Nayakrishi Seed Network; Seed and Genetic Resource Conservation

The Nayakrishi Andolon (New Agricultural Movement) of Bangladesh is a movement for biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. It is based on simple principles like no use of pesticides and chemicals, no external input of fertilizers, composting and improved soil management and practice of mixed cropping and crop rotation for pest management and risk reduction. Mixed cropping is also crucial to increase productivity through management and production of biodiversity. Shifting away from the narrow accounting of quantitative yield of a single monoculture crop to measuring the systemic value of the total performance of a farm, is the key to the economic success of the Nayakrishi Andolon. The central approach of the initiative squarely lies in the conservation, management and use of local seeds and genetic resources and adopting and improving production techniques suitable for the ecological and environmental conditions based on farmer's knowledge systems. Thus hundreds of local varieties of rice, vegetables, fruit, fodders, timber and others have been reintroduced within a short period of time.

The success of the approach is directly related to the commitment of the movement to evolve upon the local and indigenous knowledge system bulding capacities to critically integrate the success, failures and insights of the formal knowledge practices such as 'modern science'. The movement does not mechanically separate formal and informal knowledge systems, and does not subscribe to the two-system theory of knowledge. Nayakrishi Andolon does not romanticise 'indigenous knowledge' nor accept the uncritical authority of modern science in aurhentic knowledge production. It strongly believes in the capacity of the farmers as authentic knowledge producer, no matter how it is articulated, orally or otherwise. It is also crucila to remeber that farmers are the producers, and not the seed and thegenetic resources. Food sovereignty can be achieved only if we care farmers and attend to their evolving knowledge practices.

In all the farming households, women are the key persons to preserve seeds.

Nayakrishi Seed Network

The precise responsibility of the Nayakrishi Seed Network (NSN), within the ecological food production practices and organizational activities of Nayakrishi Andolon is to ensure collection, Seedghorconservation, distribution and enhancement of seeds/germplasms among the members of Nayakrishi Andolon. Therefore, the NSN is the active farmers' network within Nayakrishi Andolon with specific responsibility of ensuring both in-situ conservation of biodiversity and genetic resource in the farming field and ex-situ conservation at the household and community level. The women are the key actors and leaders in the NSN.

The Nayakrishi Seed Network (NSN) builds on the farming household, the focal point for in-situ and ex-situ conservation. Farmers maintain diversity in the field, but at the same time conserve seed in their homes for several years to be replanted in the appropriate seasons. The seeds that are kept for longer periods generally have lower germination rates, but remains active for many yeras. This is very important for seed conservation. The technologies farmers use to preserve these seeds are varied and effective, both for long and short term. For example, specific drying techniques, the use of particular kinds of earthen pots, the use of Neem leaves and other natural pesticides, and experiential understanding of the moisture content of the various seeds. Seed conservation is an art belonging to women, and is the key element in building up a national seed network. Emerging linkages of the efforts to the national system for ex-situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity offers a well-developed model strategy for biologically rich countries such as Bangladesh.

In addition, Specialised Women Seed Network (SWSN) is also entirely comprised of women farmers. The leadership of women farmers in seed conservation and community seed wealth centres is almost natural, but is is important to have their own sphere of knowledge practice to keep feminine wisdom free from patriarchal domoination.

Nayakrishi Farming Households

Activities of Nayakrishi Andolon are constituted as a system of relations between farming households. The Nayakrishi Household (NH), as the basic unit of the movement, is very important category to understand the working methodology of Nayakrishi Andolon. The significance of the household for the movement may be perceived from the following perspective.

a. Generally speaking, a farming household in rural Bangladesh is  a highly complex unit of biodiversity-based system within which production is not yet disarticulated from consumption and household need. There are trends towards such separation in recent years due to externally imposed capitalist production relations. The consequences are often disastrous. Farming households are brought into market relation and the need for household consumption is increasingly ignored. causing food insecurity. In this context Nayakrishi Andolon aims to redesgns household activities so that farmers can meet their hoousehold needs bot and the same are enabled to participate in the market without losing practices and cultural values that are the foundations of seed and genetic resource conservation. To achieve this goal, Nayakrishi Andolon closely observes the livelihood strategies of the farmers and seeks to improve those strategies for food security, and enhanced quality of life. Farmers animate this approach through the notion of ''ananda" or a happy life. 'Ananda' is a very important category used in the movement to express the quality of life and environment. Nayakrishi aims to ensure a joyful life and secure livelihood.

b. The topology, design, and the arrangement of raised land and lowland including, in many cases, ponds or water bodies, are extremely important to understand the conscious and unconscious role of household planning in maintaining biodiversity in the homestead and in the farmland. As a principle, Nayakrishi Andolon celebrates every unique feature of each and every household and resists any idea to homogenise households. It works on the principle that biodiversity means diversity in households and diverse knowledge practices. The ecological agriculture is never presented as a model, but only in terms of principles that farmers can translate into their own reality andin their very concrete farming conditions.

c. The biodiversity-based farming households are indeed units of living organism where life activities are conducted and the constant linkage with the worlds of plant; animals, microbes, birds and aquatic life forms are made. Understanding of this interactive relation is the key to build up Nayakrishi agricultural practice.

d. Farming household is the nodal interactive point for ex situ and in situ conservation. Farmers maintain diversity in the field, but at the same time conserve germplasms within the household to be replanted in the coming seasons. This is where women members of the households assert their role and power. This is the basis upon which Nayakrishi Seed Network (NSN) has been built. The individual plans and decisions are made into collective decisions through meetings and collective sharing of information. In these meetings decisions are taken to ensure that in every planting season all the available varieties at the farmer's households are replanted and the seeds have been collected and conserved for the next season.

General Practice of Seed Conservation and NSN

As a general practice farmers of Bangladesh used to keep seeds in their household for the next season. Rise of the commercial seed market and government's policy favouring companies and multinationals, has been drastically undermining farmer's efforts to keep seeds in their hands. Nayakrishi strongly supports seed sovereignty and encourages this tradition of the farmers to conserve the precious seeds in their households. Control over seed is the lifeline of the farming community and ensures the command of the farmers over the agrarian production cycle. It is recognised within the Nayakrishi Andolon that any break in the cycle within the circuit of circulation of seeds among farmers can be highly detrimental to the agrarian economy of Bangladesh  and to overall agro-biodiversity of the production systems. Increasing commercialization of seed sector the danger has aggravated in the recent years.

Farmers do not keep seeds for the next seasons only. In many cases some seeds are kept for longer periods, for 3 to 5 years. The seeds that are kept for longer periods generally have lower germination rate. The technology to preserve these seeds is varied and highly sophisticated. Sophistication is required mainly in drying and experiential understanding of the moisture content of the various seeds. The germination depends on the indigenous knowledge of the specific farming household. In this context the first task NSN initiated was the study of indigenous practices of seed conservation in order to integrate the results into the activities of Nayakrishi Andolon. Consequently the scope for further development of ex situ seed conservation at the level of the farming households has been expanded. This is an ongoing research area. The technological basis of ex situ seed conservation in a typical farming household under normal condition is always a major research priority. Secondly, the documentation of the findings is available in simple reports written in local language. The farmers share their experiences in various meetings in the villages. The experiences are extensively shared through oral interactions and communications. The experts in seed conservation in the community are recognised, respected and rewarded by nominating them in farmers’ exchange programs and many national events.

This initial exercise consolidated the initial grouping for NSN, mainly by the farming women. Once the seed conservation at the household level has been identified as the key element in building up NSN, the next phase is to identify other broad issues of biodiversity.

What happens if a farming household decides to replant a species or a variety in the next season, but not in the current one? She must report her decision to the Nayakrishi group in the village and make sure that some one in her group is replanting the seed she is not planting in the current season. The general principle is monitoring of the fact that a species or a variety is not getting lost from the common genetic pool or the biological resource of the village. The unplanted seed can be kept in the household for the next season, or deposited in the common pool.

If some household decides to try a new species or a new variety, she can always ask for it from the common genetic pool, and it is provided free. As a general principle diversity is always encouraged as long as it does not become an economic stress on the farmer. Biodiversity also directly contributes to the mixed cropping practice of Nayakrishi. Integration of a new variety into the current system also offers opportunity to do research from both ecological and economic angles.

How to ensure the quality of seed? The monitoring of the collection and preservation ensures the quality of seed by the experienced members of NSN, who also receives training. If somehow the seeds of the same variety of one village are considered inferior compared to the overall standard of Nayakrishi, Nayakrishi farmers from the other village provide the seeds. This is done mainly through the network of women in NSN. Sharing of seeds and germplasm are always encouraged. The strategy of Nayakrishi Andolon in the maintenance and regeneration of biodiversity and genetic resources is based on some simple rules and obligations between members. These are:

  • To remain as an active group member of Nayakrishi Andolon, a farming household is obliged to always inform the group about her planting decisions and plans for each season.
  • Members should harvest seeds collectively, if possible, to make sure that all the valuable seeds of the village has been collected and conserved at the household level in addition to ensure the quality of the seeds under the leadership of experienced farmers in the village.
  • If seeds of household are destroyed for any reason a farming household should report to the village leader and must immediately replenish from other group members or collect from CSW centre.
  • If a farming household is not replanting a variety this year they are obliged as members to give it to the neighbour and make sure that neighbour replants the variety and both collect seeds for the next season.
  • If a farming household do not find any body to replant, they are obliged to report to the Nayakrishi Seed Network and deposit the seeds, if necessary, to the Community Seed Wealth (CSW) centre.

The strategic importance of NSN and CSW is not only in the conservation and regeneration of species and genetic variability of the cultivated crops and homestead forestry providing food, fuelwood and construction materials, but the institutional approach to monitoring and evolving a communication system among the farming communities in and around agro-biodiversity.

Village Pool: Nayakrishi Seed Huts (NSH)

Nayakrishi Seed Network is built up from below by the independent initiative of one or two households in the village, belonging to Nayakrishi Andolon, who are willing to take responsibility to ensure that all common species and varieties are replanted, regenerated and conserved by the farmers. These households in a particular village can also be located by the existing NSN structure covering large areas. These households are known as Nayakrishi Seed Huts (NSH). seed houtIt often happens that two to three varieties are not replanted in a season in a village. It becomes the responsibility of NSH to replant those varieties. These farmers are specially trained and equipped to handle such a situation. In case the number of unplanted varieties is large during a planting season, she goes to the Nayakrishi Community Seed Network (NCSN), the local level NSN structure. Nayakrishi Andolon constitutes NCSN from farmers who are experienced in seed collection, quality maintenance, conservation and use. The Nayakrishi Seed Network is the network of NCSN of different villages or areas. In most of the cases NCSN can handle the problem and thus ensures that although a village loses a variety or a species temporarily but the biological and genetic resource is available within the range of the cluster of villages.

To keep a variety within a range of cluster of villages is very important from eco-systemic point of view. Bangladesh is rich in biodiversity, and it is important to note the eco-biological features of a village and its relation to the local knowledge and skills. Therefore, seed conservation activities should take into account the particular ecological features of villages. The ecological features decide the clustering for NSN, not the administrative boundary of the village. 

Specialisation: Specialised Women Seed Network

To enhance the capacity of the community the Specialised Women Seed Network (SWSN) has been formed. These are the women who are specialised in certain species or certain varieties. Their task is to collect local varieties from different parts of Bangladesh. They also seedmonitor and document introduction of a variety in a village or locality. They keep the information up to the date about the variability of species for which they are assigned. The responsibility is assigned according to the interest and the knowledge of the individual persons. The SWSN often shares their finding in large meeting organised by the Nayakrishi Andolon. Generally SWSN maintains the following vital information:

  • Varieties of a particular crop, their distribution and availability in Bangladesh.
  • Community knowledge about the characteristics and traits of a variety including why a variety has given names by different localities.
  • Variety or varieties that have been replaced due to the introduction of a new variety in her area.
  • With UBINIG staff keeping track with the formal research institution about the variety and species of her interest.

The specialisation encourages individual person to be more focused on a few species and as a result they fairly develop valuable knowledge about  a particular variety. Since this knowledge is highly valued by the group the person gets immense respect and recognition that contribute to the process of building up collective spirit and knowledge sharing.

UBINIG staff works with SWSN to translate orally to them the research reports from published journals coming out of the formal research system. This exercise also effectively contributes to the knowledge base of the women and they can share positive information to other network members.

Community Seed Wealth Centre

Community Seed Wealth (CSW) is the institutional set up in the village that articulates the relation between village and the National Gene bank. The CSW also maintains a well-developed nursery. The CSW can easily finance its maintenance from the income of the nursery as well as from seed sale.

The construction of CSWs is based on two principles: (a) they must be built from locally available construction materials and (b) the maintenance should mirror the household seed conservation practices. Any difficulty encountered in the CSW reflects the problem farmers are facing in their household conservation.

Three women members of the NSN run Community Seed Wealth Centre. Any members of the Nayakrishi Andolon can collect seed from CSW with the promise that they will deposit double the quantity they received after the harvest. The seeds are sold to other farmers of the village and the cost of the CSW is maintained from the income. Farmers can claim the deposited specie or a variety any time they want. All they need is to walk to the nearest CSWs. A farming household can decide not to replant a specie or a variety in a season but may come back after two to three years for the same.

In addition to the three seed women, the CSW requires two more persons for the nursery. This is more or less a standard from the experience gained so far. The CSW, which Nayakrishi Andolon runs in Tangail, is already self-sustaining. However, the cost of documentation and maintenance of passport data information has been subsidised by UBINIG, the organisation that plays the catalytic role for Nayakrishi Andolon. The subsidy costs are in terms of time by the staff and costs of stationery, use of computers and other materials.

Apart from seed collection, storage, preservation, distribution, exchange and regeneration, tasks of the CSW also include documentation and maintenance of overall information of the area. The experience of the CSW for the last three years shows very clearly that CSW may maintain its costs by selling seeds and saplings.

The exploration of the relation between National Gene banks and the Community Seed Wealth has only started, and development of the relation largely depends on the co-operation of the formal systems. The institutional strength of a farmers seed network and community germplasm conservation and regeneration can further be demonstrated if the linkage between the formal and informal institutions is rationalised. A recent exercise with Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) to regenerate jute seeds was very satisfactory. Nayakrishi Andolon has received support and collaboration from the scientists active within the structure of the formal systems. The main problem is still bureaucratic hindrance and the research priority of these institutions in a direction that excludes the farmers.

However, formal systems recognise the value of research and activities of UBINIG with Nayakrishi Seed Network. UBINIG plays very active role in the National Committee on Plant Genetic Resources (NCPGR) and has contributed in their efforts to draft Biodiversity and Community Knowledge Protection Act as well as Plant Variety Act. Both the drafts have been endorsed by NCPGR and have been accepted by the Ministry of Food & Agriculture for inter-ministerial discussion.

The NSN through its organisational structure, mediated by the set up such as CSW, demonstrates profound potentiality in various directions. Not only in collection and conservation of germplasms, the practice envisages an institutional arrangement and linkages by which a dynamic system of National Genetic Resource Conservation and Management can be contemplated. Bangladesh can maintain, manage, regenerate and enhance agricultural biodiversity and genetic resources with very little cost only when farmers' network is linked to the national strategy. A lot of further research is definitely required but the direction of investigation is more or less clear. Bangladesh can not afford to finance a large genetic resource conservation strategy. More importantly, maintenance of expensive gene banks without interactive articulation with the farming community can be dangerous because of the possibility of technological failure and for various reasons and lack of human resources. A strategy based on the dynamic interaction of in situ and ex situ is the only strategy that is viable for the country, and perhaps for the region.

Management of Community Seed Wealth

The Community Seed Wealth (CSW) receives germplasm from the NSN. Three farmer women manage it. All germplasm are registered and relevant information is kept. To facilitate the communication with the National Gene banks the accession data are kept in accordance with the standard practice.

Continuous research is being done on the traditional processing of seeds for storage. The storage technology depends on three factors: (a) container, (b) drying technique, and constant monitoring of the weather. Management of pest and insect attacks in the container is not a major problem and does not require complicated technology. Usually dried Neem leaves are used and containers are sealed with mud and cow dung.

The third factor, monitoring of weather, is not difficult in terms of management. But in rainy seasons at least two people should always attend the CSW. For the drying of the seeds the month of Bhadra (August-September) is crucial and sometimes more persons are required for quick drying of the seed. The CSW did not face any major management crisis until now, although there were problems requiring creative solutions. The problems that are faced in the conservation and management of the CSW are documented. Very little research has been done on the seed conservation under normal household conditions and weather.

Seeds are mainly kept in earthen pots. The earthen pots, available from the local potters, are tested by observation for porosity and humidity control. The emphasis is given on the locally available earthen pots. Different types of earthen pots are used for different types of seeds. Seeds that are not going to be transplanted in the next season require different types of pot with specific feature. Colored glass jars are generally used for vegetable seeds, a common practice of the farmer women in the village.

Nayakrishi Natural Resource Auditing Committee (NNRAC)

What are the existing species and genetic variability of a village? The NSN forms Nayakrishi Natural Resource Auditing Committees (NNRAC) among themselves for an area that can be covered by walking within a day. Depending on the extent of the village, the area is comprised for 5 to 7 villages. The NNRAC undertakes an audit of the existing species and varieties of a village, and starts depositing the germplasms in the Community Seed Wealth (CSW), freely accessible by the villagers, and document resources that must be maintained and managed in situ. When possible, Nayakrishi Andolon declares some areas as communally protected and encourages collective responsibility of the villagers to maintain and manage the biodiversity for that ecosystem. Although, there is no legal regimes available to farmers to ensure their community action. Species and varieties in the field, cultivated or uncultivated, are documented and registered as the wealth of the community, including their use, as a precaution against unauthorized collection.

On the other hand, there are a large number of species and varieties that are not cultivated. The conservation and regeneration of biodiversity for these species and varieties are mainly maintained by the overall structure of the Nayakrishi Andolon. Every village, where Nayakrishi is active, has Gramkarmi (village worker). Apart from networking and campaigning for Nayakrishi, Gramkormis maintain audits of the natural resources of the village. The information is maintained collectively. It is a vital practice to maintain and manage the local biodiversity. The Nayakrishi farmers can easily be put into alert if any ''land race'' or ''wild" species or variety is noticed as getting eroded or lost.

Nayakrishi Andolon is sceptical of medicinal gardens. The medicinal species and varieties are maintained and managed in the wild, although few are domesticated. Nayakrishi argues that the medicinal value of a plant can be ensured best if it is collected from its natural or "wild" habitat. According to this principle the maintenance and management of medicinal plants is done at two levels. Through the structure of traditional birth attendants and through farmer women specialized in medicinal plants.


Nayakrishi and Biodiversity

As an agricultural practice Nayakrishi Andolon is based on 10 simple principles. In addition to poison and chemical free agricultural practice, the production of biodiversity is in-built in the method of Nayakrishi food production. As a fundamental principle of agricultural practice Nayakrishi farmers reject monoculture and ground their practice on mixed cropping and crop rotation. It has immediate effect in overcoming the present narrow genetic base. It is also highly effective method for pest management and contributes to the nutritional health of the soil. With regard to the productivity, output from Nayakrishi practice is either of the same level or more than the conventional chemical agriculture. Apart from the ecological gains, the main reason for the acceptance of Nayakrishi is economic return to the farmers.

The local species and varieties are always preferred than those that are introduced from external sources. Hybrid varieties are avoided mainly because farmers can not use the seed for the next season. Hybrid seed disembowels farmers, specially the women, and make them dependent on the seed companies. Nayakrishi farmers are not against the new varieties introduced by the formal system, but they do not accept the category ''high-yielding" as an adjective to the laboratory seed. There is always a substantial gap in the claim and the actual performance of a HYV variety in the farmers' field. The calculation of yield by the Nayakrishi farmers is done firstly not on single crop based on monoculture calculation; secondly, the energy used as input and the energy produced as an output are taken into account to bring the category of ''sustainability" as the fundamental parameter to assess ''productivity". Since the ''high yielding" varieties consume more inputs or energy to perform than what they reasonably can produce, the terms ''high yielding" is a misnomer. Thirdly, a biodiversity-based farming system responds to diverse need of the community that can not be satisfied by increasing quantitative yield of a particular crop. However, addition of a new variety from the formal system to the existing genetic resource base of the farming community is seen as a contribution and its integration into the Nayakrishi farming practices is based on totally different parameters than proposed by the conventional mainstream agriculture. Among the rice varieties a few from the BRRI is doing quite well without pesticide, chemicals and pumped ground water.

Click Here To Print

Comments Must Be Less Than 5000 Charachter