In contrast to the above Green Revolution-style pathway, it is important to highlight that there are alternative approaches trying to address the issue of access to STRVs. Though they are less dominant in the formal STI discourse, there are many Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), especially in Odisha, and other parts of India that are trying to identify ‘indigenous’ (heirloom) varieties, conserving them in situ (on farms) and making them available to all interested farmers.
Most of these ‘traditional’ or ‘indigenous’ landraces have adjusted over long periods to regional ecosystems including environmental and climatic variations (from undulating lands to increasingly unpredictable weather). Many of these varieties are hardier to problems such as pests and drought and have other desirable characteristics such as taste and nutrition[vi] [vii]
Thanks to the efforts of the CSOs, many farmers now grow heirloom varieties and circulate their seeds to help safeguard these varieties from extinction. In the process, they reduce their dependency on external agencies for seeds and agro-chemicals and subsidies from the government.
While organisations such as the state seed testing laboratory, the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) and Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority (PPV & FRA) are also conserving indigenous varieties ex situ in gene banks, their central objective is to produce new varieties that have stress tolerance and high yields through screening, selection and breeding for specific characteristics.
Critically, ex-situ conservation limits access to these institutional collections by farmers. In contrast, in-situ conservation efforts of CSOs offer the advantage of crop-adaptation by farmers, giving them more control over their genetic resources. However, such CSO- and farmer-led efforts have so far received less policy attention.
The questions here are:
- To achieve the SDGs, is it effective to invest almost all state resources to only one STI pathway – breeding new STRVs and disseminating seeds of these varieties?
- Why are other alternative pathways such as in-situ conservation and cultivation not getting the desired funding support and state/donor patronage in the current rapidly changing climate scenario?
- Are alternative pathways of agricultural development the responsibility of Civil Society Organisations alone?
I would argue that the pluralism of development pathways, while undoing the dominance of modernising development, is crucial for meeting the SDGs[viii]. And, therefore, most importantly in this context, it is crucial to ask why access to seeds of climate resilient rice varieties is still framed as a breeding challenge and not as farmer-driven grassroots innovation in situ conservation challenge?
In this STRINGS project, we are trying to explore how different types of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) emerge from different actors and how their interaction and varied STI inputs contribute to SDGs. We are also trying to understand which STIs are prioritised (by directing resources) and which pathways are perceived as dominant by different stakeholders and why. In particular, we are keen to generate policy relevant recommendations on how to achieve better alignment between the different pathways through strategic investments, inclusive governance and priority setting.
[i] Deb D (2019) The Struggle to Save Heirloom Rice in India, Scientific American, Volume 321, Issue 4
[ii] Glaeser B (1987) The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives, Routledge, London https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/e/9780203840443
[iv] Anchal Arora, Sangeeta Bansal and Patrick S Ward (2017) Do farmers value rice varieties tolerant to droughts and floods? Evidence from a discrete choice experiment in Odisha, India, Water Resources and Economics, 1-15
[v] Puskur R and Mathide Thonon (2018) Understanding gendered modalities for sustainable adoption of stress-tolerant rice varieties in Odisha
[vi] Deb D (2009) Valuing Folk Crop Varieties for Agroecology and Food Security, Independent Science News https://www.independentsciencenews.org/un-sustainable-farming/valuing-folk-crop-varieties/
[vii] Shylaraj, K S, Soumya G. Nadh and Shimi K. Chandran (2018) Comparative analysis of grain quality and nutraceutical properties of selected rice varieties from Kerala Current Science VOL. 114, NO. 5, 10 MARCH 2018 https://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/114/05/1088.pdf
[viii] Arora,S, M Vijayabaskar, Divya Sharma and Andy Stirling (2019) Sustainable Development through Diversifying Pathways in India, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol LIV No46, 32-37