Chennai’s Seed Exchange Festival A feast for the Palate Too

Within fifteen minutes organic food lovers exchanged hundreds of their native seeds at this seed exchange festival.

Chennai witnessed what many call the native seed exchange festival at the Thakkar Bapa School in T Nagar. Nandini a terrace gardener drove long distance  for this event to exchange seeds she generated from her home terrace garden with fellow gardeners.  She brought some rare seeds to give it free so others can use them. “It’s such a joy being part of this network to exchange seeds. This time I gave away  Mookuthi Avarai seeds. There is no commercial interest. The idea is to spread native seeds. They will share with others too”.

Organised by the Safe Food Alliance, Sathya Shanmugam who is so passionate about growing vegetable at home that even amid the pandemic she  had sent seeds free   to interested people across Tamil Nadu.She had started a whatsapp group and sent seeds by courier to others spending  money from her pocket. “I want people to understand the benefits of native seeds and their benefits so they can eat healthy and leave a better world for the next generation” she says.

A few hundred people come for this event every time just for exchanging  seeds. Ramya Vijayan, a  volunteer who facilitated the exchange says “In ten minutes the exchange got over. Such is the enthusiasm. We want this to become a movement”.

Farmers specialising in native seeds also exhibited and sold their seeds to promote chemicals free farming.

There was more. The event also campaigned against possible release of genetically modified mustard by raising awareness on the ill effects of genetically modified food crops. Many raised   awareness on popularising  native seeds  among consumers hoping a steady demand for native fruit, vegetable and grains would increase demand and push companies to go for it. Vicky from Aadhiyagai Native Seed Farm in Dindigul said “Our dream is people should consume vegetables produced without use of vegetables. There is a big danger in eating food with chemicals”.
As you walked in there was food for the palate too. Mahima’s millet sambar rice made of Barnyard Millet and Kheer  (Payasam) made of traditional  black rice were a superhit among a few other Bengali dishes. She says “The moment it is genetically modified we lose our crop biodiversity and crop eco system. Lab research doesn’t tell health impacts of genetically modified food and we don’t want them on our plate. We’d lose our local food”. Kumar a participant loved the food. He said “I am glad I came here. We would add traditional millets to our dishes at home here after”.
There was something for those  who love organic clothing too. Shusmita, a designer from “Tula” that produces traditional cotton made hand spun  dresses with buttons made of coconut shells   introduced visitors to their model of sustainable clothing that helps cotton farmers get a fair deal. “We don’t use water meant for irrigation. We use only natural colours. We show pure cotton clothing is not snow white in colour and the industry uses chemicals to turn it white” she explains. 
There were experts too explaining the danger of genetically modified food crops including Prof Sultan Ahmed. Ananthoo who coordinated the event said “There is hardly 3% of GM crop around the world. The whole world has almost  twice the food what’s needed. Organic can produce more and this has been proved time and again”. 
Retired bureaucrat Santha Sheela Nair denies genetically modified crop is the only way a country could achieve food and economic security.  Though we had green revolution, today we are promoting organic farming. States like Sikkim have gone 100% organic farming. India is promoting millets. Diversifying our food basket, bringing in more grains, local vegetables and tubers is important. Now we’ve moved to a standardised food pattern and have become the diabetes capital”. She added “In this year of millets we should add nutrition security as well”.

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