KOKOPELLI distributes in Europe nearly 1,500 varieties of traditional, open-pollinated seeds collected from all over the world. These varieties form the official collection of the French National Association of Plant Conservatories. When Dominique Guillet brought 120 varieties from this collection to India for distribution, an academic storm broke out.
But he offered an interesting line of defence: 99 per cent of these seeds are of vegetables such as pumpkin, brinjal, cucumber, tomato and capsicum, which are already in use in India. Moreover, he said, most vegetables being consumed in India, both modern and traditional, had their origins in regions such as Africa and South America. According to him, papaya, corn, pineapple and white sapota originated in Central America, and carrot, onion and garlic are originally from West Asia. "And all these vegetables are eaten by educated city dwellers, not village residents," he said.
Interestingly, Indian agricultural institutes have promoted some of the varieties in Annadana's 'foreign collection'. A tomato variety, P6283 PUSA Ruby, is classified as a vegetable already being grown in India, by Dr. Veeraraghavadatham (A Guide to Vegetable Culture; Ezhil; 1998). Two varieties of watermelons, known as crimson sweet and sugar baby, were introduced in the Indian markets by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. Farmers cite many more varieties that have been smuggled in from countries such Thailand and Japan.
But the idea remains ticklish in a country that is just waking up to the idea of saving seeds. Dr. Alan Tye, a global invasive species specialist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says: "Sometimes even non-invasive plants can hybridise with local native relatives to the extent of hybridising the local species out of existence. As long as the risks are recognised, they can be dealt with. But claiming that the risks don't exist is simply denying the evidence."