16 September 2011
I met Ms. Lata Sharma around 5 PM at the train station in Mumbai and we headed to Wardha. Ms. Sharma heads Navdanya’s operations in Maharashtra and is an extraordinary person.
She along with Reetha Balsavar run the Navdanya Outlet in Mumbai, which retails
organic products from Navdanya Farms around the country and keep a clientele of at least 500 people who they knows personally. This is in addition to her work overseeing the seed banks in the Vidharbha region. She does all this work for no remuneration, because she believes it is essential that more Indians understand the state of Indian agriculture. Indian agriculture engages more than 60% of India’s rural population of over 700 million. These small and marginal farmers have not partaken of the benefits of “Shining India” and fall below the radar of most government programs, as evidenced by the dismal record of child health – over 45 percent of India’s children are under nourished.
We arrived in Wardha the next morning and spent a long day visiting the 2 Seed Banks in Bhilli and Yavatmal and meeting with the Seed Bank Managers and the Coordinator of the Women’s program Ms. Savita Langewar who is enrolling local women in a Kitchen Gardens program. I also saw the simple kitchen gardens which are improving the diet of numerous families.
The Bhilli seed bank is overseen by Mr. Ramesh Sakharkar, a dedicated small farmer himself who has donated his 2.5 acres of land to the Navdanya Seed Bank which he runs with a passion. He saves, propagates and catalogues native seed varieties, enrolls farmers to the network and provides them with support to farm with indigenous low cost organic methods. With FoN’s support the storage area is being expanded to house more than 500 native seed varieties collected. These seeds are distributed to local farmers who agree to bring back more than what they have “borrowed” after the harvest. In this way, the seed banks grow over time and collect multiple varieties of native, climate resilient seeds. With FoN’s support the planting area where the native seed is propagated, too, has been expanded by rental of adjacent farm land. Mr. Sakharkar has been extremely successful in all his endeavors. The native seed varieties include vegetables, spices, oil seeds, wheat, rice, jawar, bajra. He has also been able to find 5 native cotton varieties of which 3 have been successfully propagated. Native Cotton seed varieties are almost extinct in Maharashtra. With FoN’s support he travels all over rural Wardha district and has enrolled more than 96 farmers who are using native seed varieties and returning seeds to the seed bank after the harvest.
SEED STORAGE AREA in BHILLI SEED BANK
DEMONSTRATION SITE ADJACENT TO THE BHILLI SEED BANK
WOMENS' KITCHEN GARDEN PROGRAM
With FoN’s support Ms. Savita Langewar coordinates the Women’s program for Kitchen Gardens. It is ironic that rural farmers have eliminated fresh green vegetables from their diets as their focus over the last 10-15 years has shifted to growing ‘Cash Crops’ to be sold in the marketplace, at a detriment to their own health and nutrition. Ms. Langewar is forming women’s groups and encouraging them to utilize small areas around their thatched homes that were essentially wasted lands to grow vegetables. She teaches them how to use kitchen waste water for watering these gardens and distributes vegetable seeds that are difficult to come by for most of these women. She has been able to reach out to and engage 65 women so far.
KALASPUR SEED BANK
The Kalaspur seed bank is managed by Mr. Ram Kalaspur, whose family are owners of substantial land holdings and have donated land for another Navdanya Seed Bank. The Kalaspur family is dedicated to Organic Farming and Native Seed. With FoN’s support Mr. Kalaspur is busily expanding the more than 400 native seeds in his storage area. The adjacent farm is is bio-diverse and flourishing. He has approximately 16 farmers in his network, which he plans to grow over the course of the year.