Seeds ‘reap’ the fruits of this Tiruppur woman’s passion
In 2005, I tied the knot with Rajanarayan, a purchasing agent in Tiruppur,” recollects Priya.
TIRUPPUR: Sow, collect, preserve, repeat, says Priya Rajanarayanan of Tiruppur district. Armed with a collection comprising over 800 seeds of vegetables, pulses, and rare herbs, Priya’s seed catalogue could very well be considered one of the largest in the state.
“I was born to a family engaged in the primary sector in Pilath village in Vedasandur Taluk in Dindigul district. Venkatasamy, my father, insisted on cultivating a garden in the backyard of our house, and I, from an early age, was introduced to farming. In 2005, I tied the knot with Rajanarayan, a purchasing agent in Tiruppur,” recollects Priya. She has held over 220 traditional seed exchange programmes across the state over the past 10 years.
“After marriage, I decided to cook regularly, and so bought seeds from a local market. The seeds smelled foul, and the leaves were laced with medicine. Pesticides were sprayed on the greens, which made me step into the field. The vegetables sold in the markets were sowed with hybrid seeds bought from dealers. These weren’t the traditional (heirloom) seeds. During my childhood, we use to grow vegetables at home itself. We were self-dependent and did not have to consume what may turn out to be detrimental to health in the long run. So, I decided to collect traditional seeds,” Priya adds.
“Traditional seeds are strong when it comes to retaining the same genetic traits even after several generations of planting, sowing and harvesting. Besides, pollination is very natural in this variety. And most importantly, heirloom seeds are far superior in taste, flavour and nutrition than other seeds. Hybrid and GMO seeds, on the other hand, aren’t capable of passing similar genetic traits from generation to generation. Though they may be strong, when it comes to taste and flavour, they are inferior to heirloom (organic) seeds. That is why we need to preserve, collect and exchange these seeds,” explains Priya.
While pursuing studies at Sree Saraswathi Thyagaraja College, Priya got the opportunity to explore places in Kerala such as Wayanad, Palakkad and Thrissur. She collected her first seed during that journey. “I collected traditional seeds of chilli, clove beans, and winged beans. Along with the methods of growing crops, I got a first-hand variety and tried it in my garden as an experiment. It yielded success. Later, I extended my travel to Andhra Pradesh for collecting traditional seeds of bottle gourd, chilli and brinjal. Along with seeds, I also got lessons from elderly farmers in those locations, who encouraged and taught me about traditional seed varieties and methods of harvest,” says Priya.
Over a period of time, she collected several hundred seeds and saved them in her refrigerator. Later, she felt the need to create awareness about the importance of traditional seed varieties. “Over 100 years ago, I believe over 500 traditional varieties of brinjal were sown, but currently there are just 100 varieties in India, but I could manage to collect 80 varieties. Seed exchange programmes are the best way to push traditional seeds to the fore. I organised my first programme on a temple premise in Virudhunagar district in 2013,” adds Priya.
Above all, she has managed to collect some of the rarest seeds available in India, including coffee lady’s finger (Okra), Gangamma Toor Dhal, Air Potato (Angular Air potato), Snake gourd (extreme green), Black Chilli, Ghee Chilli, Black Ginger and Black turmeric.
At the moment, Priya aims to create a seed bank for traditional seeds. More importantly, she is also creating a farm under the banner ‘Seed Island (Vidhai Theevu)’ for traditional seeds in Dindigul.