In age of hybrid crops, the importance of preserving landraces

News: Recently, Rahibai Popere, popularly known as Seed mother, from Maharashtra won this year’s Padma awards. It was in recognition of her work that has helped save hundreds of landraces (wild varieties of commonly grown crops at the village level)

How Landraces are different from commercially grown crops?

Landraces refer to naturally occurring variants of commonly cultivated crops.

These are different from commercially grown crops, which are developed by selective breeding (hybrids) or through genetic engineering to express a certain trait over others.

Why preserving landraces is important?

Adaptation to environmental stress: Genetic diversity ensures a natural mechanism for crops to develop traits to face challenging situations. However, given the large-scale human interference in crop selection and breeding, that ability is now lost in most commercially crops.

On the other hand, naturally occurring landraces still have a large pool of still untapped genetic material, which can provide solutions to climate change induced biotic and abiotic stress factors.

For example: Kalbhat, a unique landrace of scented rice. It has better climate resilience than popularly grown rice and can withstand flood or drought better.

Boosting farmers income: With proper agricultural practices, landraces can give better yield with lower input costs.

Nutritional security: Landraces are richer in nutrients than commercially grown variants.

What are the threats being faced by landraces?

Today, landraces survive in only a few rural and tribal pockets, but they too are depleting due to lack of proper conservation.

Loss of traditional knowledge about the way these varieties need to be grown, or how seeds are to be saved, is also being lost over time.

Since 2008, BAIF Development Research Foundation has initiated a community-led programme to preserve landraces in villages of Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Gujarat. It aims to identify germplasm available and, through community participation, create seed banks. So far, it has deposited 150 landraces of paddy, finger millet, and little millet to the National Bureau Plant Genetic Resource. A network of 5,000 seed savers has also been developed.
What is the way forward?

Much remains to be understood about the germplasms (a living tissue from which new plants can be grown) of the landraces.

It is necessary to understand how these landraces can contribute to climate-resilient agriculture.

– Nutritional profiling too can hold the key to fighting deficiencies, as many landraces are richer in nutrients than commercially grown variants.

Source: This post is based on the article “In age of hybrid crops, the importance of preserving landraces” published in Indian Express on 13th Nov 2021.

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