Meghalaya A Source For Heirloom Seeds?

Meghalaya A Source For Heirloom Seeds?

What are heirloom seeds? How are they different from Hybrid seeds? Can the seeds that the Meghalaya farmers use, from one crop to the next, be classified as heirloom? These were the questions Zizira explorers had. How come the Zizira explorers thought of heirloom seeds?

Well, some of the farmers they have talked to, in the fields of Meghalaya, mentioned using the ‘seeds that have come down from crop to crop from our forefathers’ or ‘using the same stock of seeds for years’ etc. Will this not mean what they are using seeds that are from plant stock that have come down generations? Will the seed they use from crop to crop not be heirloom seeds?

Zizira explorers decided to find out more about heirloom seeds and to see if Meghalaya may be a hot spot for heirloom seeds. Read on as we share what we learnt.

What are Heirloom Seeds?

The Merriam – Webster definition of Heirloom is: Simple Definition of heirloom
  • a valuable object that is owned by a family for many years and passed from one generation to another
  • an old type of plant that is still available because individual people have continued to grow it for many years
Look at the second part of the definition!  Reading this made us sit up! Whether it is perilla seeds or black sticky rice, or even turmeric, Zizira explorers have met with farmers who said they have been using the seeds saved from the previous crop and have been doing it for years. They can recall up to their parents and grandparents using the same stock.

The farmers say they have not introduced any new variety. Will this not make the plants they grow and the seeds they use heirloom?  If yes, then this will be a valuable new observation, a new ‘discovery’ for Zizira explorers. Meghalaya may be home to heirloom seeds?

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Open Pollinated From Crop to Crop Will Become Heirloom Plants

Heirloom plants are open pollinated. What this means is that pollination happens by natural means – through bees, or birds, or natural forces like the wind. Sometimes even humans, as is needed in the case of Vanilla plants, where each flower has to be pollinated by hand.

Hybrid plants, on the other hand, are grown with human controlled pollination – normally to grow a pest resistant variety, or a higher yielding one, or one with better flavour etc. Seeds from open pollination can be used to grow the next crop in the next season and the plants will have most of the characteristics of the mother plant. Whereas seeds from plants grown from hybrid seeds will not yield plants that are similar to the parent plant.

But remember not all open pollinated can be called Heirloom. Only those where the plant stock has come down generations.

Meet Farmers Who Have Been Making Their Own Seeds for Years

We talked to three farmer to find out where they get their seeds from?

Benefits of Heirloom Seeds

Are heirloom seeds just a fancy concept? How will it benefit the farming community? Will it improve their livelihood? Maybe they are valuable and the farmers do not know about it? What are the benefits? We set out to find out. Look what we found – a news about how heirloom rice of Cordillera region of Philippines that attracted a lot of attention at a ‘Madrid Fusion Manila’, a food fair held in Manila in April 2016.

The rice varieties were featured at the booth of the Heirloom Rice Project (HRP)a joint venture of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The booth presented the country's indigenous products, not only to increase global awareness, but also to show the potential role of the heirloom rice industry in improving the lives of Cordillera farmers’ and in conserving their heritage.

….. … local and international restaurateurs who showed keen interest in including heirloom rice in their menus, chefs who are on the lookout for new ingredients, and heads of food companies who are seeking to diversify their products. The rice likewise drew food bloggers and writers, health advocates, government representatives, students, and senior citizens. Source
So, farmers can get better value for heirloom grains if the produce is properly marketed, highlighting the additional taste it may provide and showcasing what it takes for the farmers to retain the original strain and their value as the keepers of bio-diversity.

Remember heirloom seeds mean preserving the genetic diversity of plant species. In a agro bio-diversity rich area like the State of Meghalaya will this not be something important?


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