Debal Deb has preserved 1,410 varieties of indigenous rice through an open-source seed bank in Odisha, India that promotes agricultural diversity and resilience for marginalized farmers. On April 30th, as part of a new live webinar series from A Growing Culture (AGC), Deb will discuss the role that seeds play in the preservation of culture.
Deb, an independent researcher and ecologist, began conserving indigenous seeds twenty-five years ago after witnessing the decline of folk rice varieties following the Green Revolution. Before the introduction of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, India boasted over 100,000 varieties of native rice; today, that figure hovers around 7,000.
“With the disappearance of thousands of varieties that were perfectly adapted to the local environmental conditions, farmers are now unable to adapt to the climate change crisis that agriculture is facing,” Deb tells Food Tank. “I began my effort in the hope that more competent people would come forward to conserve the genetic wealth to secure the future of our food.”
To realize this goal, Deb created Vrihi, an open-source, living seed bank, which houses and cultivates rare and indigenous varieties of rice. Deb freely distributes the seeds to farmers across the country on the condition that they continue to grow and distribute them to their wider community.
Deb believes that open access to indigenous seeds is the start of true food sovereignty. He explains that indigenous varieties, which do not require pesticides and fertilizers, frees farmers from any reliance on corporations that sell these inputs.
“When the farmer has the indigenous seeds appropriate to the local environmental conditions and applies agroecology, the farmer is liberated from the bondage of the industrial agricultural system,” says Deb.
Indigenous varieties also benefit the health of communities. “Folk rice varieties are rich in a range of micronutrients like iron, zinc, vitamins, and antioxidants—which are characteristically absent in the modern rice varieties, and are valuable to ensure nutritional security of the poor,” Deb tells Food Tank.
AGC, an organization committed to the advancement of farmer autonomy, seeks to share Deb’s message. Through a new weekly webinar series, The Hunger For Justice Series, they are featuring conversations about building a socially just and regenerative food system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 30th at 11:00 a.m. EST, Deb and Dan Barber, Chef and Co-Founder of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, will be in conversation to discuss Deb’s efforts with seed banks and the role that seeds play in the development of cultural resilience.
Ultimately, Deb hopes that his work can bridge the gap between farmers and scientists. “There are certain things that indigenous farmers know, but scientists do not know,” Deb tells Food Tank. “Conversely, there are certain things that scientists know but are unknown to the farmers. I am working to…make the relevant pieces of scientific information accessible to the farmers, and to bring the wealth of traditional knowledge to the scientific repertoire in order to improve the science of agriculture.”
Photo courtesy of A Growing Culture