|Jeera Phool: A Refreshing Saga of Conservation
Crop biodiversity is often lost partly because there are no growers and no consumers for indigenous cultivars. Thankfully, a significant number of traditional varieties of rice are still grown by small and marginal farmers across India, where they cater mainly to quality preferences of local consumers and, in recent times, to niche markets.
GEF funded project: Celebrating the local biodiversity
Jeera Phool, is an indigenous, superfine and aromatic rice cultivar. The cumin-like grain is very soft in the mouth and remains flaky even after cooling. Like many other rice landraces, Jeera Phool also faced the threat of going out of cultivation. In 2005, a group of 20 tribal women farmers from six villages in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, realized the threats to the survival of Jeera Phool, and formed a self-help group to protect and promote it. The Jeera Phool initiative was recognized and adopted by implemented by ICAR-NBPGR under a project funded by the Global Environment Facility, supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with Bioversity International.
Popularity of Jeera Phool grew in local markets followed by increase in the number of group members. The group first registered Jeera Phool with Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority of India, and then obtained the Geographical Indication tag (the Jeera Phool variety is primarily grown only in Surguja district) in 2019.
Titled “Mainstreaming Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation and Utilization in the Agricultural Sector to Ensure Ecosystem Services and Reduce Vulnerability”, the project aims to address Sustainable Development Goals 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), 13 (Climate Action), and 15 (Life on Land). One of main aims of the project is to make communities in seven states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Assam) and the Union Territory of Ladakh, more resilient to climate variation as well as food secure by getting them to grow a greater variety of crops.
The project conducted “focal group discussions” and a thorough baseline survey on the present and past existence of 20 crops. It found that several hundred named landraces and farmers’ varieties of the 20 target crops were still being maintained by some farmers. To help conserve these varieties, 19 community seed banks have been initiated. They currently maintain over 2,000 traditional varieties of different crops. This will provide easier farmer access to a wider variety of seeds. Another unique feature of this project is that ex situ collections conserved in India’s National Gene Bank are being repatriated to farmers’ fields. These particularly include cultivars found to have been lost or discontinued. Under the project, over 8,000 farmers have taken part in 43 capacity-building programs. The project also uses sophisticated laboratory analysis for nutrition profiling. This has been done for 205 landraces of rice, 23 of soybean and 26 of millet.
Biodiversity-based solutions offer the best way to achieve food accessibility and climate resilience. The future of humanity depends on how we conserve and use biodiversity.