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Odisha to Empower Tribal Farmers through millet Landrace Conservation

Bhubaneswar: The tribal communities of Odisha have long been revered as custodians of diverse millet varieties, diligently conserving these local treasures for generations. Recognizing their invaluable contribution, the Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Empowerment, in a pioneering effort, has developed a comprehensive standard operating procedure for the recognition, evaluation, and release of these traditional landraces through the seed system for landraces under the Odisha Millets Mission (OMM).

This significant milestone was achieved through collaboration with esteemed institutions such as ICAR, OUAT, technical experts, field NGO partners, and, most notably, the custodian tribal farmers.

The development of guidelines for this initiative went beyond conventional scientific parameters such as yield, encompassing vital aspects like taste, climate resilience, pest tolerance, and cultural preferences. These traditional varieties have thrived in local conditions, exhibiting superior pest resistance and adaptability to changing climates. Moreover, they have shown remarkable performance in organic farming environments. Despite the demand for these landraces, they have remained inaccessible to farmers due to the absence of standardized operating procedures. This lacuna has resulted in the loss of biodiversity and erosion of the cultural heritage of tribal communities.

To address this issue, the meticulous process included documenting landraces through crop diversity blocks, conserving them in farmer fields, mapping farmer preferences, and developing seed standards from the perspective of farmers. Participatory varietal trials were also conducted, comparing traditional landraces with improved varieties. As a result of these efforts, 163 millet landraces have been identified, with 14 demonstrating exceptional potential. Notably, four landraces—Kundra Bati, Laxmipur Kalia, Malyabanta Mami, and Gupteshwar Bharati—are being considered for release under the Seed system for landraces initiative.

Dr. Arabinda Padhee, Principal Secretary of the Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Empowerment, expressed, “The Government of Odisha has officially approved the establishment of the Landrace Varietal Release Committee to release traditional millet landraces conserved by tribal custodian farmers. Over the past three years, rigorous trials have been conducted to gather the necessary scientific data. By combining scientific rigor with traditional wisdom, the seed system for landraces initiative has ushered in a paradigm shift in mainstreaming agrobiodiversity.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has expressed keen interest in partnering with Odisha to replicate the seed system for landraces approach in other countries. Furthermore, the National Rural Livelihood Mission has reached out to different state governments, urging them to adopt the approach of crop diversity blocks and landrace mapping in their respective missions. The National Rainfed Area Authority, under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India, also seeks to collaborate with Odisha and draw insights from the successful Odisha Millets Mission.

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