Chandra Bahadur Yonjan Tamang recalls the taste and smell of jyapu cauliflower. For decades, this regional variety was the only cauliflower that farmers in his village of Bardev grew. Farmers would sow seeds in mid-September and by mid-February, the cauliflower would be ready for harvest.
Tamang said that when people cooked jyapu cauliflower, it smelled delightful.
That was at least a decade ago. Now, not a single farmer in the village grows jyapu cauliflowers anymore. All the cauliflower in the village is presently grown from seeds manufactured by Nozaki Saishujo Ltd, a Japanese company.
Tamang said that hybrid cauliflower seeds hardly take two months to mature whereas jyapu cauli takes six months and the yield is better, too.
It’s not just local varieties of cauliflower that have been substituted by hybrid varieties from other countries. Most vegetables that the villagers grow evolved from imported hybrid seeds. And this is not restricted to Bardev—it is happening across the country.
Just three decades ago, most of the Nepali farmers relied on local indigenous seeds. Even until the 90s, Nepal was a seed transporting country. Today, as per the agriculture scientists, more than 90 percent of vegetable seeds manipulated in the country are imported. Nearly 30 percent of maize seeds are imported, and around 15 percent of rice seeds are from other countries.
As the number of vegetables and grains grown from imported hybrid seeds rises every year, scientists warn that this reliance on imports for something as delicate to food security as seeds could have disastrous consequences for the country’s agriculture sector—and for the genetic diversity of domestic plants.
Madan Rai, seed specialist, and agronomist said that a country can never be food secure if it isn’t seeded secure. Seed protection is when farmers in the country have admittance to quality seeds at the right time and sensible prices. We as a country must be self-sufficient on seeds to truly become food secure.
Although specific data on when imported hybrid seeds were first used in the country is difficult to come by, agriculture experts believe that farmers started using them in the early 80s.
Dila Ram Bhandari, former chief of the government’s Seed Quality Control Centre said that their findings show that in the 80s, farmers in the districts of Bara and Parsa were planting hybrid maize seeds. These hybrid maize seeds were most likely imported informally from India via the porous border.
Rice hybrid seeds were initially introduced to the country in the late 90s and early 2000s, as per Bhandari, and now, nearly 15 percent of total rice seeds used in the country are imported hybrids. Imported vegetable seeds, which were first introduced in the country some 30 years ago.
Rai said that farmers in many countries were already using hybrid seeds decades before Nepali farmers started using them. In neighboring India, hybrid seeds were originated as early as the 60s.