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

Photo of Debal Deb
Debal Deb stands in the middle of his partly built seed bank in Odisha, India. Photo by Jason Taylor.

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.

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

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.

Varieties of seed collected by Deb are individually germinated in a traditional way, using clay pots and cow urine as pictured here.

Varieties of seed collected by Deb are individually germinated in a traditional way, using clay pots and cow urine. Photo by Jason Taylor.

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.

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.

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.

Pless Hall, 1st Floor
82 Washington Square East
New York, NY 10003

Members of the NYU community interested in attending should RSVP at Journalists interested in attending are asked to RSVP to

About Debal Deb
Debal Deb is a biologist, with a doctorate in ecology from Calcutta University. He has conducted post¬doctoral research in the human ecology of estuarine resource use at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (1988), and in ecological economics at University of California – Berkeley, as both a Ford Foundation Fellow (2001) and a Fulbright Fellow (2009). Deb currently serves as guest faculty at the SIT, Jaipur (in ecological economics), B.R. Ambedkar University, New Delhi (in development studies), and is professor of eminence for agroecology at Centurion University, Odisha. In 1997, Deb founded Vrihi (Sanskrit for 'rice'), India's largest open source rice seed bank, conserving 1230 folk rice varieties, and a research farm Basudha to demonstrate ecological agriculture, eco forestry, alternative energy use, and ecological architecture.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit

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