President Ram Nath Kovind has conferred the Padma Shri to Rahibai Soma Popere for her contribution in the field of agriculture. The President of India’s official Twitter handle shared a picture of the president of India honouring Rahibai Soma Popere, fondly known as ‘beej mata’ or ‘seed mother’, with the country’s fourth-highest civilian national award.
President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Smt. Rahibai Soma Popere for Agriculture. Popularly known as ‘Seed Mother’, she is a tribal farmer from Mahadeo Koli, Tribal community from Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. pic.twitter.com/IKFeaROoVQ— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) November 8, 2021
“President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Smt. Rahibai Soma Popere for Agriculture. Popularly known as ‘Seed Mother’, she is a tribal farmer from Mahadeo Koli, Tribal community from Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra”, the tweet said.
Rahibai Soma Popere conferred with Padma Shri
Rahibai Soma Popere, resident of remote Kombhalne village in Ahmednagar’s Akola tehsil, has been conferred with the Padma award. The awards were declared in January 2020 and conferred in the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday, November 8.
A year prior to this, a three-minute short film on Rahibai Popere’s story of her campaign against hybrid seeds by a city-based filmmaker had won the third prize in the international section of Nespresso Talents 2019 at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.
Who is Padma Shri recipient Rahibai Soma Popere
Born in 1964, Popere is a Mahadeo Koli tribal farmer from Komblne village in the Akole tribal block in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district. She was unable to attend school owing to poverty, so she began working in agricultural labour and cow rearing to support her family when she was ten years old. She married Soma Popere, also uneducated, when she was 17 years old. Agriculture was the family’s sole source of income. She learned about agrobiodiversity, wild food resources, and traditional culture by practice and experience, despite not having attended school.
“Bakshish bhaari pan tyacha peksha kaam bhaari (Awards are good but my work is better),” she had once said, adding: “He (her father) gave me the only knowledge that he possessed. He took me around the farm and taught me about native seeds and how to plant them. Later, like everyone else, I too began using hybrid seeds. It was only after my sons and their kids started falling ill that I realised something was wrong with what we were eating. I felt it was the hybrid seeds and the use of pesticides and fertilisers.”
She learnt through her experiences that preserving agro-biodiversity and wild food resources is critical to achieving seed sovereignty and nutritional security.
Two decades ago, Popere decided to revert to her childhood knowledge and began preparing indigenous seeds and delivering them to others. She developed a Blackberry nursery and gave them out as gifts to members of the Self-Help Group (SHG). Popere started by distributing the seeds to members of two self-help groups, to relatives and also giving away seeds as return gifts. Soon, she came to be known as a beej mata. Besides, Rahibai travelled across Maharashtra and beyond to conserve indigenous seeds.
She subsequently established a nursery of hyacinth bean seedlings, rice, vegetables, and bean landraces, which she distributed to 210 farmers in Akole Block’s seven communities. She also established an in-situ germplasm conservation facility, which conserved and multiplied about 43 landraces of 17 different crops (paddy, hyacinth bean, millets, pulses, oilseeds, and so on). She’s also started a house-hoarding perennial kitchen garden.
Rahibai owns a seed bank with nearly 200 types of indigenous seeds
According to reports, she has a seed bank near her house, which she developed with the help of BAIF, a national NGO that implements innovative development programmes in various sections of the country with. This seed bank has nearly 200 types of indigenous seeds, including pulses, 30 types of vegetables, 11 varieties of rice and medicinal plants, among others.
Rahibai travelled across states to preserve native seeds and also raises awareness about the value of such indigenous seeds. She educates people about organic farming, agro-biodiversity, and wild food resources.
Rahibai has achieved remarkable feet by designing her own water harvesting structures, including a farm pond and a traditional jalkund. She successfully turned a two-acre wasteland into a profitable farm and began earning money from the vegetables she raised there. Rahibai also learnt organic agricultural techniques with the help of Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas.
Rahibai now teaches farmers and students about crop selection, soil fertility practises, and pest management, among other things, after successfully implementing all she learned. She gives farmers native crop seedlings to encourage them to switch to native types. Rahibai has trained about 3500 farmers across the Ahmednagar district.
In addition to agricultural projects, Rahibai leads another Self Help Group in Kombhalne, Chemdeobaba Mahila Bachat Gat, which organises several social initiatives such as health camps and solar lamp distribution.
While Rahibai’s efforts are making a visible impact at different district and state levels, they make a significant contribution towards genetic diversity in India’s agricultural sector.
President Ram Nath Kovind Monday presented Padma Awards at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The 2021 list comprises seven Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan, and 102 Padma Shri Awards, of which 29 awardees are women, 16 Posthumous awardees, and 1 transgender awardee.