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September 28, 2007

Bija didi & the Seed Bank

Navdanya has a seed bank on the farm. In fact, Navdanya started off as a seed bank. Vandana started Navdanya to conserve indigenous seeds. Today they have 34 seed banks across the country. During my visit to Navdanya, 400 varieties of rice were being grown on about 3m X 3m plots. These will be used to replenish their seed bank. The seed bank provides seeds to farmers free of cost, with the condition that they will employ orgaqnic methods of farming and return 1.25 times the quantity they took from their harvest. They encourage farmers to save seeds from their own harvest as they used to do earlier.

I met Bija did who works in the seed bank and has been with Navdanya for 14 years now. She is an unassuming woman in her 50s who talks with a lot of enthusiasm while she is working. The first time I met her she was removing corn from the cob, both for the next season and to make corn flour. The next time, we removed seeds from Bhindi (okra). She comes from a farming family (though she doesn’t have land anymore) and they always saved seeds for the next sowing season. At Navdanya, she is the seed keeper. She selects the best seeds and keeps them aside for the next crop and to give to farmers. That she is a seed keeper and her name Bija also means seed is one of those coincidences! She told me about different kinds of vegetables and grains, most of which I could not recognize (I would like to think it was because I couldn’t tell from their Hindi name but I am sure I have never seen them…). She told us how today, people don’t want to go through the process of saving seeds, she was talking about vegetables in particular, because you could buy a packet of seeds in the market. No one ever sold seeds when she was growing up. She remembers people coming to their farm to get seeds of a particular variety of rice that they used to grow. That’s how it was done, she said. She has planted different kinds of vegetables in Navdanya, some of which have come up well.

She was very clear on not using chemicals in farming. She said when a mother who is breast-feeding her baby eats spinach; the baby’s poop is green in colour. So what do you think is entering your system when you drink milk from a cow that has been eating fodder sprayed with all kinds of chemicals?!

Bija didi was given the Slow Food Award for her contribution in biodiversity conservation. Read more here.

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