Veteran activist and farmer Vijay Jardhari is on a mission to preserve India’s native seeds in the hills of Uttarakhand. In times of fast waning traditional agricultural practices, his efforts aim to restore the nutritional value of food grains and reduce food insecurity.
OneWorld: The Beej Bachao Aandolan aims to make farmers self-sufficient through traditional agricultural practices. What made you start this campaign in Uttarakhand?
Vijay Jardhari: The real source of inspiration is the Chipko Movement with which I was associated. Chipko movement had a slogan “kya hain jungle ke upkar? Mitti, paani aur bayar, jinda rahne ke aadhar” (What are favours of forest upon us? Soil, water and air that help us live).
Vijay Jardhari, one of the founders of the Beej Bachao Andolan/ Photo credit: The Hindu
The Chipko struggle continued until the beginning of 1980 and I was there during the decade of 70s. When the movement became successful, I returned to my village to farm with my parents. By that time, new seeds and chemical fertilizers of the Green Revolution were available.
New seeds were provided with a kit containing fertilizers and other chemicals. We too used them and had a bumper crop in the first year. We decided to use the same seeds next year without the chemicals and fertilizer. But production went down; we used the same seed again but yield declined.
We then sat and discussed it with our elders. They said that we were witnessing this problem for many years. Since we started using new seeds, our own native seeds have disappeared. This opened our eyes and then we decided to look for old seeds.
I went to the mountains, the fields where today’s growth, development and agriculture officials have not reached, where diversity existed. We started bringing back old seeds, cultivated them in our fields, and then shared them with other farmers.
At the same time, it was being told that soybean cultivation is full of money, so leave traditional farming and start growing soybean. Initially people started cultivating it but it was also a big mess. We asked people to not grow soybean but they didn’t listen. Things went well in the first year of cultivation but problems started surfacing the next year.
We then discussed it with the women of the village; they said that it was not good for us, it doesn’t produce fodder. Another argument was that it was difficult to sell soybean in the market as everybody had started cultivating it. As far as traditional crops are concerned you can get grains as well as fodder.
This brought people’s attention back to traditional farming; they understood the cost incurred is very less – you have seeds of your own, manure from your home and even the pesticides. But in modern agricultural practices you get everything for free initially but later you find yourself dependent on the market.
We had the same experience with chemical fertilizers. It is similar to alcohol addiction; chemical fertilizers are making our land addicted.
OW: What is the 12 grain technique that you use? Can this be easily adopted by farmers?
VJ: The 12 grain technique (Barahnaja in Hindi) is a part of our life style, agricultural system and culture. It is full of food of high nutritional value and finger millet is central to it. Finger millet is rich in calcium, iron and iodine.
It is cultivated with other crops, at some places with six crops or twelve or even with more than that. These crops depend on each other. For example, many crops depend on Amaranthus for its growth and share a symbiotic relationship. Pulses, vegetables and oilseed crops are also there, for example, beans, black lentil,naurangi, gahat and bhatt.
In 12 grain technique you have enough for yourself and for your land. It increases soil fertility even if a crop takes in little higher dose of nutrition from soil. Pulses increase soil fertility and also support other crops. It is similar to the hand holding support that we provide to a child to walk. When there are 12-14 types of crops in a family, they feel food secure at least for six months. This 12 grain technique is philosophy of our life, culture and a medium for livelihood.
It is also very effective in fighting climate change because these crops can withstand heat and survive in dry conditions. In 2009, which is considered to be the year of severe drought in the mountains of Uttarakhand, there was no difference in yields of finger millet, Amaranthus and goda.
Also, if we see the damage of crops done by wild animals… a farmer cultivates six crops and one or two get ruined, then the rest of crops would be good. This is a complete crop rotation. Suppose Amaranthus was harvested in October and November and fields become empty; now the next crop wouldn’t be finger millet, it would be jhangora.
OW: You insist on collection of native seeds. How does the seed bank help farmers in the state and those outside?
VJ: Seed bank is a new term but every farmer in Uttarakhand has his own seed bank. Every farmer identifies and sorts vigorous seeds for the bank. Farmers have their own technique of sorting and identifying seeds; if you are sorting the seeds of paddy and finger millet, the process is known as ‘Rotyana’. Every crop has a different method of harvesting. But when it comes to seeds, every seed is identified, properly dried and then stored.
We have tried cultivating seeds which have got extinct or are on the verge of extinction. For example, we have grown 20 different verities of beans. Now, when someone in nearby village requires these seeds we provide them through women groups or SHGs. We also have a tradition of exchanging seeds with neighbouring villages.
We have replicated ourselves in many states to provide native seeds. Recently we provided native seeds of finger millet to Jagori Grameen in Himachal Pradesh. We also provided Amaranthus seeds to Orissa and they have reported good yields. Many states themselves have come forward and asked us for the seeds.
OW: How will indigenous seeds and traditional farming techniques strengthen food security and preserve the environment?
VJ: We have so many misbelieves here, for example, we would not be able to feed our growing population if we adopt traditional agriculture. But we believe that some of the old varieties of seeds may have lost vigour with passage of time but they are more vigorous than the modern hybrid seeds.
You need to put a lot of input into hybrid seeds and they are very prone to diseases. But native seeds do not require high inputs. You need manure and bio-fertilizers, and if we put a small sincere effort in cultivating them, no one can stop them from a high produce.
We have cultivated a native paddy – thappacheeni, and produced 72 quintals of rice in a hectare; it also provided fodder of around 90 quintals per hectare.
Second, our state produces a good amount of finger millet and jhangora which is equal to our national standards. Government or agriculture scientists try to sell the seeds and fertilizers of MNCs. They insist on using chemical fertilizers – urea and DAP in finger millet and jhangora. However, these crops do not need it. This will ruin ukhad crop too, if used.
We firmly believe that traditional agriculture can feed people and is critical for food security but needs attention. You are subsidizing chemical fertilizers, modern agriculture practices but the same amount or even less than that needs to be spent on traditional agriculture. Organic farming and native seeds should be promoted because these are the seeds of future.
We have a variety of paddy, kankuri and gorakhpuri which can withstand drought and grow in only 90 days. You see how these native seeds are capable of tolerating tough climate and producing good yield; however the hybrid seeds are not.
OW: What are the future plans of Beej Bachao Aandolan?
VJ: The farmer is our only hope. We believe that if people start using traditional seeds, adopt traditional agriculture practices, this will definitely ensure food security, nutrition and freedom from diseases. Climate change is a continuous process; we cannot stop it because whether it is India or any other country, no one is going to reduce carbon emissions. So traditional seeds are the future and our hope is associated with them.
The agriculture policy is not in favour of Indian farmers. It favours multinationals manufacturing seeds, chemical fertilizers and weedicides. MNCs first send weeds and later on sell weedicide.
Farmers must be consulted while making agriculture policy. This will not only help the farmers but also the consumers. Farmer suicide is prominent in those areas where they have left the traditional and mixed agriculture. You will not find a single case of farmer suicide in areas where people are still doing mixed farming. Agriculture is cost dependent and modern agriculture is pushing these farmers towards darkness.
Second, farmers need to be given a respectable place in society. The new generation and education do not respect the farmer; it is important in order to involve younger generations in agriculture.
There’s the need to increase the income of a farmer. It becomes very difficult for farmers to ensure livelihoods as there isn’t any surety of crops. The farmer’s life is very tragic. What will a farmer do if there is a drought, hailstorm or heavy rain? Wild animals damage our crop. That is why we have given a slogan “Kheti par kiski maar, jungli jaanwar, mausam aur sarkar” (Who damages our crop? Wild animals, weather and the government).
If rains start occurring on time, seasons start changing on time and if wild animals stop damaging our crops, then nothing special needs to be done for the farmer. If farmers have to prosper, then agricultural policies must be in accordance to them.
The ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ [BBA], begun in the late 1980s, led by farmer and social activist Vijay Jardhari. The Andolan started in the village Jardhargaon of district Tehri, ttaranchal, famous for its unique movement to save the traditional seeds of the hills. The ‘Beej Bachao Andolan’ [Save the Seed Movement or BBA] is not only a crusade to conserve traditional seeds but also to promote agriculture and local tradition.