When tomato farmers across south Karnataka were in dire straits owing to a sharp collapse in the market price manipulated by middlemen last year, Lokesh, a cultivator from Kollegal, was laughing all the way to the bank.
Lokesh is one of the few farmers engaged in tomato seed production who had networked with a company which had a buyback agreement to ensure that its members were assured of a market with a pre-determined price for their produce.
The unique concept was launched four years ago by Mysuru-based startup Sahaja Seeds to ensure seed sovereignty of farmers. The company is owned by farmers, but managed by professionals.
Conceived to protect cultivators’ collective interest, Sahaja Seeds, registered as Desi Seeds Producer Company Pvt. Ltd., came into being to promote open-pollinated variety of seeds that are organically cultivated, patent-free and are in the public domain so that farmers could use them for free.
Krishnaprasad, who espouses agricultural biodiversity and networks with farmers, is the chairman of the company. He said that farmers are dependent on MNCs and Indian companies for seeds which add to the cultivation cost. “Hybrid and genetically modified varieties cannot be reproduced through natural pollination process. Hence, farmers are forced to buy fresh seeds every year,” said Mr. Krishnaprasad.
But this company encourages farmers to produce their own indigenous and patent-free seeds of a variety of crops. They sell them to the company which, in turn, markets it to other cultivators. Besides, there are government-projects which procure seeds from the company to sustain the company.
“While this ensures food security to farmers, it is also an exercise to conserve the traditional variety of crops and agricultural biodiversity,” Mr. Krishnaprasad told The Hindu.
MNCs and Indian companies only supply hybrid varieties. As a result, India’s agricultural biodiversity is gradually being supplanted by monoculture, he argued. For instance, Jagalur Ragi is recognised as a promising variety of millet and is popular in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, but its seeds are not sold by private or public sector companies. Likewise, Rajamudi is the most popular variety of rice, but there is no consistency in seed quality and this is where Sajaha Seeds comes into the picture, said Mr. Krishnaprasad.
There always was a demand for organic seeds of traditional variety, but quality was erratic owing to a lack of checks. Sahaja Seeds ensures a standard quality which was a win-win situation for both consumers and farmers, he added.
The company has in its repertoire 98 variety of rare seeds of crops such as paddy, millets, pulses, vegetables, fruits, and flowers, all cultivated organically. Of these, there are 60 varieties that have the potential for marketing and public acceptance. The company has 480 members, including 58 individual seed producers or farmers drawn from places such as Mysuru, Chamarajanagar, Mandya, Bengaluru Rural, Dharwad, and Haveri who supply seeds to the company regularly and reap a profit out of it.