Chamni Meena can't quite remember her age, but she does remember that food tasted better in her younger days: "It tastes different now. You don't get the same flavours any more. There are no desi [indigenous] seeds left. It is so difficult to find varieties."
Living in Ghati village on the outskirts of Udaipur town in Rajasthan, Chamnibai, who reckons she is somewhere in her 80s, has been saving seeds since she was a little girl. Chamnibai recalls how she and her husband built their home and farm, and how much work went into simply surviving. Yet, she says, life and food were better when they were young.
For years, Chamnibai and her family have preserved dozens of local varieties of seeds. She has now passed on her knowledge to her daughters-in-law. “Women save seeds better,” she said. “They care for them, and remember to replenish them. This process is all about the details.”
“I remember the time our village was hit by a flood,” Chamnibai recollected. “It was 1973, and all the houses in the village were ruined. All our things were destroyed, but I was most concerned about our seeds. That was my priority, and those are the seeds I have now. They are the most important part of a farmer’s life.”
Several years ago, the family started a seed saving and swapping initiative, which allowed them to share the dying varieties of seeds with local farmers. The farmers, in turn, would pay back their debt in the form of one-and-a-half times as many seeds.
While Chamnibai’s family still practices organic farming for their own household needs, the pressures of current market trends are mounting. “Most of the other farmers in the village ask me why we don’t take the free seeds or fertilisers offered by the government. They call me a fool. But those crops are not the same. We don’t eat them at home,” said her son, Kesaram Meena.
For decades, the family has been practicing multi-cropping. Even today, they rotate their crops every three months. However, a growing dependence on the market has had a negative impact on the village. Families are unable to grow enough food for their own needs, and turn to the markets to supplement their diets. Chamnibai said that when she was young, everything was grown on their farm. They went to the market only to buy salt.