Rahibai Soma Popere who hails from Kombhalne village in Maharashtra, India received the fourth highest civilian award, Padmashri for her contribution towards organic farming. She is a self-taught tribal woman who is well-known for her work in agro-biodiversity conservation, particularly of indigenous varieties.
Rahibai is fondly called as ‘Seed Mother’ because of her vast knowledge regarding different varieties of native or indigenous seeds and crops. She is an expert in subjects like agro-biodiversity and landrace conservation and even formed innovative techniques in the cultivation of paddy crops.
It all began when Rahibai along with her family migrated to Akole Taluk of Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. They took farming during the rainy months and in the remaining months, they used to work at the sugar factory as laborers. At that time, Rahibai concentrated on three of the seven acres of land they had. She also created water bodies like a farm pond and a traditional ‘Jalkund’ for the field. Two acres of the land which was supposed to be unproductive had begun to yield well. Then with the help of Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (MITTRA), she developed a nursery and eventually became skilled in the four-step method of paddy-cultivation with 30% more yields.
Rahibai has conserved so many native crops including 15 varieties of rice, nine varieties of pigeon pea and 60 varieties of vegetables. She understood that the nutritive value of traditional seeds was much higher than the hybrid seeds. Rahibai also offers training to farmers and students on the subjects of selecting seeds, soil fertility improvement, pest management, and control. She trains farmers and students on seed selection, techniques to improve soil fertility and pest management.