that can help alleviate the effects of climate change.  When Odisha was hit by cyclonic storms in 2013 and 2014, 34 varieties of rice managed to withstand the damage. 

In 2018, Sabarmatee was awarded the Nari Shakti Award by the President of India for her work.

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