SIX YEARS after they took up the work of conserving local or traditional (better known as landrace) varieties of rice, sorghum and vegetables, Pune-headquartered BAIF Development and Research Foundation (BDRF) now has plans to take their work to a “molecular” level. Along with National Institute for Abiotic Stress Management in Baramati, BDRF will try to identify genetic traits that allow these varieties to develop better climate resilience than more commonly grown commercial varieties.
Since January 2014, BDRF has started Maharashtra Gene Bank Programme for Conservation, Management and Revival of Local Resources.
Under the sponsorship of Rajiv Gandhi Science & Technology Commission of the state government, this project has been involved in preserving landrace varieties of crops like rice, millet, sorghum, maize, hyacinth bean, cowpea as well as indigenous livestock varieties for the past six years.
Vitthal Kauthale, thematic programme executive, BDRF, said the project saw both in situ (on spot) and ex situ conservation of landrace varieties. The project, which is to end by September 30, has so far seen conservation of 350 varieties of different crops in 25 in situ conservation at six clusters.
Kauthale said landraces, at present, are under threat with farmers opting for more commonly available commercial varieties. In fact, some of the rice varieties that the programme managed to salvage from near extinction, were now found only in tribal regions of Maharashtra, he said.
He also said these land varieties had better climate resilience than commercial varieties and could withstand heavy rainfall and other extreme climatic events.
During the last six years of the project, BDRF partnered with the local community for preserving local varieties. The process involves purification, trait identification, and then propagation of the variety at the farmer level. Last year, the project recorded production of 13.2 tonnes of worthy landraces of six focused races and availability of quality seeds through village-level community seed banks at six clusters and one central seed bank.
The project has involved self-help groups conserve and propagate crops. To encourage farmers, the programme marketed the produce under the brand, Farming Monk, in urban areas for a premium.
As the project comes to an end, BDRF has plans to upscale the project in a more scientific manner. “To date, we were protecting and preserving landraces on field. Now, we wish to go to the molecular level and try to identify genetics that provide resilience to these varieties,” Kauthale said.
He added that the collaboration with the Baramati institute aimed at doing the same, and once this was identified, the genes could be used to impart the same characteristic to commercial crops.
One of the major problems faced in conservation of landraces is the lack of any legal identity. The Seed Act, which governs the business of seeds, does not mention landraces and, thus, such seeds cannot be sold commercially. The BDRF has plans to take up policy-level intervention to allow the seeds to be traded.
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