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Known as the “Seed Warrior,” Debal Deb is keeping alive hundreds of varieties of heirloom rice to support food sovereignty

On Friday, September 27, at 5 p.m., Indian ecologist Debal Deb will visit NYU Steinhardt to offer a lecture and discussion on “growing culture” and resistance to the corporate control of seeds and agriculture. Deb’s talk will explore the social and political nuances of seed saving while advocating for community led models of agriculture and knowledge sharing.
Last year, Deb cultivated 1,340 traditional varieties of rice on land in Odisha, India. More than 7,000 farmers in six states in India were given the seeds – with the condition that they also grow them and give some away in their local communities.

Varieties of seed collected by Deb are individually germinated in a traditional way, using clay pots and cow urine. Photo by Jason Taylor.
This event is being hosted by NYU Steinhardt’s Nutrition and Food Studies Department, A Growing Culture, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting farmer-led research and innovation, and The Institute for Public Knowledge’s Food and the City Working Group.
The number of rice varieties in India have decreased from roughly 100,000 to 7,000 since the 1970s. Deb has established and maintained what is probably the last collection of the once vast rice diversity in eastern India. This diversity represents a fraction of the varieties that used to make up India’s rich rice culture. The resilience that manifests his collection of over 1,410 varieties is uncanny, withstanding drought and flooding, changes in temperature, climate, and soil, as well as multiple cultural and medicinal properties.
The loss of rice varieties is not unique to India, nor is the erosion of genetic diversity limited to one food crop. Food varieties are disappearing across the world and Deb’s efforts are part of a global movement to protect agricultural biodiversity.
A seed does not just contain genetic markers, it is the start of true food sovereignty. It is a driver of political and social change. Deb, a fierce advocate of farmer-led agrarian models and open-source seeds, will share his experiences with the NYU community, including the specific methods he has used to ensure these seeds’ survival.

Deb, founder of Basudha, a rice conservation farm in India, has created a massive seed bank that houses and is preserving rare indigenous rice.

India’s ‘Seed Warrior,’ Debal Deb, to Sow More than Just Seeds at NYU Steinhardt – Sept. 27 Known as the “Seed Warrior,” Debal Deb is keeping alive hundreds of varieties of heirloom rice to