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Unique movement to conserve traditional seeds : By Raju Gusain from Dehradun

The 'Beej Bachao Andolan' (BBA), begun here in the late 1980s, is fifteen years old. Led by farmer and social activist Vijay Jardhari, the 'Andolan' has made village Jardhargaon of district Tehri famous for its unique movement to save the traditional seeds of the hills.

The 'Beej Bachao Andolan' (Save the Seeds Movement) is not only a crusade to conserve traditional seeds but also to promote agricultural biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and local traditions.

The hallmark of the BBA is that it is a people's campaign and flourishing without any government financial assistance or help.

On starting the Beej Bachao Andolan, 52-year-old Vijay Jardhari says, "After the Green Revolution of the 1960s, farmers in the hills also adopted high-yielding varieties of seeds. After initial success, the Green Revolution fizzled out as the yields began to decline. This made the villagers realize that so called modern agriculture was unsustainable. Low production despite increased investments on pesticides and fertilizers, as well as decline in soil fertility, forced us to think of corrective measures."

"Village elders advised us to focus on traditional farming. We started the 'Beej Bachao Andolan' as an awareness campaign in 1989 for farmers to discontinue growing cash crops like peas, potatoes and soybean, and promote indigenous practices like the 'Baranaja'," Jardhari adds. The Baranaja (meaning twelve grains) is a traditional system of mixed farming, intercropping of twelve species.

With this, the movement to save traditional seeds got off the ground. Vijay Jardhari and his friends travelled from village to village to collect traditional seeds. To date, they have collected some 200 varieties of kidney beans, 100 of paddy, seven of wheat - to mention just a few. The huge collection of local seeds clearly indicates the toil put in by the BBA activists.

The green revolution had an adverse affect on indigenous agriculture practices of the hills and many seeds were lost. Kunwar Prasoon, connected with the Andolan, says, "There were over 3000 varieties of wheat in Garhwal before the Green Revolution. Now these are down to 320. Incidentally, many of our indigenous seeds yield more in fewer days than the high yield variety of seeds. Like the Gorakhpuri Paddy of Tehri takes 95 days to harvest and yields 35-40 quintals per hectare. "

The Beej Bachao Andolan has prepared a comparison chart of high-yielding varieties of seeds and traditional seeds to clear the confusion among farmers.

Though Vijay had to face resistance in the beginning, now more and more villagers are joining the Beej Bachao Andolan. On his future plans, Jardhari says, "We want to do village wise documentation of seeds. The seed should remain with the farmers so we have made a small start to setting up seed banks in villages. So far, we have established such banks in six villages." He avers that the growing popularity of organic foodgrain will provide more strength to the BBA.

The BBA has brought fame to Uttarakhand for this unique concept but the State Government is yet to acknowledge these committed activists for their noble deeds.

Even three year after receiving Rs 1.5 lakhs as a token of appreciation from Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, the Beej Bachao Andolan is yet to utilise the fund. With the unique Beej Bachao Andolan (Save the Seeds Movement) this little village in district Tehri made headlines worldwide. The noble concept started by farmer and social activist Vijay Jardhari to conserve traditional agriculture practices of the hills attracted acclaim from far and near.

Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy was much impressed by the movement of the villagers to conserve traditional seeds. As a gesture of appreciation, she donated Rs 1.5 lakh to BBA, in 2002.
Providing the reason behind non-utilisation of the fund, Jardhari says, "We are yet to utilise the donation made by Arundhati. Our plan is to establish a farm here. At this farm, we will grow traditional crops."
He asserted that buying land and setting up a farm is an expensive project and they have few resources. The donation made by Roy is safe in the BBA account.
Incidentally, Beej Bachao Andolan is a non-registered organisation. It does not operate on government and World Bank grants. The movement aims at promoting agricultural biodiversity and sustainable agriculture through old agriculture practices. This fact indicates the commitment of the BBA activists who continue this movement with their own resources. The BBA is now fifteen years old.

Vijay Jardhari and his friends travelled from village to village to collect traditional seeds. To date, they have collected some 200 varieties of kidney beans, 100 of paddy, seven of wheat - to mention just a few. The huge collection of local seeds clearly indicates the toil put in by the BBA activists.
Commenting on the change in public attitude, Jardhari says, "Baranaja (literally meaning twelve grains) system of traditional mixed farming, has made a comeback in the agriculture fields in the hills. This traditional practice of growing a combination of cereals, lentils, vegetables, creepers, and root vegetables (Baranaja) suffered a major jolt after the Green Revolution. But, now farmers have realised the hazards of chemical fertilisers."

Asserting that the demand for organic food grains is increasing with each passing day he said, "Some ten years back when we used to participate in fairs in New Delhi, selling organic food grains, our maximum sale used to be around Rs 10,000. But now the turnover is over two lakhs. This clearly indicates the rising awareness about organic food grains among consumers." Uttarakhand is promoting itself as an organic state. The state could learn a lot in this regard from the unique 'Beej Bachao Andolan'.