Biodiversity Warriors of India

Our planet is becoming less and less wild. We are losing the Earth’s rich ecological and evolutionary heritage at a staggering pace. The most recent and comprehensive Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimates that human activity now threatens nearly one million species with extinction. A highly influential paper by David Tilman highlights that one of the largest threats to biodiversity is the increasing demand for food. To feed our growing population, we irresponsibly clear and convert forests, wetlands, and grasslands to agricultural fields. Biodiversity provides for our food needs and agriculture. It builds healthy soils, pollinates plants, provides habitat for wildlife, protects against pests and invaders, and contributes to livelihoods of many people.

Just as wild biodiversity is facing colossal losses so is the agricultural biodiversity of domesticated varieties.Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report says that of 6,000 plant species cultivated for food, only 200 make contributions to agriculture, of which only 9 feed majority of humanity today.This wonderful National Geographic infographic illustrates just how far we have diminished our food variety; a survey conducted by the Rural Advancement Foundation International found that 93% of 66 crop varieties went extinct from 1903 to 1983.Relying on ever dwindling genetic diversity of crops undermines our ability to withstand heat waves, droughts, floods, and pest attacks.

An Indian environmental activist and scholar, Vandanda Shiva, said that once seeds become a patented property of the company then the seed freedom is destroyed. When Monsanto came to India, it started buying seed companies that would then sell Monsanto hybrid seeds to local farmers. Thanks to clever advertisement that promised greater profits, farmers sold their own seeds and bought new hybrid seeds from Monsanto. In a very short time, native seed supply was diminished. As hybrid crops failed to cope with local environmental conditions, so did many farmers who became increasingly indebted to Monsanto. It’s estimated that as a result of this distress, around 270,000 farmers committed suicides. Over the next few decades, the local seed diversity and indigenous knowledge about it would go nearly extinct.

There are people in this world that are biodiversity saints. I first learned about Vandana Shiva when taking environmental challenges course 10 years ago and ever since it’s been my dream to come out to her farm and learning center – Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm in Dehradun district in India. After taking almost an hour to locate Navdanya with my rickshaw driver, we finally arrived to this peaceful sanctuary surrounded by mango orchards. I was greeted by a fresh cup of chai and was delighted to see a mandala garden right at the door step of my dorm. Navdanya was found in 1987 by Dr. Shiva in an effort to refuse GM seeds and pesticides and encourage farmers to use organic biodiversity friendly farming techniques, save seeds, grow enough food for themselves and most importantly bring respect back for their own seeds, for their own farming. Navdanya is the protection of biodiversity, integrity and freedom of life.

Navdanya has established 111 community seed banks in 17 states across India. Community seed banks are both a network for farmers and the distribution network for moving seed wherever they are needed. If there is a drought, farmers can get drought resistant seeds, if there is a flood then flood resistant seeds. These seeds are hope for the future of farmers, for diversity of crops and for knowledge about them. Navdanya has trained half a million farmers on biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, helped convert nearly 2,000,000 farmers to organic agriculture, and conserved 3,000 varieties of rice. Navdanya hopes that farmers will own the land and make it not only productive but ecologically functional and aesthetically beautiful. Landscapes can be beautiful through biodiversity that provides not just for our needs but also for the needs of all other life forms. Reconciling biodiversity with agriculture is one way forward to prevent future extinctions and ensure conservation of threatened and endangered species.

By Earth Restoration Service Blog Writer Tatiana Bogdanova