Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dunja in Navdanya in India...

...sends this report on her work there so far.
" I'm staying at Navdanya(which means 9 crops), a biodiverse organic farm focused on seed saving. The seed bank has hundreds of different seeds from all around India, which they preserve and share with farmers in order to make sure that agro-biodiversity is not lost (what's left from it). Through the movement and the network, Navdanya also ensures that seeds stay in farmers' hands and that both seeds and diversity are protected from corporate grip/control. Coz here, seed literally means life and the situation shows that monoculture and hybrid/GM seeds have created a 'suicide economy' as Vandana calls it (150 000 farmers have committed suicide, and the number is getting higher.. )

Navdanya was set up by Vandana on a degraded land in 1992 and until now it had a significant impact on agriculture in the region and throughout India. In fact, this state, called Uttaranchal, declared itself organic. About 10 years ago, most of the farmers used chemicals and now most of them are organic, and even though not every single farmer is organic, the local government targets toward 100% organic economy.

The farm is located in a lush Doom valley and the Himalayas start exactly here. The higher you go the more untouched agriculture you find. The valley is famous for its basmati rice, and they say that the best basmati is grown right here. The farm consists of a huge area where they grow hundreds of varieties every year (rice, wheat, veggies, herbs. spices, etc.). Last few days I spent in a chamomile field, picking flowers (a nice thing to do when there is some breeze). We (volunteers) do (a lot of) weeding, harvesting, seed collecting and storing, we take care of veg garden, etc.

It's a pleasure to be part of and stay at Navdanya but there are things that I don't get…Of course, life here has its own pace and logic that I was expecting to find. However, unfortunately, the project reflects the broader structure of Indian society: skewed power relationships and hierarchies, which seem to be the very base of the Indian culture. And there is a creepy master/slave touch to it, which is not quite how I would imagine a sustainable community or a collective. Anyway, that's how things are around here. Nevertheless, Navdanya is doing a wonderful work in the given context.

Concerning my research, it's going really well. Although it's difficult to organize things, I'm getting enough support and soon I'll visit different farmers' communities up in the Himalayas. I'm looking forward to that because it's getting too hot here. Beside an excellent library at the farm, I'm also free to use Vandana's personal library - pretty much all I need at this stage of research…Maybe you remember that in my research I'm trying to look at what is the best way for small farmers to deal with climate change. The effects of the change are clearly visible, precipitation and temperature patterns as well as the seasons are changing... However, people here and Navdanya know how to deal with it. Basically, climate change is not the problem. Food production is undermined by environmental degradation, destruction of different ecosystems, flaws in planning and development policies, free trade and multinationals.

At the moment, Navdanya is focusing on promoting biodiverse organic farming and ensuring that there is a market for the produce of small organic farmers. Once they go organic and manage to sell their products, several problems are tackled – food security, income and sustainable use of natural resources. Biodiverse organic farming goes on and directly contributes to water, soil and forest conservation - essential in dealing with different issues, including climate change. Of course organic farming will not solve all the problems and there are many things that need to be changed on different levels, but it's the first step.

What's interesting for my research is that Vandana is writing a book about climate change and planning to launch a campaign: biodiversity for climate change. And that's exactly what I'll be writing about in my paper, which makes things easier I guess. I met her and she really is a shining star of the movement in India.

In general I do 'enjoy' being here. It's interesting and fun to travel around but I also find it difficult because I get bugged and, moreover, it's emotionally heavy to be confronted with slums, caste system, starved dogs, streets covered in garbage, plastic eating cows, and elephants and camels in the middle of terrible traffic jams. It's sad and depressing. Especially in the beginning….but now, although it may sound weird - I'm getting used to it.
I also find it annoying to have to think about what I wear, etc. The farm is in a rural settings and people are very traditional and women are supposed to behave in a certain way… bollox! And yes, there is a big difference between men and women here, while most of men are annoying, women are beautiful, warm and bright.

Anyway, I'm far away from dirty cities and enlightenment seeking tourists."

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