TAPESTRY 2030 Season 2

EPISODE 4: Securing a Future

Tapestry 2 Episode 4


Episode 4 Transcript – ENGLISH 

Seed Keeping and the Power of Local Knowledge

PWRDF Youth Council and UBINIG

You are listening to the Ontario Council for International Cooperation’s ‘Tapestry 2030’ podcast series, focused on the future of international cooperation and global solidarity, and the partnerships needed for gender transformative, sustainable development.

Duncan: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. My name is Duncan, and I am currently a member of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund Youth Council, joining you today from the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish Nations in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m joined today by my Youth Council colleague, Robyn, who is calling in from the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe peoples, in Ottawa, Ontario. Thank you for being with us. 

Robyn: So today we are joined by PWRDF partners, UBINIG, who are based in Bangladesh: Executive Director Farida and 2 youth, Rabiul Islam who works on the bamboo binding project and Ajmira Khatun who works on seed keeping. Welcome to our podcast. We’re happy to have you with us!

Farida: Thank you, thank you for welcoming us. I am very happy to join today in this podcast with my two colleagues Rabiul and Ajmira. 

Robyn: UBINIG Is a community- led and community based policy and action research organization formed in 1984. Farida could you share with us a little more about UBINIG?

Farida: UBINIG was formed by a group of young people. We were young at that time and we got together in study circles and we used to read and we used to talk about development issues. What were the problems and we wanted to understand it from people’s point of view. How people look at development. And so when we were talking to people and through these study circles when we decided to form an organization like UBINIG. UBINIG in English it means Policy Research for Development Alternative. That means we are talking about a development that is different from what is going on now and which is not at present, we are saying that it is not reaching people and it is not happening as people want it to be. So that’s why we wanted to form a policy advocacy organization. And then by ‘87 there was a big flood in Tangail, where Rabiul is based, so we were faced with the situation that we had to talk to the farmers. So then we came to the issues of agriculture. But, at that time they were facing their hardship due to modern agriculture as well. Not only due to natural calamities. So we started working with the farmers, talked to them how to get over not only the problems of flood and loss of crops but also how to get out of the chemical-based agriculture which is causing so much, um, fertility loss to the soil, and a lot of diseases are happening, and also productivity is not as much as it used to be before. So we formed a group of small-scale farmers, and it is based on ecological principles. So, and we call it Nayakrishi Andolon. In English it means “New Agricultural Movement”. So we are actually super modern agriculture. We are not chemical-based agriculture but we are super modern in terms of knowledge of farmers, in terms of livelihood of the people, and also in terms of what people want to have.

Robyn: Thank you for explaining that. You kind of started going into it a little bit, but could you talk in a little bit more detail about what exactly makes UBINIG different than other development or agriculture organizations?

Farida: The difference is UBINIG is not like you know, non-governmental organizations called NGOs. We are not like that. We are not a service delivery organization to people. We don’t take a development model or some ways of working and that is imposed on from top and then we go to the poor, they go to the poor people and then work with them. We don’t do that. We start working with the farmers, with the communities and we try to get their understanding of development and what they want and we stand by with them. Actually whatever is done is done by the people themselves. We go to the people, to work with them and support them in terms of not by giving money or any inputs but facilitate their development. Our support is not by money or micro credit. We don’t give any micro credit or any other input support. We facilitate the development program. So that is a big difference and also our work continues even it is over. So, we talk about the sustainability with the communities. And our work is mostly with the marginalized communities, with mostly with women, and the you know farmers and traditional but attendants and all kinds of people and with the young people as well.

Robyn: That’s great, thank you. It sounds like solidarity and empowerment and even that localization piece are really important to the work that you do and as Youth Council we’re happy to hear that the young adults / youth piece is integral as well of course. Right now there are three projects that PWRDF partners with UBINIG, and they are all so important in sustainability, climate mitigation, adaptation, and community resilience. Um, we’ll start with the seed project which is one of those partnerships. Ajmira could you please share a little bit about your work in this field?

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: Um, she works with Nayakrishi farmers in the village and how the farmers are collecting the seeds and preserving the seeds and also the way farmers are also exchanging, among themselves. 

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: Um, and we have about one hundred twelve thousand farmers who are working on the seed preservation works, and they, after meeting their own needs of seed they can exchange with the seed hut that is built in the villages, cluster of villages, and there is a community seedwell center, our UBINIG center where all the seeds are collected.

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: The system is every UBINIG center in the districts have a Community Seed Wealth Center where community seeds are preserved but these are supported by a network of seed huts in the cluster of villages. But the most important thing that we emphasize is that farmers must have the seeds in their own collection.

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: And the seed huts and Seed Weath Center is actually managed by a committee of specialized seed women. They are a group of women who have the knowledge about seeds and they, every committee they have about 12 to 15 members who are specialized in different kinds of seeds, so they can preserve it.

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: In the Community Seed Wealth Center, we have already 2500 varieties of local rice. So all these farmers have collected. There are 730 kinds of vegetable seeds. So these are already preserved in the seedwell centers.

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: So these seeds are collected by the farmers according to their own needs and according to different seasons. We have like 6 different seasons, and 3 major seasons of rice so we have many different seasons. So farmers start collecting the seeds according to different seasons according to different needs. And they, according to the needs of their neighbor farmers as well. 

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: The important thing is that through these um one hundred and twelve thousand farmers who are collecting seeds and preserving it over, 500,000 families are benefited and they are getting their seed independent of the companies. They don’t have to go to the market to get the seeds and so they are not dependent on cash availability of money because these are available to exchange so they are exchanging among themselves. 

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: And the seed preservation is actually passed on from the grandmother to mothers and to aunties from aunties to the young women. So young women are getting interested in seed preservation and they are learning from the older people and also preserving it. The way these seeds are expanding the number is improving is because they are exchanging among themselves and also from the seedwell center when they take like one kilo of seed during after harvesting of the crop. They return two kilos. So, in that way we can go to more farmers and then it is that it has the multiplier effect through exchange and also through preservation at different levels.

Ajmira: responds in Bangla…

Farida: Ajmira was saying that through the seedkeeping project the benefits, like we could regenerate a lot of seeds that were lost or, we call it “disappeared seeds”. So, they could regenerate those seeds through the seedkeeping project and the soil fertility is increasing because with the cultivation of the local variety seeds, we do not need any chemical fertilizer or pesticides. So no chemical is used and also the most important thing is the deep tubes which are used for irrigation of the groundwater has been stopped in the Nayakrishi villages. So, it helps the soil as well and also no arsenic contamination. Another good thing is the mixed crop cultivation. So in one single plot, they are able to cultivate many crops at a time so that they can economically benefit and it helps each other to soil repair and also soil nutrients. So from the same field they can do everything. They give food to the soil. They can also eat from this soil. So, and also they are preserving seeds that are climate resilient. Stress resilient seeds – like threat tolerant since the drought tolerant seeds, saline tolerant seeds. They are doing it and most importantly, women’s empowerment is happening because women are now going from village to village, they are meeting in their compounds, and sitting together discussing about seeds, and this whole Nayakrishi movement is now led by women. Her woman’s decision making has increased in agriculture. 

Robyn: That’s great. Thank you Ajmira for explaining. I have a question. How many UBINIG centers are there and how many seed huts are there? So how many communities or villages are you serving with this?

Ajmira: responds in Bangla… 

Farida: We have four big Community Seed Wealth Centers and 12 seed huts and we are covering about 6700 villages.

Robyn: That’s wonderful. That’s good to know. Thank you. I think we’re curious about where this method originated. So, the women leading the communities and the seed keeping and sharing the seeds among other farmers and not having like a monetary transaction happening – like where did that originate from?

Farida: Yeah, it is an important question to discuss today because without that we will not understand what has gone wrong, you know. So since 1970s, actually a little bit before that, World Bank, you know, institutions like World Bank, when they come up with their big money they also propose that we have to follow Green Revolution, which is basically a chemical based agriculture with pesticides chemical fertilizer, high yield variety seeds, and also irrigation technology through extraction of groundwater. So this was given as a prescription and our government had to follow it. So, the farmers were only supported if they followed modern agriculture and the traditional agriculture was totally undermined. But our farmers you know, let me give you a little bit of statistics is that in Bangladesh is a country of small farmers. 80% of the farming households own less than one hectare land and there is only like less than 5% who have over 7 hectares.It is completely opposite to what you have in Canada. So, these are small farmers but they are very good because they have fertile land and they can cultivate all the year round and they know which crops have to be grown. But the chemical agriculture reduced the number of rice varieties to be grown. So we have three seasons of rice and they reduced it to two seasons. And then you know through, like in ‘80s they started promoting hybrid seeds. These seeds were promoted by pesticide companies. They gave it as a package that you have to take this seeds, along with it you take these pesticides and then you can grow them well. So, the pesticide companies, through the dealers, as Ajmira was saying that Nayakrishi farmers are independent and don’t have to depend on the dealers because this is a serious issue for the farmers. They need cash money and if they don’t have the cash money they have to borrow from the moneylenders or microcredit is there to give them the money to to give it to the dealers. So this is a very, very serious issue for the farmers. But by the end of 2000 you know we found that more than 67% of the farmers started losing land who could not afford to be at the increasing cost of the chemical import. They were migrating to the cities as rickshaw pullers and also their daughters and children were going to the ready-made garment factories as factory workers, or overseas. So this was a total degeneration of agriculture. We don’t call it Green Revolution anymore, it is Grey Revolution

Duncan: Thank you so much Farida for sharing a bit about the origins of this really important and vital project. And this ties into a bit of a discussion here about the term localization which has been a key focus in this podcast series with the Ontario Council for International Cooperation, and it relates to bringing these big concepts of sustainability and environmental protection down to the local level and making an impact on a local scale. So I’m wondering if you could share the importance of working with local communities and bringing local perspectives into your work and  maybe how UBINIG approaches doing so.

Farida: We work from the you know grassroot, and it’s like gonna goshti or shamat. You know we talk about that the shamat and communities that are the important part and it has to be localized and  all the technology and the knowledge has to be localized and with connection. But it is not disconnected from outside. It is localized but not disconnected from our side. So um, it’s called gan in in Bangla. So gan includes both practices and knowledge and they are you know day-to-day practices. So, and this is expressed through songs in our communities. So because we are living in a oral culture, many of our farmers cannot read or write what they do they immediately compose a song and if not through the song and in fact, one of our farmers have composed almost 600 songs on Nayakrishi about different practices. So if you ask him to sing a song you will get a lecture on Nayakrishi. So this is kind of localized skills, localized knowledge, localized practices that is also you know spread to more and more people. I think it’s much better than in writing and also much better than books I think songs are very powerful. Okay, so the communities are also getting involved in the seed preservation. They are trying to identify not only the natural causes but also other like and through infrastructure building the water logging happens, and if the water logging happens there their crop is lost and as well as seeds are lost. So now the communities are understanding that we have to be active and because they are becoming organized together now they are trying to build small culverts to get the water out and through, they are doing it through the mediation of the local representatives of the local government bodies. So this integration is happening on their own through community involvement. So even if UBINIG is not there they will still do it. And that is the success of the project. In all these things you know, we are facing new realities of climate change. We are facing new realities of introduction of harmful seeds and harmful technologies like genetically modified organisms and so the farmers need to have those information. You know the farmers will automatically not know that some seed is coming that is a genetically modified seed. So UBINIG facilitates to share the information with the communities and we have found that in the villages where we could tell them that this is what is called genetically modified seed – this is hybrid seed and they can now decide on their own whether they want it or not. So UBINIG’s role is important at that level. We have to share the knowledge like we are getting from international level, from many other ecological groups and other people, and then our role is to share it with the communities and the farmers so that they are well informed to take their own decision.

Duncan: Amazing, thank you Farida. Just to wrap up here, on behalf of myself, and Robyn, and the rest of the members of our Youth Council at PWRDF, I’d like to say thank you to yourself Farida, and Ajmira and Rabiul for joining us today on this podcast, and sharing some of the amazing work that UBINIG is doing in securing livelihoods and promoting environmental and ecological resilience in Bangladesh. I think I speak for all of us when I say this work is fantastic and very, very inspiring. So thank you very much for joining us today again. 

Farida: Thank you, and I hope you could listen to our birds as well when we were talking and yeah, so thank you very much for doing this. We are very happy to share our experiences and our colleagues are also very happy to be part of it and thank you for doing it. So Robyn and Duncan thank you very much.

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