Keep the seeds in your hand, sister!
So say the women of the Nayakrishi Andolan which means new agricultural movement -a farmers' initiative in rural Bangladesh. Rather than being the thankful, passive recipients of the development process, the women of Nayakrishi Andolan are fending off the ravages of the Green Revolution in their environment and their community, and shoring up local genetic diversity instead.
Since Bangladesh embraced the Green Revolution, rural farmers who mostly produce for subsistence than commerce, have experienced a deterioration in their local environment. Among the chemically-maintained commercial hybrids, local agricultural species have been withering away, leaving many without the diversity of food upon which Bangladeshis have traditionally depended. Locals have also become concerned that the intensive use of chemical fertilisers necessary for intensive production of commercial species, work at the long term expense of soil fertility, and are polluting.
As if agricultural pollution and loss of local diversity weren't enough to contend with as a subsistence farmer, women have suffered a double whammy. Traditionally, women were the seed-keepers of the community and had an important role in traditional agriculture, and as any farmer will tell you, a good crop depends upon a good seed stock. Since the advent of the Green Revolution, however, women have become disengaged from food production and commercial HYV seeds are now purchased from multinationals. Locally, women have seen their influence wane.
The Nayakrishi Andolan was formed to address the social and ecological problems experienced by the community since the Green Revolution came to town. As a farmers' initiative, the Andolan seeks to find better alternatives for agriculture, with the involvement of all. The principles of Nayakrishi are broadly organic, with a focus on practises that are sustainable, such as maintaining soil fertility, reducing the chemical input, and opting for methods that optimise total yields, such as inter-cropping and agroforestry.
Critical to the movement is the conservation of genetic diversity, at the household and community level. One of the first tasks, then, was to organise a local diversity stock take. Across the region everyone was asked to submit local varieties of vegetables, pulses, cereals, and fruit. The resulting deluge allowed the Andolan to compile an impressive inventory of local species, from which a seed bank was created.
The Veez Sampad centre, or seed wealth centre, is a smoothed mud and thatch construction, packed to the rafters with jars of all sizes and descriptions, meticulously labelled and full of seeds. Where shelf space has been exhausted, jars and earthen pots are hanging from the ceiling, jostling with every type of squash imaginable.
The Veez Sampad seedbank is a bank in every respect; from its capital of seeds, small loans are made to whoever wants them, which are repaid, with interest. In this way the centre is increasing its seed stock all the time, replenishing local agricultural diversity with every loan, and contributing to local food security. The centre is proudly managed by local women, who have regained a crucial role in the process of food production. Keep the seeds in your hand sister!
Images coming soon!