Wayanad a steep mountainous plateau in the Western Ghats with vast forest cover, extensive rice paddies and high concentration of tribe communities is an agrobiodiversity as well as a poverty hotspot (latter for the tribe communities like Paniya, Adiya and Kattunaikka). It is one of the 150 economically most backward districts of India with a total of 173529 BPL card holders according to the district planning office data. The tribecommunities constitute 17.43% of the total population of the district, which is the highest share in the Adivasi population (about 36%) of Kerala. Major communities inhabit in the district are Paniya (44.77%), Mullu Kuruma (17.51%), Kurichya (17.38%), Kattunaika (9.93%), Adiya (7.10%) and UraliKuruma (2.69%). They can broadly be categorized into three groups: agricultural laborers, marginal farmers and forest dwellers. Kurichya and MulluKuruma are traditionally agricultural communities, largely involved in paddy cultivation. Paniya, Adiya, Kattunaikka, Kuruma and Kurichiya are the low income holding people. These local communities play a significant role in conservation, enhancement and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity.Community Biodiversity Management as a subject to understand sustainable management of genetic resources is gaining wider recognition now in the world.

The district is a rich site of agrobiodiversity and wild biodiversity as evidenced by over 400 Farmers’ varieties/species of food and nutrition value and2100 flowering plants with 52 Red Data Species and 650 endemic plant species of Western Ghats respectively. MSSRF’s activities helped in slow down the pace of loss of agrobiodiversity of the region.

Collection and conservation of Farmers’ varieties

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MSSRF-CAbC has collected many such “farmers’ varieties” from Wayanad and adjoining regions and been actively involved in conserving such genetic resources at on-farm and off-farm levels by following the guidelines available for this purpose at national and international levels. The information given here, we feel can trigger access to the local genetic resources, which obtained in compliance with the law of the land. Such steps will help to share benefits derived thereby with the local community farmers and lead to on-farm conservation of many of the Farmers’ Varieties.

Community Agrobiodiversity Management

Local community men and women across the world play a significant role in conservation, enhancement and sustainable use of agro-biodiversity. The community based agro-biodiversity management efforts, which revolve around the age-old traditional knowledge, practices and beliefs provide continuous supply of a wide array of plant diversity of food and nutrition value, particularly to those people who live in the marginal and difficult environment. Sustainable management of the food biodiversity enables the local communities to reduce their vulnerabilities to external shocks or fluctuations in crop production and market driven supply of foods.

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Farmers’ varieties of Food & Nutrition

Amongst agrobiodiversity, the crop and breed diversity dominates the local community’sfood, nutrition and livelihoods system in many parts of the world.The PPV & FR Act - 2001 of India defined Farmers’ Variety based on criteria such as (i) traditionally cultivated and evolved by the farmers in their fields or is (ii) a wild relative or (iii) land race of a variety or (iv) wild species about which the farmers possess common knowledge”. And farmer is defined as “any person who conserves and preserves, severally or jointly, with any other person, any wild species or traditional varieties or adds value to such wild species or traditional varieties through selection and identification of their useful properties”. Thus, by these definitions the Act recognizes those wild species which held in local knowledge system and the crop wild relatives as farmers’ varieties and farmer as a Conserver, individually or collectively and embraces all those varieties and species managed by him/her at both on-farm and in-situ levels. An important issue to accord “farmers’ rights” is the requirement of ’scientifically’ identified Farmers’ Varieties. The varieties need to be sufficiently distinguishable and describable in order to be eligible for protection as per the PPV & FR Act. In India, although germplasm collections of a large number of such varieties are available at ex-situ, passport information on a large majority of varieties is however, inadequate. It is therefore, important to update such information by undertaking appropriate methods that explore and document the varieties now available on-farm.

Loss of Agrobiodiversity

Though Agro biodiversity has been slowly and naturally evolved and contributed to the development of agriculture since its beginning, now the change in this vital component towards a narrow spectrum of diversity has been so fast and extensive. The process of losses occurring in diversity of crop plants which has been termed as ‘genetic wipe out’, is not restricted to staple food crops like wheat, barley, rice, millets, sorghum, potatoes; a number of other food plant varieties also come under this category(Fowler & Mooney, 1990). During the last 50 years before the spread of new varieties of rice, “Indian farmers may have cultivated 30,000 different varieties. It is estimated, in 15 years only 10 varieties may have covered as much 75 per cent of the total rice acreage in the country” (Jain, 1982). Therefore, the choice of sustainable agriculture depends on the conservation strategy and the materials of biodiversity to be conserved.

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