All these women, from tribal and hilly areas of Akole, are part of a self-help group assisted by 30-35 farmers.

Rahibai Soma Popere

Rahibai Soma Popere, a proponent of tradition farming with indigenous seeds who was awarded the Padma Shri by the Centre on Saturday, wants her movement to reach the doorstep of every farmer in the country.

Popere, resident of remote Kombhalne village in Ahmednagar’s Akola tehsil, some 125 kilometres from here, has been given the country’s fourth-highest civilian award for her contribution in agriculture, as per the Padma Awards list made public by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“I have got many awards for my efforts to save indigenous seeds and promoting traditional farming. But I had never ever dreamt that I would be given the Padma Shri, such a prestigious award, in my lifetime,” an elated Popere, better known as ‘beej mata’ or ‘seed mother’, told PTI over phone.

She said the Padma Shri was not just recognition of the 20 years she has put in this mission but also of her village, tehsil and district as well as the 3,000 women who have been associated with her and the BAIF Development Research Foundation.

All these women, from tribal and hilly areas of Akole, are part of a self-help group assisted by 30-35 farmers. The collection of local seeds and their conservation started after a member of her family fell ill, Popere, who hails from a tribal community, said. “With this conservation of native seeds, I have been trying to create awareness about the ill-effects of fertilisers and pesticides on human health. I am asking people to adopt organic farming and use indigenous seeds to avoid diseases caused due to poisonous fertilisers,” she said.

She has a seed bank near her house which has several indigenous varieties for the cultivation of vegetables, pulses, millets, oilseeds and hyacinth bean. She said BAIF helped her set up the seed bank and has supported in spreading awareness about her work among people
far and wide.

BAIF is an organisation with projects that cover dairy animal production and management, tree-based farming systems and various appropriate technologies. “I want to reach the doorstep of every farmer to create awareness about the use of native seeds and the need for a return to organic and tradition farming and make it a mass movement,” she added.

BAIF regional head Jitin Sathe said the seed bank project started in 2014 and demand for indigenous seeds is increasing, which in turn calls for more efforts for their conservation as they are not easily available. There are such seed banks in Jawhar in Palghar, near Mumbai, and Nandurbar districts, Sathe informed.