Musings from the Seed Fest

Musings from the Seed Fest

Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2017-02-22 10:18 Photos by the authorMy earliest recollection of seeds is from my childhood at my mother’s village Mallinathapura in Mandya district. As a kid growing up in my native home, I remember my grandmother taking handful of seeds from a clay pot and carefully placing it in a small bamboo basket. She then got fresh cow dung from the cattle shed, made a tiny pyramid like structure and placed it atop the small heap of seeds. She lit the incense sticks, offered a flower, a red hibiscus, and prayed. After paying obeisance she gave the basket to Konaka, who worked at our fields and took care of our cattle, and wished luck.It was sowing season in my village.Konaka with ‘vibhuti’ smeared on his forehead and a flower tucked behind his ear, too prayed for good sowing and better crops.Another time when I was aware of seeds was when I saw my relatives and neighbours approach each other for seeds and exchange them. And then we have the adage, “As you sow so shall you reap.” So when Tomy Mathew Vadakkancheril, founder of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK), over a chat on Facebook said there was a seeds festival between Jan 22 and 26 at Vellarikkundu in Kasargod, I decided to go.FTAK set up in 2005 is an organisation of small holder farmers from the hilly regions of western ghats of Kerala.Throughout my journey from Mysuru-Iritty to Vellarikkundu I did not bat my eyelids. With thick green forest and streams the landscape seemed rich.Having reached Vellarikkundu at 8:30 pm, I headed to the seed festival. People were flocking the venue, while a few were returning home after the programmes following the inauguration of the seed festival. Malayalam songs sung by an artist had the audience. It was festive.Up early the next day, I walked to the venue. I hopped from one stall to another. There were nearly 50 stalls at the venue, except for a few the large majority were of farmers of the FTAK village committee groups. Every FTAK member, moreover, is an organic farmer with an average land holding of three acres.The colours and the variety of fruits, roots, shoots, gourds, vegetables, tuber crops, an array of seeds, beans, berries, fresh ginger, fragrance of the home-grown spices and a plethora of yams were a treat to me.Myriad shades of orange of the arecanut glistening in the bright sun, lush green of the pepper, banana saplings, kesu leaves, yellow and red of cocoa fruits had turned the venue into a bejewelled bride.There were multi-coloured handmade body soaps, machetes, agriculture implements, bamboo baskets, jackfruit toffees, bamboo shoot pickle, the popular banana and tapioca chips. At a stall I relished payasa made of bamboo rice. Bamboo flowers once in 12 years and it is then we have the bamboo rice. I held fruits and berries in my hands, felt its texture, inhaled its scents, soaked the colours, shapes, and the taste-sweet, tangy and sour.One of the stalls that drew my attention was that of Mr Bhaskaran. A native of Kannur district, he displayed a host of things from the past from agriculture implements, indigenous varieties of rice, sieve used to make toddy to the 120-years-old easy chair used by his grandfather, and many more.All things, thus, reminiscent of the way life was led and agriculture was practised in times bygone.At a time when children are growing increasingly alienated from their land, culture and language as noted by Dr Khadija Mumtaz, Kerala Sahitya Akademi awardee, in her talk, seedfest such as this hopes to leave the sights, scents and impressions of agriculture’s bounty on their impressionable minds.Even as I was touring the stalls, I saw Dr S Shanti, who is an unsung but critical catalyst of Kerala’s environmental consciousness, through her stories and songs encourage students to follow their heart and be alive to the nature around. As in the end it is the children who are sensitive to the environment who will be its protectors and guardians.Since day one of the five-day seedfest, I noted that visitors flocked a stall held by three women. The team led by Celine Manuel had on display nearly 135 varieties of legumes such as Perumpayar, Navi Beans, Velippayar, Violet Kuttippayar to name a few. Celine who leads a group of women farmers in her neighbourhood has been successful in securing tangible gains for them from various initiatives of the FTAK. And now having carved a place for herself in the organisation through her determined leadership ability, she is FTAK’s Wayanad district president.The seed festival with talks by women entrepreneurs, quiz for students, and artists led by C F John encouraging all to stamp their impressions of the seeds festival on the huge white canvas was indeed a fair.The festival showcased the region’s rich agriculture diversity. And in celebrating the richness I was made conscious of the need to protect and conserve it not only for ourselves but for the generations to come.As I noticed some women bought seeds for their fields and the others for their kitchen garden. But everyone did go home with a sapling or two and a few seeds in their hands.For me one of the attractions of the seed festival was the way in which the farmers had arranged their produce in a studied manner, an exercise in aesthetics. A farmer after all is an artist of the highest order is she not. What she grows sustains life just as art does.Even as the fair was on, documentation of the varieties of seeds and crops was on by a team of Seed Wiki Malayalam team comprising Manoj, Jayalal, Vinay Raj, and Sivan.Also, coconut fronds weaving and dehusking competitions were held for women.As I walked around learning, feeling and treating myself to the fair, I popped one Chambakka after another, the sweet and tangy taste of this rose water apple, a berry, changed the contours of my face.Chairperson of FTAK Thomas Kalappura at the seeds festival established the sovereignty of seeds by saying that the seeds belonged to the farmers and not to the multinational companies. He took a dig at the bank officials for driving the farmers to the brink of committing suicide for failure to repay loan, while they let Vijay Mallya go scot free.On why the seed festival, Tomy Mathew said: “One of the themes FTAK has been working on is food security. When addressing that what struck us was the dwindling number of food crops farmers were growing or consuming. The loss of or non availability of seeds then came into sharp focus. The need to rediscover, preserve and propagate seeds, thus, became a pressing issue. Seeds festival was born out of that idea.”While for the farmers who put up stalls at the venue it was an opportunity to display the crop diversity of their village and also know the richness of neighbouring villages, I wondered about its impact in the region. To this Tomy noted: “This is the sixth edition of the seeds festival. And since the first seeds festival there has been a manifold increase in crop diversity and several seeds that were once scarce are now plentiful. Growing of food crops which had taken a backseat in Kerala is being revived,” he said.I now carry within me memories of new tastes, colours, fragrance and touch.Not wanting to be left behind, I too bought a few seeds-bitter gourd, pumpkin, lady’s finger and payar (a kind of legume). The old lady who handed me the seeds said: “Take care of them and when you return to the seed fest next year tell me how they have turned out.”This is the beauty, of passing love and knowledge of sustenance.And as I sow, so shall I reap.