By Biju Negi
Beej Bachao Andolan is a non-formal collective of small farmers and activists. There is a core group of individuals recognized as representing the movement and there is Henwalghati (the Henwal river valley) that is considered its place of origin and major action. Other than that, Beej Bachao Andolan is more a philosophy, a thought, a concept that can be accepted and practiced by just about anyone and any group.
In its efforts to further its philosophy, and certainly to go beyond its limited physical resources, we have initiated an informal network of a couple of organizations and groups in Uttarakhand. This network does not have any name, at least not yet; and it is not fund-driven. It is primarily four groups which believe in the idea of seed and food sovereignty, local food system conservation and related issues that have been the concern of small farmers and voiced by Beej Bachao Andolan.
The network currently comprises –
(a) Beej Bachao Andolan, district Tehri Garhwal;
(b) Mount Valley Development Association (MVDA), district Tehri Garhwal;
(c) Samudayik Chetna Kendra (or Community Awareness Centre), district Nainital; and
(d) ARPAN, district Pithoragarh.
Two of these – MVDA and ARPAN – are registered NGOs.
The primary concept is that while each group retains it independent vision-mission and plans (or projects) of action, on common concerns, the four groups will develop common understanding, approach and execution. And whenever or wherever possible, they will come together to add strength to each other’s programmes or, again when and where possible, also have joint programmes to give a collective weightage and extra spread to the issue on hand. The joint initiatives could be in – research and documentation, meetings, campaigns and programmes.
One of such joint initiatives recently was a state level “Rice and Agro-biodiversity Conservation Workshop”, in collaboration with the Department of Adult Continuing Education and Extension (HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Garhwal) on 5 June 2012. Held at the University’s School of Education, the workshop was attended by about 50 participants comprising the teaching faculty, research students and community representatives and farmers.
Parvati Nayal, the community Head of her village and representing Samudayik Chetna Kendra was nominated the Chairperson of the workshop. Introducing the theme of the workshop, Beej Bachao Andolan’s Biju Negi outlined the socio-economic and cultural value of rice, which is termed “akshat” or indestructible in the Hindu thought and is integral to countless rituals in the life of a Hindu – from birth to death and even post-death. Uttarakhand was once home to over 3000 varieties of rice, which post-green revolution have been all but lost. He called upon the audience to advocate the “indestructibility” of the rice diversity so as to ensure the conservation of the region’s rich traditional agro-biodiversity and, in turn thereby, seek the conservation of forests and water resources. It was important for us to revive our sense of reverence for the forests, water and seeds to ensure our well-being and, indeed, even survival.
Professor SS Rawat, senior faculty of the department, underlined the scientific basis of traditional knowledge and its perennial validity. He said, how through close observation of nature and things around, the local farmers across generations developed their knowledge and sustainable and environmentally sustainable practices. Most of the other speakers too reiterated this sentiment and stressed on the conservation of traditional knowledge systems, and how we need to learn from these systems to ensure our long-term development.
Commenting at the end of the workshop, chairperson Parvati Nayal, emphasized the need to revive our local agriculture systems for livelihood development of small farmers and, more importantly, to ensure the continued relevance of women farmers in an otherwise rapidly urbanizing society.
The high point of the workshop was the traditional fare served. Each network partner had brought one traditional snack preparation, which were served at the tea-break, and quickly lapped up by the participants. The lunch by the host department entirely comprised traditional and local recipes – local rice, pearl millet, finger millet, local green leafy vegetables, local curd preparations and flavoured rice sweet-dish. In a rare outcome at such workshops, there was virtually not a single grain left-over or food wastage.
Culminating the workshop, Professor Arun Bahuguna, Head of the host department, stated how the local food preparations served at the workshop have forcefully underlined the fact that our local food is not just fresh, tasty and nutritious but a reminder of what we are missing in our lives, and that if the consumers continue to eat local, traditional food, the farmers will happily continue to grow these. He also promised that his department will take this message of rice and agro-biodiversity conservation far and wide, and sought CORA-Uttarakhand partner’s continued intellectual support and involvement in this.