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Growing more food without harming environment

September 17
02:52 2010

Dr. Vandana Shiva

Navdanya’s work over the past twenty years has shown that we can grow more food and provide higher incomes to farmers without destroying the environment and killing our peasants.

Biodiverse organic farming creates a debt free, suicide free, productive alternative to industrialized corporate agriculture. It –
• Leads to increase in farm productivity and farm incomes, while lowering costs of production
• Fair and just trade  with lowers costs to consumers
• Pesticides and chemical free production and processing brings safe and healthy food to consumers

We must protect the environment, farmers’ livelihoods and public heath and people’s right to food.

Sir Altbert Howard, in whose memory we hold the Howard Lecture every 2nd of October, recognized in mixtures and biodiversity the secret of sustainability and stability of Indian farming. As he wrote in the Agricultural Testament:

“Mixed crops are the rule…crops like millets, wheat, barley, and maize are mixed with an appropriate subsidiary pulse, sometimes a species that ripens much later than the cereal. The pigeon pea, perhaps the most important leguminous crop of the Gangetic alluvium, is grown either with millets or with maize. The mixing of cereals and pulses appears to help both crops. When the two grow together, the character of the growth improves.”

This year’s Howard Lecture will be delivered by Prince Charles who is a passionate organic farmer. At Navdanya we have built on this ancient time test farming in nature’s ways based on biodiversity. Not only do we protect biodiversity, we are increasing food production, farmers’ incomes and resilience to climate change.

On our farm, we have fields of seven (Saptarishi), nine crops (Navdanya), twelve crops (Baranaja). Navdanya in fact means nine seeds or nine crops. Biodiverse fields always perform better than monocultures. They survive frost and draught, early rain and late rain, too much rain and too little rain.
The Baranaja system is an ancient farming system in our region of Garhwal in Uttarakhand. In traditional fields, the baranaja (twelve grain) system of farming is practiced. The twelve crops are: Phapra (Fagopyrum tataricum), Mandua (Eleusine Coracana), Marsha (Amaranthus frumentaceous), Bhat (Glycine soja), Lobia (Vigna Catiang), Moong (Phaseolus Mungo), Gahath (Dolichos biflorus), Rajma (Phaseolus vulgaris), Jakhia (Cleome viscose), Navrangi (Vigna umbrellata), Jowar (Sorghum vulgare), and Urad (Phaseolus mungo).

The baranaja or Navdanya system of farming is a guarantee against hunger and an insurance against crop failure due to variability of climate.
In diverse parts of the country, biodiverse agricultural systems outperform monocultures.

The relationship between different plants leads to symbiosis which contributes to overall increase in productivity of the crops. In Sikkim, the dominant land use is the Alnus Cardamom agro-forestry system.
This land use system has been practiced in the state of Sikkim that is reaping benefits and that has shown to be sustainable. In Rajasthan too, in the arid tract of Jodhpur and parts of western Rajasthan it is observed that Neem based agro-forestry and khejri (Prosopis cineraria) wherein crops like bajra, sorghum mung, moth, maize are grown together and have fulfilled the nutritional requirement of the communities.   (Biodiversity Based Organic Farming, Navdanya, 2006, pg 27)
A recent study conducted by Navdanya in four districts of West Bengal shows that biodiversity in the same soil and climatic regimes prove economically more efficient than modern intensive chemical farming systems involving monocultures. The net value of the annual production of an average biodiverse farm is uniformly more than that of an average monoculture farm.

The cost of all inputs (water for irrigation, seeds, agrochemicals, labor and energy) were calculated to compare the relative gain in output value of the modern monoculture farms with that of the biodiverse farms. Furthermore, monoculture farms of East Medinipur appear to be less productive in spite of three rice crops than those of Bankura with two rice crops. Farmers explain this to reflect the “farm fatigue” from monoculture and intensive use of agrochemicals – an essential feature of modern agriculture.

A remarkable finding is that the relative value of the farm produce seems to increase significantly with greater diversity of crops.

Thus conservation of native seeds and biodiverse ecological farming has led to incomes which are 2-3 times higher than monoculture, and 8-9 times higher than industrial systems using genetically engineered seeds.

More biodiversity on farms also translates into better nutrition. It is in fact the disappearance of nutritious crops from our fields that has led to crisis of malnutrition in India. India today is the capital of hunger.

Biodiversity conservation is not a luxury we cannot afford. Biodiversity destruction is a luxury we cannot afford.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist, activist, editor, author. She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (1982) in Dehra Dun dedicated to high quality and independent research and Navdanya (1991), a national seed movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, promote organic farming and fair trade.

Dr. Vandana Shiva

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