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September 28, 2007

Whats with Biodiverse Organic Farming?

Organic has come to mean many things. Whole Foods stocks organic strawberries. Well, they are organic in that they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals. But how have these strawberries been grown? More often than not, on large monoculture farms in California. That’s organic, isn’t it? Yes, in terms of the being synthetic chemical free. But one needs to question where the organic compost, mulch etc is coming from. The minute a farm is huge and mechanized, it becomes difficult to prepare these on the farm. The farm is still dependant on external inputs, which are perhaps being shipped thousands of miles. So is this model really sustainable?

Navdanya argues for biodiverse organic farming. Monocultures extract specific nutrients from the soil whereas if you have a diverse variety of plants, they all complement each other. In case of a pest attack, in a monoculture farm, the pest can easily travel from one plant to the next since they are all of the same type and develop into an epidemic (which is what happened to the monocultures the Green Revolution promoted). On a biodiverse farm, this would not happen easily. The other plants provide a kind of fence.

From the perspective of a small farmer, growing one kind of crop makes her vulnerable to market prices since she might not need all that she has grown. So she tries to sell her grain and buy everything else she needs. In the case of biodiverse farming, a variety of seeds are planted: rice, corn, millets, lentils, and oil seeds. These provide the farmer with their basic requirements and the rest can be sold in the market. A person in the audience asked Vandana if through such a model we would be able to feed everyone in the country. Vandana explained that the notion of yield has come about to mean yield of single crops. Today, post the green revolution, we all eat rice and wheat. Everything else has been wiped off many fields. The above model would ensure we eat a diverse healthy meal, while taking care of the environment and the farmer. In short, the above model does not imply lesser food but a more diverse food basket. Sure, it might mean lesser rice and wheat but for the better!

Navdanya also believes that farmers should be able to generate all the inputs they need on their land. The seeds that were encouraged during the green revolution and the GE seeds now, all require many inputs in terms of water, pesticide, fertilizer etc. This has led to an increased cost for the farmer with the promised yields not always materializing or with a loss in a volatile market. Hence they focus on being self-reliant wrt the inputs. They encourage farmers to generate the biomass needed for their plants on their farms, grow plants and trees (like neem, vitex, onion, garlic, turmeric) that can be used in case of an attack by pests and breed their own seeds since this reduces their dependency on external sources. They make compost using a few different methods: vermicompost, pit method, heap method and another method, I forget its name. The important thing for all this is to have livestock on the farm (So much for bullshit…).

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