Lahari Bai has preserved over 150 varieties of Millet seeds and she is winning appreciation from everyone including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This 27-year-old tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district has become the brand ambassador for millets.
A Baiga tribal native of Silpadi village, Lahari Bai lives with her parents in a two-room Indira Awas house yojana with her parents. Even in these poor living conditions, while one room serves as a living room and kitchen, the other has been converted by her as a Beej Bank, a safe storage space for seeds. She has stored around 150-plus rare millets such as Kodo, Kutki, Sanwa, Madhya, Salhar, and Kaag crops, most of them being minor millets in her Seed bank.
The efforts of Lahari Bai have come to the limelight at a time when the government is working hard to make India a global hub of Millet cultivation and research. She plants her conserved seeds in a section of her small agricultural plot. After that she reaps it with multiplied seed varieties and distributes it to farmers in her village as well as the other around a dozen villages nearby. This all she does free of charge. In exchange for her gift of seeds, farmers give a small part of their harvest which helps Lahari Bai feed her family. This she has been practising for the last almost a decade now. However, this long journey of Lahari Bai has been dotted with struggles.
Everyone ridiculed her and drove her away. She decided not to marry and serve her parents for the rest of her life and dedicate herself to the mission of conserving Millet seeds. But after the due recognition from world over, she is no more laughed at but has become a celebrity of sorts. Lahari tells her audience that with the power to regenerate species and promote biodiversity, seeds enable ecosystems to adapt to change. Seeds can enable self-reliance. Preserving seeds means preserving genetic diversity.
In recognition of her work, she has been nominated by the government for the Rs. 10 Lakh Scholarship of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and if she gets the scholarship, she will be seen guiding Ph.D. students for their research work on Millets. India this year is celebrating the International Year of Millets and the efforts of Lahari Bai only takes the global initiative a step further.