The functional role of biodiversity is widely recognised by rural communities. Economic pressures on rural and urban societies have largely been responsible for the rapid erosion in biodiversity. Global realisation on the importance of biodiversity has led to the recognition on the need to conserve and sustainable utilize biological diversity and share equitably the benefits arising out of conservation. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) signed by 180 nations stands as testimony to the commitments of national governments on the issues related to biodiversity and India was one of the first nations to sign the CBD. The present project Conservation, Enhancement and Sustainable and Equitable Use of Biodiversity funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) was evolved against the backdrop of the CBD. The project is an attempt to fill an important gap in the biodiversity framework, especially related to the primary conservers of biological diversity.
The Report consists of six chapters addressing various components of the project. The introductory chapter gives a brief introduction, background, overview and significance of the project, followed by six chapters each outlining the major objectives and activities undertaken in the project at different field sites.
Chapter-I addresses revitalization of in-situ on-farm conservation traditions. Traditional farmers under growing economic pressures, changing lifestyles and modernization tend to give up their traditional lifestyles including agriculture. The project attempted to revitalize in-situ on-farm conservation traditions of tribal and rural families. Meetings and discussions were conducted with the local communities in all the project sites to identify issues related to the objectives of the project. The primary reasons attributed to the loss of agrobiodiversity were mostly poor yield, lack of access to markets, and shortage of seeds of traditional landraces. It was also found that weakened traditional seed exchange systems and storage techniques also contributed towards the extinction of varieties. Community seed banks were therefore established through Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in several villages. In some of them, Traditional Seed and Grain Storage Structures were constructed for storing seeds.
Seven landraces of little millet and Italian millet, which were under severe threat of extinction from Kolli Hills, were identified. Little millet and Italian millets were produced, stored and distributed amongst farmers for cultivation. More importantly two locally important species Black Paddy and Black Banana that were long considered as extinct in the region were located, identified and efforts made to revive their cultivation. Fifteen sacred groves were chosen for the purpose of study and documentation, of which restoration activities were undertaken in two of the groves.
In Orissa, germplasm exploration was undertaken for collecting locally available landraces of paddy, medicinal plants, millets, oil seeds, vegetables and spices. Seeds of 98 varieties of local paddy were multiplied under the Participatory Conservation System (PCS) involving farm families. These seeds were distributed to several farmers by establishing Community Seed Banks (CSB) in five villages. In addition Community Medicinal Plant Gardens (CMPG) have been established in five villages housing a total of 268 species of medicinal plants. Efforts were also made to encourage traditional health practitioners to revive some of the traditional health care practices. Eighty-two species of the 268 have also been planted at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) Green House. In addition, 82 varieties of medicinal plants, 7 landraces of millet, 11 varieties of pulses, 4 varieties of oil seeds, 11 varieties of vegetables 4 varieties of spices were identified, collected and stored at the community seed banks.
The field seeds banks have been provided with backward and forward linkages with the MSSRF Community Gene Bank (CGB) at Chennai. The CGB is a unique modern scientific facility that provides easy access to genetic material to tribal and rural farm families as well as serve as a backup storehouse. Seed material from the CGB would be made available to others only through prior informed consent (PIC) of farm families that contributed material to the gene bank. The CGB houses collection from Kolli Hills, Wayanad and Jeypore. The CGB regenerated and characterised thirty-two germplasm accession of little millet (Panicum sumatranse) and a hundred varieties of paddy. A survey of the lost varieties of Wayanad was conducted through listing of varieties from memory recall. Some of the lost materials were accessioned from the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), Thrissur multiplied and distributed to farmers. Duplicate samples of germplasm and passport data of collections available at the MSSRF CGB, were deposited with the NBPGR. The MSSRF CGB also houses 277 classified voucher specimens of plants (wild and domesticated) belonging to 84 families, 219 genus and 320 species.
Chapter-II details out activities undertaken in the objective Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers. Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers, which are considered to create prior art evidence in the light of new legislation’s related to Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBR) are believed to be one of the various steps to influence policy, administrative and legislative processes for recognition of local communities claims for benefit sharing in the use of bio-resources and commercial application of indigenous knowledge. In the Kolli Hills, Valappur Nadu was selected for preparing a People’s Biodiversity Register because of its rich biodiversity. Members belonging to the core group responsible for PBR listed and documented 400 different species of flora and fauna. The PBR of Valappur Nadu is currently housed in a location in the custody of the traditional village headsman.
At Wayanad, two PBRs – one of Kottathara village panchayat and another of Thariyode Panchayat were prepared through periodic meetings at the two sites. The preparation was handled by the local Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) backed up by technical inputs from MSSRF. Detailed ethnobotanical information on 250 species has been collected and documented from both the panchayats. Two local heritage sites have been identified and micro plans for their development drawn up. As part of the PBR activity, conservation of rare, endemic and endangered plants of Wayanad was also undertaken. 1200 angiosperm taxa from an area of 100 sq.km sampled and a collection of 50 wild tree species, 16 varieties of local plantains and 12 species of Dioscorea in 60 accessions are being maintained in the farm of MSSRF.
Three hamlets belonging to two Gram Panchayats in Jeypore, Orissa were chosen for preparing PBRs. Poor literacy and lack of interest amongst local communities were responsible for phasing out the activity from Orissa.
Chapter-III describes the lessons drawn from experiments conducted in participatory plant breeding. Participatory Plant Breeding is one of the important components of the project that envisages plant breeding in a participatory approach that would help in moving from on-farm conservation to on-farm management of agrobiodiversity. The chief focus has been on evaluation of participatory options at chosen sites in consultation with local communities for enhancing the potential of selected crops, designing PPB programs to optimise available options, and finally participatory piloting of programmes to maximise benefits. The intervention was planned to enable tribal and rural families initiate suitable plant breeding programs in collaboration with scientists and other experts of MSSRF. Participatory breeding work is linked to training in seed and post harvest technologies and MSSRF has been instrumental in developing the concept and methodology in addition to providing guidance.
In the Kolli Hills demonstrative field trials of local races of minor millets were established, followed by improved seed multiplication techniques, line sowing, crop production technology, and revitalisation of traditions related to community seed storage and farmer-to-farmer seed exchange. In Jeypore, the achievements have been similar to those of the Kolli Hills, except for the fact that rice was the principal crop chosen for the site. In Wayanad, the focus has been protection of the paddy ecosystem, conservation of Njavara rice varieties having unique medicinal properties, used in Ayurveda, in-situ on-farm conservation practices of communities cultivating traditional rice varieties.
Chapter-IV is a summary of the policy research and gender sensitisation undertaken in the project. MSSRF was primarily responsible for drafting the Biological Diversity Bill 2000 and the Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Bill 2000 that were tabled in the Parliament of India in 2000. These two bills are expected to have major implications in the areas of domesticated and wild biodiversity. A Voluntary Code of Conduct for Fostering Bio-partnerships was prepared by MSSRF for individuals, institutions and commercial companies. It is based on a firm commitment to ethical principles in the matter of credit and benefit sharing in the area of biodiversity. In addition, a Legal Guidelines for Institutions and Individuals Working on Biodiversity in the light of the Biological Diversity Bill 2000 and the Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Bill 2000 was also prepared. Three workshops on Gender mainstreaming were conducted under the project at Kolli Hills, Wayanad and Jeypore. Gender is an everyday issue faced by the field staff working in the frontier and requires to be dealt with. At the workshops, the staff involved in the project were exposed to various gender issues related to class, caste and age.
Chapter-V summarizes the project experience of linking primary conservers with markets. Market linkages to existing biodiversity product is seen as a crucial link in conservation. Many of the crops and wild products are being phased out largely due to the absence of markets. In order to overcome the anomaly, the project made an attempt to link primary conservers with markets. In the Kolli Hills, SHGs were assisted in sale of millets to TRIFED. A total of 12.8 tons produced by 130 farm families were procured by 10 SHGs and sold to TRIFED. A commission of 1.5% provided by TRIFED was shared equally among the SHGs. Small quantities of processed Italian and little millets were sold in super markets in Namakkal. In addition, a Certificate of Conformity for European Union Third Country Organic Products has been obtained by MSSRF to enable Organic Pineapple cultivators in the Kolli Hills to export some of their products to Europe. In Wayanad, farmers were encouraged to market rice produced organically. The rice processed manually as well as mechanically were sold in exhibition outlets and selected outlets in Kalpetta. In Orissa, several attempts were made to link tribals to markets.
Chapter-VI summarizes the various activities related to networking and capacity building. At the Kolli Hills 20 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) were formed and trained in various aspects such as operationalising SHGs maintenance of accounts. One SHG that was actively involved was assisted with loans for purchase of a minor millet mill. The time spent by women in processing millets in the Kolli Hills and elsewhere is enormous and largely responsible for the phasing out of the crop from dry tracts. The minor millet mill is now functional and caters to a group of hamlets in the locality and helps in stemming agrobiodiversity erosion. A nature club has also been formed for the benefit of school children, whose members have created model plots of traditional varieties such as minor millets and banana in the school premises.
At Wayanad, a large network of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), women SHGs and farmers groups have been created for motivation in conservation and sustainable and equitable use of biodiversity. Several joint programmes involving NGOs, farmers’ forum, government organisations on biodiversity conservation have been conducted. The networks have been strengthened through publication of newsletter, pamphlets, booklets and periodicals. The SHGs (especially run by women) have been motivated and assisted in biodiversity based enterprises like mushroom cultivation, traditional medicine preparation, nursery raising, basket weaving, goat rearing, biopesticide production, herbal soap making. Marketing avenues for products have also been opened up, with the hope that the activity will lead to the sustainable use of locally available agrobiodiversity resources.
In Orissa, the field office has been in networking with the Forest Department and several NGOs. A number of joint programmes on biodiversity and conservation have been conducted for the benefit of groups.
It is pertinent to mention in this summary that there is a differential emphasis in the activities undertaken at each of the field sites, depending on the unique geography, communities and local issues. Therefore, some activities were given more importance in some sites while others had emphasis on others.
The significant outcomes of the project may be summarised as follows:
Conservation is a continuum whose spectrum extends from in-situ conservation to ex-situ conservation undertaken by governments. The missing link in the chain is the conservation strategies of communities, which continue to use land races, folk varieties and local breeds as well as conserve landscapes like sacred groves. These strategies require to be strengthened through according social prestige as well as economic reward for such contributions. The project made substantial progress in the area of revitalisation of the in-situ on-farm conservation traditions of rural and tribal women and men.
Documenting traditional knowledge through Peoples’ Biodiversity Registers is one of the several pathways in which indigenous knowledge can be chronicled. This will also help to protect the IPR rights of the primary conservers and holders of traditional knowledge.
Farmers and Scientists conducting trials and undertaking experiments in plant breeding together will help to incorporate farmers’ requirements and preferences into plant selection and conservation. The results obtained so far at the various sites have been extremely positive and are being incorporated into participatory plant breeding and genetic resources conservation strategies.
The project helped in contextualising the implications of the proposed Biological Diversity Bill 2000 and the Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers Rights Bill 2000 on individuals, institutions and commercial enterprises. The three gender workshops helped the project staff to internalise gender issues in strategic interventions. Non-market social conditions such as changing food habits, which were partially responsible for erosion of agrobiodiversity, were identified and interventions undertaken.
The project led to the realisation that markets could play a crucial role in conservation and sustainable use. By linking some of the products to markets there is a renewed interest among a section of the population to continue the cultivation of some of the varieties that were being phased out. Thus, conservation and commercialisation can be linked in a mutually reinforcing manner.
By the process of networking and building the capacities of the local people, NGOs and several government departments the project was able to transfer much of its technical knowledge to the local communities and institutions. Such networking helped to promote convergence and synergy among on-going efforts in the area of agrobiodiversity conservation and sustainable and equitable use.
Copies of publications and reports emerging from the work done under this project are appended.
The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) gratefully acknowledges the Financial and Technical support by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), New Delhi. A special word of thanks to Prof. Werner Hunziker, Formerly Head of the NRM Sphere who evinced keen interest in the project right since its inception.
Valuable inputs were provided to the project by Members of the Steering Committee. Thanks to its members Prof. Werner Hunziker, Head NRM Sphere, SDC, New Delhi, Dr.N.R.Jagannath, SDC, New Delhi, Ms.Vanaja Ramprasad, Green Foundation, Bangalore, and Dr.Shiva Prasad , AFPRO. Andhra Pradesh.
Our thank are due to the State and local authorities, particularly officers of the Forest Department, for their help and guidance. This work would not have been possible but for the cooperation, support and sharing of ideas and material of the tribal and rural women and men of Wayanad, Kolli Hills and the Jeypore region of Orissa. Their contributions to the conservation and enhancement of agrobiodiversity have so far remained unrecognised and unsung. A major aim of this project is to work in partnership with them for reviving and strengthening their in-situ on-farm conservation traditions. We wish to record our sincere gratitude to them.