Farmers from Ri-Bhoi visit Mulum seed bank (West Jaintia Hills)

A one-day exposure visit of 13 farmers from Ri-Bhoi/Social Service Centre, Shillong was conducted on the January 19, 2021, at Mulum Community, Laskein Block, West Jaintia Hills District. Nine members of the Iaraplang Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) group from Mulum were also present on that day. The visit for farmers from Ri-Bhoi to Mulum community was an Inter-District Farmer’s exposure visit organized by Social Service Centre, Archbishop’s House, Shillong in collaboration with Society For Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE) and North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) under the project “No one shall be left behind: Biodiversity for food, Nutrition and Energy Security funded by Rural Electrification Corporation Foundation (REC)

Seeds exchange between SURE’s and SSC’s Community farmers

The programme started with a welcome speech by Daka Bareh, SURE Field Coordinator in-charge of Mulum community about the purpose of the exposure visit follow by farmers from both the district introducing to each other. The farmers were given an exposure of Iaraplang Community Seed Bank which also engaged in preserving and promoting local varieties of indigenous seeds. The other program was an exchanging of seeds between the PGS group from Ri-Bhoi district and farmers from Ri-Bhoi. A cooking demonstration of indigenous food was prepared by both the community in which the Iaraplang PGS of Mulum cooked a dish name Mahek leave with yam and the group from Ribhoi prepared a dish of Taro stem with dry fish. Exchange of best practice of vegetables cultivation and sharing of success stories by the PGS of Mulum and farmers of Ribhoi was also organised as part of the programs. 

Smt Hamsniawpher Suchiang , Convener Iaraplang PGS, Mulum shared about how the Community Seed Bank (CSB) was established at their community. The Iaraplang Community Seed Bank, Mulum was established on the March 13, 2013 supported by the Meghalaya Basin Development Agency (MBDA) with 10 members from different Self Help Group (SHGs). The objective of the Community seed Banks is to promote, manage and encourage sustainable use of local varieties of seeds for food security and to improve livelihoods of farmers. The main function of the seed bank was to collect, enhance and multiply seeds of local varieties. Meghalaya Basin Development Agency and some individuals/SHGs also provided varieties of seeds to the members to sown in their respective kitchen garden. After harvesting the members preserve the seeds and later sell it to Meghalaya Basin Development Agency. After one year of its existence the Meghalaya Basin Development Agency club the Iaraplang community seed bank with six communitys that falls under Laskein block. The six communitys start sowing/growing different varieties of vegetables in order to generate more seeds so that they can market it to different communitys within the district. The group members also attend different training organized by MBDA and took part in different exhibition held within the district organized by Agriculture department. 

Fresh farm vegetables showcase before the cooking demonstration

Hamsniawpher said that after five years of running successfully because the MBDA project come to an end in the year 2018, the groups disintegrated and seeds bank was also about to collapse. On that same year with the coming of the NESFAS project in collaboration with SURE a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) known as Iaraplang local group was formed on 28th December 2018. It is a certified organic group with seven members. After the formation of the group a pledge to avoid using chemical fertilizers and pesticides was taken by the members on the 30th December 2018. The group then start to grow vegetables in their respective kitchen garden. Initially they sell their produce in the Farmers Market organized by SURE at Jowai.  Field Coordinator Daka promoted the concept of community seed bank an initiative of NESFAS to the members of the group. On July 27, 2019, a seed bank was revived by the PGS under the name Iaraplang Community Seed Bank. The members then start keeping or storing seeds in the seed bank. Some individual farmers and Self Help Group (SHGs) contribute their seeds to the community seed bank and on September 30, 2019 the Iaraplang Community Seed Bank was inaugurated by the A Malang, Horticulture Development Officer, Laskein Block. 

The Iaraplang local group has grown in leaps and bound and with the seed money provided from the project they have also started a Farm on Wheels in which they hire a vehicles to sell their organic produce.  The objective of this is that the group can directly sell fresh organic vegetables from their farms to the consumers without a middleman and also to create a sustainable livelihood opportunity for the farmers. 

Ms Virginia Maring addressing the community members at the exchange visit

Virginia Maring, Field Coordinator of Social Service Centre (SSC) was in-charge of six communitys at Ribho informed that out of six communitys only farmers of Nongkhrah and Pahamshiken viilage came for inter-district visit. In 2020, they have formed a group in Nongkhrah called Lah-Da-I (Jong lajong). The objective of the group is to work together to preserve local indigenous seeds. As the group doesn’t have a community seed bank they store the seed at home only. This year they started growing/planting fruits and vegetables that are available in their place/district. In Pahamshiken, the SHG consisting of 10 members, were originally making brooms but due to financial problems, they shifted to preserving local seeds.  Currently, the community seed bank is in progress which is to be completed by the end of the month.

At the end of the programme, seeds exchange was done between the two communities and a visit to Iaraplang community seed bank. Farmers from both the district appreciate the programme. According to Jestina Synkli, a farmer from Ri-Bhoi said that through this exposure visit they have gained knowledge and techniques to improve their sowing and harvesting system. According to Agnes Makri, another farmer, she learnt about the procedure on how to preserve seeds and also to take care of the same. Through the exchange of idea tey have also learned the traditional ways of cultivating turmeric. 

This article was also published in Syllad

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Damica M Mawlong
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