Navdanya's Bija Vidyapeeth held its Seed Sovereignty workshop on the biodiversity conservation farm outside Dehradun February 24–26. Quickly following Navdanya'sInternational Conference on Two Decades of the GMO-Free Movement in New Delhi, the programme zeroed in on seeds and biodiversity as the answer to the spreading devastation of industrial agriculture, GMOs, and seed monopolies. Sixty farmers, seed bank coordinators, physicians, scholars, and documentary filmmakers from all over the world attended—exchanging their stories, information, inspiration, and ideas for the future of the seed sovereignty movement.
The majority of participants were Indian farmers from Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh, and the villages surrounding Dehradun in Uttarakhand. All in attendance were Hindi- or English-speakers, and Dr. Shiva provided lively translations between the two.
Dr. Vandana Shiva launched the first day of the workshop—introducing the objectives: understanding the need for seed conservation, introducing participatory breeding to build on farmers' knowledge, protecting farmers rights to seed saving in the context of patents and intellectual property rights, and discussing the legal framework for open source seed keeping.
Benny Haerlin, Coordinator of Save Our Seeds, Germany, presented the successes and challenges of the GMO-free movement in the European Union. He highlighted the findings of the International Assessment of Science, Technology, and Development—namely that intercropping with maximum biodiversity is the answer for a sustainable future of agriculture. Haerlin underlined the importance of learning from the plant and the seed. The solution to hunger is not reducing nature to codes and economics, but rather simple: everyone should grow a garden in their backyard.
On the subject of biodiversity for diverse growing conditions, Dr. Salvatore Ceccarelli educated the attendants about participatory breeding. Dr. Salvatore works with the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, Syria, breeding climate-efficient crops in a laboratory. After doing commercial breeding for many years, he is now committed to educating farmers worldwide that they can breed their crops for adaptability to climate change themselves—in the field.
The many Indian farmers in attendance who work with Navdanya—coordinating seed banks, networking farmers, and participating in seed sovereignty campaigns—shared their work in groups by village. Many of the farmers who work with Navdanya have won elections for leadership in the village Panchayats based primarily on supporting campaigns to keep the villages organic, GMO-free, and seed sovereign. One participant, Ramesh Sakharkhar, came wearing a hat and shirt covered in seeds that he has saved in Maharashtra, India. He is a Seed Satyagrahi—insisting on seed sovereignty and resisting seed monopoly. Sakharkhar shared many slogans he uses to mobilise farmers, including: “Save the local seeds. Save the local breeds. Save the farmer.” and “Keep one eye on the plow, and one eye on America.” The latter expresses what many Indian farmers know all too well—the U.S. Government and its agribusiness companies are always scheming to own the seed, control the methods of farming the land, and own the farmer
In a final discussion the group formed a list of effective programmes to spread and new actions to take. Actions address: defending the right to keep seeds, educating youth about the importance of biodiversity and seed sovereignty, declaring the rights of nature, and evolving crops for climate change efficiency.
In between the lecture and discussion sessions participants gathered to enjoy the rich biodiversity of the farm. Navdanya's staff led groups to the soil testing laboratory, through the thriving intercropped fields, and to the seed bank—where hundreds of varieties of grains, pulses, and vegetables are conserved year after year.
Throughout the course, guests shared ideas and inspiration during tea break and at mealtime. Meals, cooked by the resident Navdanya chefs on the farm included masala dosas made with rice and millet flours, red rice, green papaya salad, and amaranth halwa for dessert. All of the ingredients are organic and local—most are coming from the farm itself—and the meals are divine.
The Seed Sovereignty workshop is one of many programmes at Bija Vidyapeeth. Coming up in April is Grandmother's University, where we gather to celebrate and preserve women's wisdom about biodiversity, healthy cooking, and natural healing. See the "Courses in 2010" page of the Navdanya website for more information about the rest of this year at Bija Vidyapeeth.