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The keeper of seeds

Shree Padre

Begari Lakshmamma croons softly in a high-pitched voice. Is she singing a Telugu folk song? She laughs. “This song used to be sung by my ancestors,” she says. “Its lyrics tell us when the stars are right for sowing millets. I inherited it.”

Lakshmamma, 45, is a Dalit who lives in Humnapur village in the Medak district of Telengana. A seasoned farmer with five acres, Lakshmamma is a single mother. Her husband abandoned her years ago. He used to work for the Border Security Force.

 Inside her neat home, Lakshmamma has a treasure she nurtures with devotion. It is a rare seed-bank of 60 to 70 varieties of native seeds stored in earthen pots.  

The origins of her seed-bank date to the early 90s. At that time the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an NGO, had started working in Andhra Pradesh to restore farming and promote millets. Seeds, manufactured by companies, had begun proliferating in the countryside, replacing native varieties.  DDS realised how critical it was to set up seed-banks, conserve biodiversity and inform villagers. 

“During a meeting in Humnapur we asked villagers to suggest somebody who could be the custodian of a seed-bank. In one voice all the villagers shouted Lakshmamma’s name,” recalls P.V. Satheesh, director, DDS.

So the NGO began to encourage Lakshmamma to start a community seed-bank. Lakshmamma was very successful. Over the years she collected an amazing range of native seeds, including millets, oil-seeds and legumes. You can now see 30 types ...

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