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Unique movement to conserve traditional seeds

Raju Gusain
Jardhargaon, March 24

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 Uttaranchal for this unique concept but the State Government is yet to acknowledge these committed activists for their noble deeds.