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News: Among the winners of this year’s Padma awards is Rahibai Popere, popularly known as Seedmother, from Akole taluka of Ahmednagar, Maharashtra.Her Padma Shri is a recognition of her work that has helped save hundreds of landraces (wild varieties of commonly grown crops) at the village level.
What are landraces?
• Landraces refer to naturally occurring variants of commonly cultivated crops. These are as opposed to commercially grown crops, which are developed by selective breeding (hybrids) or through genetic engineering to express a certain trait over others.
• Biodiversity allows a natural mechanism for crops to develop traits to face challenging situations. However, given the large-scale human interference in crop selection, that ability is now lost in most commercial crops.
• Crop improvement through selection and breeding over several decades has narrowed the genetic base of most crops.
• Amid the threat of climate change, a challenge before scientists and policymakers is to develop varieties that can withstand both abiotic and biotic stresses.Naturally occurring landraces have a large pool of still untapped genetic material, which can provide solutions.Genetic diversity is nature’s survival mechanism. The wider the gene pool, the more the chance of developing a trait that can help in surviving extreme climate events.
• Much remains to be understood about the germplasms of the landraces. Research is in the early stages. It is necessary to understand how these landraces can contribute to climate-resilient agriculture; nutritional profiling too can hold the key to fighting deficiencies, as many landraces are richer in nutrients than commercially grown variants.