The idea is to wean farmers and home gardeners off hybrid or GM seeds and propagate the use of native or indigenous seeds stored at a 2.5-acre farm in Kagglipura. Rao says the reliance on hybrid or GM seeds is killing off nearly 100 varieties of vegetables each year globally, compromising biodiversity. The reason? “Most seed companies propagate only certain plant varieties that will push profits but they may not necessarily protect all the old varieties.”
In his quest to procure lost seeds, Rao travelled across the globe – from Southeast Asia to South America as well as Eastern Europe. Before Hariyalee Seeds, he was in Dubai where he ran a successful consultancy as a landscape architect focusing on sustainable environment and ecology. “In the past 25 years, I collected more than 560 seeds of which I managed to multiply about 140 old varieties of vegetables using Vedic or natural farming techniques.” One such quest led him to Peru where he looked for quinoa seeds. To his surprise, Rao found seeds for an old Karnataka favourite: dantin soppu or amaranthus, a leafy plant with a thick stem. “The varieties of dantin soppu that you find today have big leaves but not a thick stem. I had been hunting for seeds of the old variety locally but didn’t have any luck.” Apparently, it belongs to the same amaranth plant family as quinoa.
Farm to shelf
When it comes to aggressive promotion of farm-to-shelf produce, one could learn a thing or two from 54-year-old Arun Kumar Khannur. Farming, he claims, runs in his veins. “My father used to scold me because I would spend most of my time farming, and he’d say how I am supposed to focus on studies. I went on to do my MTech, and worked as an IT consultant for 28 years. But my true calling lay in serving the people of my hometown,” he says. Khannur completed a professional course in solving business problems, and in 2011, began his journey as a social entrepreneur. He works with farmers, artisans, home and cottage industries, helping them customise products and align them with the needs of modern customers. “I train farmers to develop skills such as how to use natural ingredients instead of harmful chemicals for pesticides. I also teach them better packaging skills, and how to sell their products,” Khannur explains. He currently owns a mango farm in Dharwad, and a six-acre organic farm in Haveri district in North Karnataka. Apart from that he works with farmers in Gadag, Haveri, Belgaum, Dharwad and Yadagir districts.
In 2016 he also began Khannur’s North Karnataka Stores, which stocks more than 650 direct-from-farm products. From plates and bowls made with recycled plant waste to seeds that work as natural painkillers – this store is a treasure trove. Their other ventures include garden cultivation and management, hygienic food grade packaging, and a training centre that’s currently under construction. These initiatives are connected with 80+ cooperatives, home and cottage industries, and artisans.