I was able to go to Dehradun, a 6-hour train ride north of Delhi, to visit Bija Vidjapeeth, the Navdanya (“nine seeds”) center where Vandana Shiva and her colleagues run an experimental organic farm, a seed bank, and an educational facility to teach farmers how to grow “biodiverse” crops (they also run courses for visitors).
Most farmers in India have less than an acre of land. By biodiversity, they mean growing multiple crops—grains, legumes, vegetables that complement each other–on the small plot, rather than one cash crop like rice or some other grain. One of these plots planted in rice might bring a farmer 5000 rupees ($125) per year, but out of this he will have to buy seeds, fertilizer, and food for his family. Planted in multiple crops, a farmer can sell the higher value items, feed his family, and triple his income to 15,000 rupees ($375) per year, enough to bring the family out of dire poverty and send the kids to school.
Navdanya gives seeds to farmers and teaches them how to use them; farmers are expected to return the seeds the following year or give seeds to two other farmers. Its programs are in 17 Indian states and Navdanya seeds have gone to about 100,000 farmers so far.
Half of the 20-acre farm is trust land planted in mango trees. The rest is experimental plots, the garden, and the buildings for lectures and dormitories. It is in a valley at the foot of the Himalayas, and beautiful country in sharp contrast to Delhi’s sprawl.