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Polyculture research and seedsaving

Editorial February 2012

It is the time of year when all the notices about seed swap events begin to trickle in. At home we pore over seed lists, decide on planting strategies, and plan our planting layouts for this year.  On a table in the corner of a cool room, endless bags, cartons and old biscuit tins stand in a jumble, waiting for me to go through old leftover seed, collected seed from last season, and the new stuff that camei n the post at intervals during the winter. I need to get a grip on all this, write out a chart for my planting schedule, and sort out spare seed for the swap events I go to or organise. This is no small task. It takes time and patience and an orderly approach to sort out all this saved seed, package and label it, and have it ready on time. The first swap in my area is probably Machynlleth – always a treat, with lots of talks, stalls and entertainment as well as a mass of seed to take away This is in February.  Lampeter usually follow in March. And this year I’m going to start very local indeed and invite my newly formed Very Local Network of a dozen or so households to tea and a seed swap early in March. Last year Cwm Harry comunity garden at Newtown held the last swap I went to, so they befitted from all the leftover seed accumulated from other events. What goes around comes around, as they say!


I’ve also been part of the Permaculture UK polyculture ‘mixed veg’ trials in 2011, and now we are evaluating the results, tweaking mixes, and planning for a bigger trial in 2013. Meanwhile, I’m thinking what other mixes can I experiment with in 2012 from all the seed lurking in that corner.

And that is how I came across the remarkable Dr Vandana Shiva of the Navdanya Center* who has been doing so much in India and beyond for seedsaving, polyculture and organic food production. This human dynamo is even working with government in Bhutan to help the country make the transition to 100 per cent organic food production. What she writes on her website about food sovereignty and seed saving as the ultimate gift of life is pure poetry and a total inspiration:

‘Navdanya means ‘nine seeds’ (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the ‘new gift’ (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds. In today’s context of biological and ecological destruction, seed savers are the true givers of seed. This gift or “dana” of Navadhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift – it is a gift of life, of heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, conserving sustainability’.

Dr Shiva says ‘Our research shows that the higher the diversity, the more the food and nutrition production. Our reports ' biodiversity based productivity; a New paradigm for food security 'and 'Health per Acre; organic solutions to hunger and malnutrition' are on the  Navdanya website. We have also found that the higher the diversity, the higher the climate resilience’.

Polyculture at Navdanya

Dr Shiva says ‘We promote polycultures, mixtures and diversity. Navdanya means nine seeds /nine crops. We also do seven crops, Saptrishi, Navdanya, and Baranaja (twelve crops)’.

You can read these articles in the archive at:

About Navdanya

*Navdanya is a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 16 states in India.

Navdanya has helped set up 65 community seed banks across the country, trained over 5,00,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades, and helped setup the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in the country.

Navdanya has also set up a learning center, Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seed) on its biodiversity conservation and organic farm in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, North India.

Navdanya is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. It has created awareness on the hazards of genetic engineering, defended people's knowledge from biopiracy and food rights in the face of globalisation and climate change.

Navdanya is a women-centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.

Roz Brown

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