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Navdanya – Agroecology and biological and cultural diversity

Navdanya was founded more than 30 years ago by alternative nobel price winner Dr. Vandana Shiva in India to defend Seed and Food sovereignty as well as small farmers. It is a network of seed keepers and organic producers, all people that actively try to conserve a wide range of seeds and foster organic farming. It is spread across 22 states in India.

The project’s name means “nine seeds” which symbolizes the protection of biological and cultural diversity. Another meaning is “new seed” which stands for the seed as commons, based on the right to save and share them. Navdanya helped to set up 122 community seed banks across the country, trained over 900.000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past few years. Additionally, it helped to set up the largest direct marketing and fair trade organic network in the country of India.

To share knowledge on biodiversity conservation and organic farming, Navdanya build up its own learning center called Bija Vidyapeeth which means School of Seed/Earth University. It is located at Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, which lies between the Ganga and the Yamuna, the Shivalik and Himalya mountain ranges. It is a so called biodiversity sanctuary where nature in its diversity and dynamism is the highest teacher of all. People can join organic practices, learning from nature and learning from farmers through active participation and observation. At Navdanya they say “we do not just grow crops and biodiversity, we are cultivating community. You learn to be a member of the earth community and the community of Bija Vidyapeeth. You will learn from community by being part of a community and participating in community activities.”

There is the possibility to do training in agroecological farming and biodiversity conservation as well as annual month-long courses for civil society organizations worldwide to get a grasp of sustainable ecological farming combined with hands on practical experience. At the farm/learning center and with other campaigns Navdanya is trying to preserve and embrace indigenous knowledge and culture. Apart of that it wants to create awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, defend people’s knowledge from biopiracy and food rights in the face of globalization and climate change. Navdanya calls itself a “women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity”.
The organization promotes a new agricultural paradigm that focuses on a culture of food for health where ecological responsibility and economic justice have priority over the consumer and profit based extractive food production systems of today. “The promotion of biodiversity-based agroecology for economic security and the mitigation of climate change, together with seed and food sovereignty are central to Navdanya’s vision of an Earth Democracy.”

On their website, Dr. Vandana Shiva writes:

Over the past three decades I have tried to be the change I want to see. When I found that dominant science and technology served the interests of powerful, I left academics to found the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a participatory, public interest research organisation. When I found global corporations wanted to patent seeds, crops or life forms, I started Navdanya to protect biodiversity, defend farmers’ rights and promote organic farming.

Navdanya/RFSTE’s journey over the past two decades has taken us into creating markets for farmers and promoting tasty, healthy, high quality food for consumers. We have connected the seed to the kitchen, biodiversity to gastronomy. And now we have joined hands with Slow Food to celebrate the quality and cultural diversity of our food.

The seed has inspired us to spread the message of sustainability through Bija Vidyapeeth, which I started with Satish Kumar as a sister institution of the Schumaker College in the UK.

My journey on the road to ecological sustainability started with the Chipko movement in the 1970s when women in the region of the Himalayas protected forests by hugging trees.

For me, ecology and feminism have been inseparable. And Diverse Women for Diversity is one expression of combining women’s rights and nature’s rights, celebrating our cultural diversity and biological diversity.

The defence of nature’s rights and people’s rights have come together for me in Earth Democracy – the democracy of all life on earth, a living democracy which supports and is supported by living culture and living economies.

Another aspect that is held high within Navdanya is the interconnection between food and health. In the last few decades’ changes in food production have altered and even destroyed many agriculture and food traditions. Monoculture and uniformity as part of the industrial modes of production have “impoverished the earth, our minds, our food and our health.” Commodification of food has brought us an agricultural system where it is purely about yields produced through monoculture. We can observe a fast decline in biodiversity and linked up to that a decline in diversity, which is essential for a healthy and balanced diet.

Within Navdanya there is the believe that “indigenous systems of agroecology combined with the new emerging sciences of life as self-organized complexity and intelligence, provide new possibilities for solutions to the health crisis and pathways to health and wellbeing.”

As our partner organization Navdanya is not only working with small marginalized farmers but also with school kids from schools of the Doon Valley. The project is called “Garden of Hope” and the school kids start their own small gardens from which they grow their own vegetables.

Navdanya, “Earth Democracy and Agroecology”, (accessed September 04, 2018)

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