Preserving Landraces | 13 Nov 2021

Why in News

Recently, Padma Shri award was given to Rahibai Popere, popularly known as Seedmother, from Akole taluka of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.

  • She was awarded for recognition of her work that has helped save hundreds of landraces (wild varieties of commonly grown crops) at the village level.
  • Presently, farmers mainly grow hybrid crops.

Key Points

  • Hybrid Crops:
    • About: A hybrid crop is a result of two different varieties of plant being cross-pollinated to create an off-spring or hybrid that contains the best traits of each of the parents.
      • With hybrid rice and wheat, for example, selective breeding over a period of time has allowed scientists to develop varieties that have higher yield or other desirable traits.
      • Over the years, farmers have adopted these varieties.
    • Related Issues: Crop improvement through selection and breeding over several decades has narrowed the genetic base of most crops.
      • Biodiversity allows a natural mechanism for crops to develop traits to face challenging situations.
      • However, given the large-scale huan inmterference in crop selection, that ability is now lost in most commercial crops.
  • Landraces:
    • About: Landraces refer to naturally occurring variants of commonly cultivated crops.
      • These are as opposed to commercially grown crops, which are developed by selective breeding (hybrids) or through genetic engineering to express a certain trait over others.
    • Utility of Landraces: Amid the threat of climate change, a challenge before scientists and policymakers is to develop varieties that can withstand both abiotic and biotic stresses.
      • Rich Genetic Pool: Naturally occurring landraces have a large pool of still untapped genetic material, which can provide solutions.
        • The wider the gene pool, the more the chance of developing a trait that can help in surviving extreme climate events.
      • Higher Yields With Proper Input: There is a common misconception that landraces have lower yields than hybrids. However, with proper agricultural practices, landraces can give better yield with lower input costs.
      • High Nutrition Profile: Many landraces are richer in nutrients than commercially grown variants.
    • Examples of Landraces: Kalbhat is a unique landrace of scented rice.
      • Over the years, this variant had almost vanished from cultivators’ fields as hybrid variants became popular.
      • It has better climate resilience than popularly grown rice and can withstand floods or drought better.

Way Forward

  • Need to Save Landraces: Currently, Landraces survive in only a few rural and tribal pockets, but they too are depleting for want of proper conservation.
    • Traditional knowledge about the way these need to be grown, or how seeds are to be saved, is also vanishing.
  • Community Led Programme: BAIF community-led programme is worth emulating across the other states.
    • The BAIF Development Research Foundation is a charitable organisation based in Urali Kanchan near Pune in Maharashtra, that pioneers agricultural development. It aims to identify germplasm available and, through community participation, create seed banks.
  • Research in Landraces: There is much remains to be understood about the germplasms 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.

Source: IE