Arriving at Navdanya from the swarming surrounding world feels like entering a peaceful oasis set in the middle of a beautiful mango orchard. On the little road that leads to the farm, we were greeted by a group of hill ladies coming back from work in the fields.
One Perfect Day at Navdanya
This might sound a bit like one of those promotions for tourists, but Navdanya is, in fact, a place where one can spend a truly perfect day as opposed to the very troubled and hectic world we live in.
The day starts at day break with a walk to the nearby forest where villagers are already busy collecting large leaves for their cows, and wild peacocks are sending their morning calls. The majestic birds can be spotted flying from tree to tree. On the way back to the farm, the wheat fields dotted with dew-covered spider webs gave a magical feeling to the moment.
The morning walk was my choice; some went jogging around the farm while others attended a yoga class, but by 8 a.m. we were all lined up for a frugal breakfast of parantha (flat bread with onions), yogurt and masala chai. After breakfast, Drona, a young man from Bhutan in charge of the internship program, would allocate tasks from harvesting the wheat to weeding in the kitchen garden. In the middle of the day, feeling the intensity of the heat, our joyful crew would then be rewarded with a vegetarian lunch.
The afternoon free time was a good opportunity to chat with some of the interns. Maeva, a graduate student in Agronomy and Plants Sciences from France, was looking to bring a spiritual dimension to her busy life and would like to focus on sustainable agriculture. Carl from Switzerland was learning about seed saving. After some rest and before sunset, the ritual of the volleyball game would bring a great deal of excitement to this otherwise very quiet place. Then an invigorating cold shower would be followed by dinner and then listening to the local stories by the local guys to the sound of the guitar and the tablas.
Navdanya’s Biodiversity Conservation Farm
The farm is set up on about 50 acres located in the Doon Valley between the Yamuna and Ganga rivers and close to the foothills of the Himalayas. The farm started back in 1995 on land that had been degraded by eucalyptus and sugar cane intensive cultivation. Today the farm has become a sanctuary for biodiversity practicing agroecology and organic farming.
The several components of the farm include a learning center, a seed bank, an organic kitchen and medicinal garden, several fields with rotating wheat, rice, millet and cover crops, a large orchard with nine varieties of mangos, a vermicompost unit, a cattle shed for dairy products, and a soil testing laboratory.
The seed bank actively maintains 710 varieties of rice, 200 varieties of wheat, 60 types of millet, lentils, vegetables and spices for a total of about 1500 entries.
We were there mid-April just when the wheat harvest started. The fields would display several plots of wheat varieties; some tall, some short, some ready to harvest, others still too green. Very interesting were the trials with different combinations of cover crops called “Naja.” For instance “3 Naja” is barley, mustard, peas; “5 Naja”: linseed, oat, teera, radish, broadbean, and so on up to “12 Naja.”
The internship program is another major component where interns from all over the world come for two months of training.
But really the core of the farm’s mission is to educate small farmers from India through its learning center Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seeds/Earth University). Bija Vidyapeeth means “the Nine Seeds” symbolizing the protection of cultural and biological diversity as well as the ultimate gift of life and heritage. Training sessions are regularly offered to groups of farmers and cover all topics from technical to financial to legal.
Navdanya’s Network in India
This is perhaps the most impressive component of Navdanya: a network of seven regional coordinators, a presence in 18 Indian States and in Bhutan, 122 community seed banks and 5,000,000 farmers trained.
Darwan Singh Negi, the Global Coordinator of this network, gave us some insight about how it all works. The Regional Coordinators act, in fact, as some kind of regional extension services but tackling a broad range of issues related to small size sustainable farming in this huge and very diverse country, where struggling farmers sometimes desperately commit suicide.
They all work and act locally on the following projects:
- Bija Swaraj: community banks; distribution of the seeds of hope after natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Nepal
- Anna Swraj: educate farmers and consumers on the benefits of local fresh organic food; connect the urban areas to the country side through the Food Smart Cities project
- Bhu Swaraj: keep our soil healthy and fertile through organic cultural practices and through agroecology
- Gyan Swaraj: promote the knowledge of democracy, food sovereignty, and security, scientific research on biodiversity and climate change.
We all know Dr. Vandana Shiva, the beacon of Navdanya that shines all over the world; however it was such a great human experience to get to discover from inside her organization, a real model for large and small countries that are suffering from the loss of their cultural and agricultural ways.
We want to express our thankful thoughts and best wishes to her and to her staff at the farm.
You can learn more by visiting their website: www.Navdaya.org
Richard Bernard is the resident seed expert at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and travels the world, not just to collect seeds but also the stories that go with the seeds. Richard lives in Northern New Mexico where he manages the farmers’ market at the Pueblo of Pojoaque and is involved in supporting farming projects on tribal lands.