Community seed bank in Pahamshiken: climate change, food and identity

Not far from the ‘Pnah Kyndeng Sanctuary Bat Caves’ of the Raid Nonglyngdoh (Ri-Bhoi) is the village of Pahamshiken. A quintessential Bhoi village with lots of greenery, beautifully landscaped rice fields and fish ponds adjoining the farm, it has since 2020 been home to a community seed bank. Run by a group of ten women farmers, this particular seed bank was inaugurated by the Social Service Center (SSC) as part of the REC-supported project “No One Shall be Left Behind Initiative: Biodiversity for Food, Nutrition and Energy Security , Meghalaya and Nagaland” working in collaboration with NESFAS (North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society).

Currently, it contains about 20 types of seeds, for example corn, Job’s tears, coriander, beans, rice, pumpkin, among others. But at other times, especially after harvest, the seed bank has stored more than 100 types of seeds. This was made possible by the enormous amount of agro-biodiversity that Ri-Bhoi contains. The district actually contained the greatest amount of agro-biodiversity, an average of more than 250 food plants per village, as revealed by the 2018 participatory mapping exercise conducted by NESFAS and SSC in Meghalaya and Nagaland. . This made Pahamshiken very suitable for establishing the seed bank.

According to the 2015 book ‘Community Seed Banks: Origin, Evolution and Prospects’ edited by Ronnie Vernooy, Pitambar Shrestha and Bhuwon Sthapit, community seed banks are an important agro-biodiversity conservation initiative. They have been around for over 30 years and are found all over the world. Countries like Brazil, Nepal, India and Nicaragua have a large number but others like Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Guatemala, Rwanda and Uganda do not. have only a few emerging.

The main objective of these institutions is to conserve local or “peasant” varieties and rare varieties before this genetic diversity is lost due to societal pressures or frequent natural disasters. For example, in Bhutan, the Community Seed Bank was established in 2011 to arrest the decline of traditional staple crops like bitter buckwheat, sweet buckwheat and barley. In Ethiopia, on the other hand, the initiative was launched in 1989 with the aim of working in partnership with local farmers to rebuild the local food system which had been severely affected by drought. Similar motivations also encouraged the establishment of the community seed bank in Pahamshiken.

For farmers in Pahamshiken, the loss of traditional varieties and the need to strengthen the local food system were the main motivations for starting the seed bank. For example, Job’s tears (sorisip) which had nearly died out are now being stored with the intention of reviving its cultivation in the village. This is also the case for certain varieties of paddy whose cultivation has declined over time. Ri-Bhoi is well known for growing paddy with several varieties grown by farmers in the villages. In Pahamshiken itself, more than two dozen varieties are grown. Of these, ‘kba sohtri’ is a variety that was in decline but has now been brought to the seed bank for a revival. This particular variety, as revealed by Kong Dafimery Lyngdoh (secretary of the group of women farmers managing the seed bank), can tolerate a high degree of climatic stress.

This is a very important attribute given that climate change has already led to extreme weather conditions becoming very frequent. This very year, intense rains caused landslides and flash floods that not only destroyed infrastructure, but also resulted in the loss of precious human lives. Agricultural yield has also been severely affected in many parts of the state. As such, the particular variety of paddy i.e. kba sohtri kept in the seed bank could be a potential climate change adaptation solution as it has been reported to be stress resistant. severe climate. More importantly, with the impact of climate change set to intensify over the coming decades, this could be a crucial solution not only for Pahamshiken village and others in the Raid Nonglyngdoh area, but also for the global food security.

The “2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land” made dire predictions about the future of food security. The report observed that there is a high degree of confidence that climate change is already affecting food security through rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increased frequency of some extreme events. . Subsequently, future global food security will also be greatly affected. This will also be true for India. The 2016 article “Climate change and food security in India” by M Chakrabarty stated that acute water scarcity conditions, together with heat stress (both outcomes of climate change) will very badly affect rice productivity in the country.

However, all is not catastrophic. The same IPCC report also indicates that there is a high degree of confidence that sustainable practices can be optimized and scaled to advance adaptation across the food system. This is where the motivations behind starting the community seed bank in Pahamshiken and conserving paddy varieties like ‘kba sohtri’ can play a crucial role, especially through the biodiversity present in the local food system.

The 2021 “White Paper/Wiphala on Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems”, prepared by Indigenous Peoples’ representatives and experts, scientists, researchers and UN staff, revealed that Indigenous Peoples’ food systems (IPFS), rich in biodiversity, including the food of which Pahamshiken is a part, can go a long way in building resilience in the global food system. The diversity inherent in IPFS provides insurance against resource depletion by protecting the food system from the impact of ecological shocks. The multiplicity of food sources ensures that if one source is affected, the others can compensate for it.

In Pahamshiken, people have a variety of food sources, namely rice paddies, vegetable gardens, water bodies and forests. From these sources, more than 200 food plants can be harvested at different times of the year. This is complemented by animals, both domestic and wild, as well as insects and aquatic creatures of water bodies. This diversity further contributes to building resilience as it contains food resources that have adapted to local conditions and various climatic stresses over longer time periods through an evolutionary process, i.e. species and breeds climate resistant. The paddy variety ‘kba sohtri’ is a good example. Most likely, there might even be more. The Pahamshiken Community Seed Bank, by helping to strengthen the IPFS, can therefore not only contribute to local food security, but also hold important resources for global food security, present and future.

Besides food security, the seeds stored in the community seed bank also have another meaning. For the women who manage the seed bank, the seeds stored are not just for food but are linked to the cultural identity and value systems of the local indigenous community. Members were asked how they ensure that members do not steal seeds stored in the seed bank, especially those of rice. Kong Dafimery Lyngdoh replied that the rice is ‘Lukhmi’ and there is a belief among locals that anyone who steals the seeds will face bad luck. “Lukhmi” is the Khasi version of the Hindu Goddess – Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.

Just as Hinduism appropriated the local gods of the various regions of the subcontinent into their pantheon (thus the millions of gods of Hinduism), the Khasis also appropriated the names of Hindu gods into theirs. Since Lukhmi (Lakshmi) symbolizes wealth, if someone unjustly deprives someone of his wealth (stealing seeds), misfortune will visit him. In short, do not steal from others. For the people of Pahamshiken, the seeds kept in the seed bank are not only food but also determine who they are and what they believe in.

The Pahamshiken Community Seed Bank can help ensure food security, help build the resilience of the food system to climate change, and keep the tradition and value systems of indigenous peoples alive. But for all of this to happen, it will require the support of the state government. In fact, community seed banks can be part of the initiative to set the state on a path to sustainable agriculture (as the IPCC report suggests) and place Meghalaya at the forefront of the fight against change. climate change, making it an important leader in this field. national and global effort.

About the authors:

Bhogtoram Mawroh is Senior Associate, Research and Knowledge Management at NESFAS and can be contacted at [email protected]

Kyntiewlang I. Syngkon is associated with the Social Service Center and can be contacted at [email protected]

Iwakordor Malang is associated with the Social Service Center and can be contacted at [email protected]