Harvest What You Want – The New Indian Express
Express news service
PODUCHERRY: Shanmugasundaram, the 24-year-old from Embalam village in Pondicherry, is one of the accidental farmers. While working on a documentary film in 2016, Sundar, as he is popularly known, came across a collection of traditional seed varieties. What started as a project for his visual communication course program made him take it as a passion. Reclaiming traditional varieties of vegetable seeds is now its mission.
Uzhuthu Unn (Plow and Eat), run by Sundar, collects traditional vegetable seeds from various locations and distributes them free of charge to farmers and others. He wants to promote varieties and make them accessible to future generations as well.
For the documentary project, Sundar interacted with people, including farmers, from Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu. “I met agronomist G Nammalvar and famous organic farmer Nel Jayaraman. Later, I started working under the direction of Nel Krishnamurthy from Irulandandhai in Pondicherry for the traditional collection and distribution of paddy seeds for six months. During this stay, inspired by farmer Subhash Palekar, I discovered zero budget farming with Vetriselvan from Santhaiputhuppam, ”he says.
While many people were involved in collecting traditional paddy seeds, he found that only a handful were for traditional vegetable seeds. Sundar says: “I started collecting traditional vegetable seeds in 2018. At first it was difficult because hybrid varieties are now ubiquitous in the market. I visited villages that had no means of transport because the villagers did not buy seeds outside but cultivated traditional varieties grown in these particular areas for generations. I still do.
He has created social media groups with friends and people interested in conserving traditional vegetable seeds. With the help of more than 500 members now, it collects, produces and distributes seeds to nearly 4,000 people. Brinjal is a familiar vegetable in Indian cuisine. But does anyone know that there are a few hundred varieties of brinjal available in Tamil Nadu alone?
“Brinjal is our native variety,” he says. “In the past, we had almost 600 varieties in Tamil Nadu alone and four in Pondicherry. Today only 13 varieties are available on the market and most are hybrids. So far, we have managed to collect seeds of almost 100 traditional varieties, ”he said. According to Sundar, varieties of brinjal are generally named after the places where they grow. He noted that his team is working on a book – Vithayin Kathai (The Story of the Seed) – with such interesting facts.
Mocking the farmers’ goal of “immediate profit,” Sundar said most farmers did not understand the importance of traditional varieties in the pursuit of profit. “But the people who own allotment gardens and those who understand the importance of traditional varieties collect seeds from us for free. In return, we ask them to return a certain quantity of seeds as they must be saved for future generations. We also train those interested in collecting and producing seeds, ”he says.
Sundar and his friends set up stalls at seed festivals to promote traditional vegetable varieties and their growing methods. It offers paid and free training. For his income, the young person sells organic products such as honey, traditional varieties of rice and cereals which he buys at different places during his visit.
“In the past, farmers valued Vithainel, a traditional method of saving traditional paddy seeds for future cultivation. Farmers have completely forgotten about it now and depend on seed producers. They don’t know that they are spending 10,000 to 15,000 rupees per kg of seed that they originally sold to buyers for less than 100 rupees, ”he says. Today, Sundar and his friends are working to set up seed banks in all the villages of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.