Dr. Vandana Shiva began saving organic seeds in 1987 when she realized that the biotech industry's plans threatened them.
In 1991, she founded the Navdanya Farm where people from around the world come to learn the principles of permaculture. Students pay no fees, but make a simple pledge to preserve the seeds they receive and pass them on to future generations in all their diversity and integrity. When Nepal lost all its seeds during an earthquake, it asked Navdanya for help. Navdanya sent 10 tons of organic seeds the farmers of Nepal!
Dr. Shiva says on the Navdanya site says:
"Over the past three decades, I have tried to be the change I want to see. When I found that dominant science and technology served interests of the powerful, I left academics to found the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, a participatory, public interest research organisation. When I found global corporations wanted to patent seeds, crops or life forms, I started Navdanya to protect biodiversity, defend farmers' rights and promote organic farming.
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. Navdanya is a network of seed keepers and organic producers across 18 states in India."
Dr. Shiva adds:
The Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm is spread across 47 acres. The farm is a sanctuary of biodiversity where we are saving more than 1,500 varieties of seeds, which attracts life such as bees, birds, insects, and microorganisms. Navdanya dates back to 1995 when the soil was left barren. Since then, the soil has been regenerated as we have 690 (and increasing) varieties of rice, 200 varieties of wheat, 60 types of millets, lentils, vegetables, oilseeds, spices.
The farm has grown from its original seed bank and office to include cattle sheds, a storage warehouse, a vermicompost unit, a medicinal plant garden, a soil laboratory, Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University), and a large orchard with 9 varieties of mango. The farm is where we practice the Navdanya methods of agroecology and organic farming and functions as a living system from which farmers, school groups, course participants, and Bijaks can learn.
Navdanya/RFSTE's journey over the past two decades has taken us into creating markets for farmers and promoting tasty, healthy, high quality food for consumers. We have connected the seed to the kitchen, biodiversity to gastronomy. And now we have joined hands with Slow Food to celebrate the quality and cultural diversity of our food.
Navdanya has a primary membership of more than 6,50,000 farmer families in 17 states of India where it has established 111 Community Seed Banks (CSBs). We have organized more than 50 international courses on Biodiversity, Food, Biopiracy, Sustainable Agriculture, Water, Gandhian Philosophy, Globalization, IPRs, Buisness Ethics, Grand Mothers University etc. 2,00,000 farmers have been converted to organic farming in different parts of the country. Once a year, Navdanya staff and partners meet for sharing experiences and learning. Navdanya has trained about 500,000 farmers, conserved 3,000 varieties of rice. Navdanya's conservation farm has protected 12 genera of cereals and millets, 16 genera of legumes and plants, 50 genera of vegetables, 7 genera of oil yielding plants, 13 genera of spices and condiments, 20 genera of aromatic plants, 54 genera of fruit and flower yielding plants, and 250 genera of ornamental, timber and medicinal plants.
My journey on the road to ecological sustainability started with the Chipko movement in the 1970s when women in the region of the Himalayas protected forests by hugging trees. For me, ecology and feminism have been inseparable. And Diverse Women for Diversity is one expression of combining women's rights and nature's rights, celebrating our cultural diversity and biological diversity. The defence of nature's rights and people's rights have come together for me in Earth Democracy - the democracy of all life on earth, a living democracy which supports and is supported by living cultureS and living economies.
Rishi Kumar, founder of The Growing Home, studied at the Navdanya Farm for 7 months. The photos below of him barefoot plowing a field behind oxen shocked his conservative aunt in California! When Rishi returned to the US, he quit his computer engineering job to start applying the permaculture principles to 40 sq. ft. in the yard of his suburban home. With that success, he expanded the garden to 200 sq. ft, and finally the whole front and back yard -- 1500 sq ft. which produces 1,500 lbs of food each year now. The project was documented in the film Urban Fruit which included Dr. Shiva as she was interview by Rishi on his new radio show. The project has evoled into The Growing Club where Rishi shares his knowledge with others in person and via YouTube videos.