The train brought us to Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalayas, the state capital of Uttarakhand where the disastrous flooding and landslides in June killed at least a thousand people and displaced many more. Even here in the lower valleys, the torrential downpours have destroyed a lot of the infrastructure. Roads have been washed away. The farm’s internet connection has been cut off for weeks (which is why I had to come into town to post this). The flooding has washed away a lot of the topsoil on the farm, ruined crops, and deposited sand and trash in the fields.
“So you’ve really gotten to witness the power of nature in these mountains,” Vandana Shiva said when she came from Delhi on our second day at Navdanya.
Navdanya is a biodiversity conservation farm founded by Shiva, and the heart of a wider organization (also called Navdanya) that promotes organic, biodiverse agriculture in India. Navdanya means “nine seeds.” The name comes from the traditional agricultural practice of sowing nine varieties at one time. In many ways, seeds are what this place is about. It is an experimental demonstration farm focused on preserving the diversity of food crops through cultivation of rare varieties, saving the seeds, and collaborating with farmers throughout India who get seeds from Navdanya, plant them, save them, share them with their neighbors, and return some of the surplus seed. Navdanya grows 630 varieties of rice alone, and 190 varieties of wheat.
The farm is truly a lovely place, one of the most peaceful I’ve ever visited in India. It has several resource conservation features, such as rainwater harvesting and recycling, the use of solar energy, bio-gas (from cow dung) for cooking, and bullocks rather than machines to do all farm work. The place is run by fantastic staff who truly care about their work and this place, and has a large body of short-term volunteers (like us) and long-term interns from all over the world who were drawn here by Navdanya’s mission and the desire to contribute to it.
Because of the lack of internet connection, we have not been getting much information about the aftermath of the floods. It’s pretty clear that irresponsible development (like dams and tunnels and road construction) in these fragile mountains, the youngest mountains of the world, is largely to blame for the extent of the disaster. You can read Vandana Shiva’s message about it here. Many of us volunteers spent an afternoon packing rice, flour, lentils, and other necessities to be sent to affected areas, and Navdanya also sent seeds to seed banks that had lost much of their reserves to flooding. But mostly, our work has been focused on restoring the fields at Navdanya itself–planting tree cuttings along the edges of the waterways to reinforce them, digging up plants half-covered by the mud and sand brought by the floods. These have felt like simple, small tasks in the face of the tragedy, but I suppose this is what resilience is about: digging out and propping up little tulsi plants in the medicinal garden. Ensuring the continuity of as many life forms as possible.