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Agro-biodiversity – the key to achieving health, nutrition security

The two-day Wayanad Community Seed Fest in March highlighted the agricultural heritage of Wayanad and saw discussions on current issues related with tribal health and nutrition, and the role of millets and underutilised crops for nutritional security. Conservation of traditional biodiversity, especially agro-biodiversity, is identified as vital for ensuring food and nutrition security for the growing population

The Wayanad Community Seed Fest 2023 focued specific attention on pertinent topics through a seminar on ‘Tribal health, nutrition and the role of agrobiodiversity’ and ‘Role of millets and underutilised crops in health and nutritional security’. 2023 has been declared the International Year of Millets by the United Nations; hence, a major impetus is needed in efforts to mainstreaming millets cultivation and consumption in Kerala, for their nutritional importance and climate-smart nature. The panel discussions at the seminar provided a platform for farmers, researchers, academicians and policy makers to come together and discuss and develop strategies for agrobiodiversity conservation as well as nutrition and livelihood security. The sessions summed up local strategies and generated dialogue on improving health and nutrition through mainstreaming agrobiodiversity. The event also deliberated on the prospects of millets and underutilised crops in the context of nutrition, climate resilience and livelihood security.

The inaugural event was followed by honouring the agro-biodiversity conservators of Wayanad who are engaged in conserving native agrobiodiversity. The award is conferred by the Wayanad District Tribal Development Action Council to encourage the farming community in the cultivation and conservation of native agro-biodiversity. This year, the award was presented to Balan Nellaranchal, Acchappan Kuttonada, Aiyappan Pilakkavu and the Noorank Tribal Women Group for their remarkable efforts in protection of the native crop and animal diversity with traditional management practices. Conferring the awards also encourages farmers and the community to take efforts in conserving agro-biodiversity at the local level.

Dr Sowmya Swaminathan speaking at the event.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chairperson, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and former chief scientist, WHO, delivering a special address, stated that food and nutrition security is still a great challenge for India, with a dichotomy of wasting and stunting on one hand and obesity andoverweight on the other. She stressed that sustainable utilisation of the rich agro-biodiversity is the key to make Wayanad climate-resilient with secure food and nutrition. George Thomas, chairman, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, in his keynote address,  said recognising ‘custodian farmers’ is important to keep diversity in agriculture. Millets can play a key role in climate adaptation and India must take up adaptation & mitigation actions at the earliest to address climate change effects, he said.

An exhibition stall was arranged in a traditional style, called Vithupura, the house of seeds. Other exhibits showcased agro-biodiversity and value-added products. The two-day fest concluded with a seed exchange event. The event which saw thousands of participants from the region helped raise awareness about the importance of seed conservation and sustainable agriculture practices and provided a platform for farmers and seed savers to exchange knowledge and resources. It was proof of the power of community-based initiatives in promoting sustainable development practices. The next year could possibly see the showcasing of horticultural crops such as leafy vegetables, cucurbits, native and wild fruits, and native breeds of livestock.

(Courtesy: MSSRF)