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A Garden for Everyone

Seed Conservation and Sharing Initiative for Home Gardeners

Deepika and Bernard, Pebble Garden, Auroville

pebblegardenforest@gmail.com

 

A write-up on Pebble Garden, Auroville, from Vandana Shiva's 

"Global Citizens Report on Seed Freedom"

 

 


‘A GARDEN FOR EVERYONE’ is an integral part of PEBBLE GARDEN, started in 1994, for the total regeneration of 7 acres of severely eroded land in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India.


Context / Larger Work


The land is severely eroded and forms part of nearly 8000 hectares of land devastated by past human actions causing massive soil loss & extreme gully erosion.


After 18 years of regeneration work, this 8 acre plot of eroded land has grown into:

  • A vibrant forest of 5.5 acres, with indigenous Forest Species & Returning Fauna

  • A garden area of quarter acre with

  • Soil built up with NO external Inputs – no soil or organic matter brought from outside

  • 11 life-nurturing water bodies

  • A fledgling fruit tree area

  • A seed conservation initiative called ‘A Garden for Everyone’

  • A charcoal/wood vinegar production plant & research on Terra Preta

  • A place for learning

The work is done by Bernard and Deepika (members of Auroville) with no hired labour and with small donations from individuals.


Seed Conservation at Pebble Garden


Pebble garden has a Regenerated Garden Area of a quarter acre (1000 sq metres) devoted essentially to Seed Conservation. This garden was created by an intensive process of soil building, using select pioneer species to create biomass in-situ. It has been producing continuous healthy seed crops since 2001. It supports a plant collection of more than 100 endangered traditional Vegetable Varieties from all over India: root crops, herbs, perennial and wild food /useful crops, medicinal plants and flowers. These varieties are ideal for home use and home gardens.


‘A Garden for Everyone’ is an outreach initiative to share these hardy plant varieties, which have performed well on this wasteland, with home gardeners and subsistence farmers throughout the country. They are shared within known organic farmers’ collectives via organic fairs, seed melas and through personal contacts and references.


Qualities of the Collection


The varieties conserved at Pebble Garden are necessarily robust, determined by the conditions in which they are grown. They are easy to grow, vigorous, produce well with minimum water and other inputs, are able to tolerate drought, heat or excess rain and can resist pests and diseases. Most of them are endangered, rarely grown, not seen in markets, nor are their seeds easily available. They have certain qualities that home growers & users value, such as taste & flavour, nutritive value, cultural significance, diverse shapes, colours and sizes, staggered fruit production, keeping quality, long fruit bearing duration and they enrich or preserve our food culture.


Why Conserve these Varieties?


Commercial varieties, on the other hand, are bred/selected with commercial priorities such as yield over and above food value, uniform looks rather than taste, easy transportability, response to chemicals inputs, uniformity and single phase harvest. These are qualities which do not serve any of the basic needs of home growers and consumers. With breeding priorities of ‘increased productivity’ at any cost, modern plant varieties fail to produce safe, tasty, healthy and nutritious food.

 

In the name of feeding a growing a population on less and less land, given imminent climate change, the seed and agro-chemical industry is poised to take farming away from the hands of farmers, to deny people the freedom and right to be nourished with ‘real’ food. ‘Food’ that fails to nourish, is unsafe and ruins the environment beyond measure can hardly be called food anymore.


Solutions / The Way Forward


1. Start a Home Garden


A Home Garden is a simple, direct and powerful act, well within the capacity of many of us, to empower ourselves in the face of a dangerous and uneasy situation where food is no longer safe and often crosses continents before it reaches us. Growing food for the Home, is a direct answer to the challenge of food security. For those with access to land of any kind, minimum resources, balconies, terraces and backyards, the key is in our hands.


2. Conserve and Share Traditional Seeds


Home Gardeners need to have access to seeds of traditionally bred varieties. These are very hard to come by. With the commercialisation of farming and the growth of agri-business the immense seed wealth that was bred by farmers over millennia has disappeared from the hands that created it, now replaced by modern varieties. Our common plant heritage is seriously endangered because farmers who created and protected it in their farms and homes have now been reduced to mere consumers of commoditized seed. National seed banks which house massive seed collections cater to the needs of corporate breeders, claiming to address the food needs of a growing population.


The potential of traditional varieties to fulfil the same breeding objective of ‘feeding a growing population’ is immense. This is clear from the fact that the success of many commercial varieties is because they are essentially derived from traditional ones. A single gene modification is enough for a variety to stand the eligibility test of ‘distinctness’ for it to be a registered variety that is ‘owned’ and can be marketed exclusively. This is like riding someone else’s horse, changing just the saddle and declaring it ones own. A whole state mechanism is in place to protect patents on plant varieties and monopoly marketing rights on seeds. All the laws pertaining to seed in India safeguard the interests of seed industry and trade. By these laws, farmers end up as common criminals if they freely exchange and sell seeds of varieties which they themselves, as a community, have developed in the first place !


As a positive action in this direction, every effort needs to be made to put back the farmer in his rightful place as a custodian and developer of this immense inherited plant wealth. The onus is on farmers and common people to:

  • COLLECT traditional varieties, from wherever they survive in remote areas and backyards, yet untouched by commercial varieties

  • CONSERVE them in farms and homes by growing, using and saving the seeds

  • SHARE them widely within the farming community

  • DEVELOP them by traditional methods like simple selection

A Home Based Seed Wealth Centre

 

In times when farming was for the growing of food, rather than money, every farm was a centre of seed wealth, every farming household was a seed bank.

 

To ‘live’ this idea, the seed conservation work at Pebble Garden has intentionally been kept ‘garden-based’ and ‘home-scale’, largely done by one person with voluntary help and with a minimum budget.


The varieties being conserved at Pebble Garden are from all over India. They come from organic farms and home gardens. It is a dynamic collection with additions every season. Of the 100 varieties grown, most are of vegetables popularly used in India.

 

The collection includes different varieties of Brinjal/Eggplant, Lady’s Finger, Bottle Gourds, Ridge Gourds, Snake Gourds, Bitter Gourds, Pumpkins, several species of beans, different varieties of each bean, Chillies, Tomatoes and Corn. Lesser known and forgotten crops feature prominently in this collection, such as perennial and wild leafy vegetables, root crops of Dioscorea family, other tuber crops, garden fruits like physalis and rosella, medicinal rhizomes. Most of these crops have a promising food potential, but as they do not feature in the market system, they are virtually forgotten and barely known except in remote or tribal areas.


As the collection includes multiple varieties of the same species, e.g. 15 varieties of brinjal / eggplant, 10 varieties of chillies etc., all grown in a small space, the chances of losing the unique characteristics of each variety by cross pollination is very high. Even though the conservation work is small in scale, there should be no compromise on standards. Maintaining Genetic Purity is the foremost challenge and we worked out a set of techniques which can easily be followed by home-level seed conservers. These methods are simple, low cost and easily replicable. By upgrading traditional seed saving skills, using these techniques, farmer saved varieties never need to face the accusation of being ‘inferior’ or of ‘poor quality’. Part of the Seed Work at Pebble Garden involves teaching these simple methods to interested growers in an equally simple language.


Conclusion


It is undeniable that with an increasing population, there are more mouths to feed and less land available per person. It is also true that the climate is changing. In this context seed technologies like GM are being heavily marketed as the only solutions. However, any technology which pushes productivity beyond natural limits and comes with serious health and environmental hazards, some proven, some unpredictable, cannot be a solution.


Traditional crop varieties have evolved over millennia to adapt to a very wide range of climatic conditions. There are paddy varieties adapted to hilly areas, others which thrive in coastal plains and some even in salt water. Traditional crop varieties offer a range of all possible solutions for growing food in a changing climate. Crop migrations are known in history. As climates changed, farmers shifted to more suitable crops.


Increased productivity is achievable with simple selection, complemented by organic agricultural practices to express this full potential. The productive capacity of a variety rests partly in the seed and partly in its growing environment.


Half of the available land mass of India suffers from serious degradation due to massive deforestation and the effects of chemical agriculture. The challenge of food security for a growing population can only be suitably met by holistic solutions which address the serious problem of land degradation, prevent further land loss, enhance productivity of soils and at the same time improve crop varieties. Our land restoration experience at Pebble Garden has shown us that it is possible to regenerate a high eroded land with biomass based technologies, simple tools, traditional plant varieties and basic manual skills.


With technologies that work in harmony with nature, humanity can surely feed herself.


References & Footnotes


1. V. Shiva, V.Singh, Biju NEgo, Irene Dankelman, Biodiversity, Gender and Technology in Agricluture, Forestry and Animal Husbandry: A preliminary study in the Garwhal Himalyas.


2. Source: European Patent Office at Crossroads Report- Patents on Plant and Animals Granted in 2011, Christoph Then and Ruth Tippe, No Patent on Seeds, March 2012
 

3. Prabir Purkayastha, Satyajit Rath, ‘Bt Brinjal:Need to Refocus the Debate’.
 

4. The GMO emperor has no clothes, A Global Citizens Report on the State of GMOs- False Promises, Failed Technologies, http://www.navdanya.org/publications
 

5. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-06-07/news/32101461_1_bt-cotton-average-cotton-major-cotton
 

6. http://sanhati.con/excerpted/5145
 

7. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2109617.ece
 

8. ‘Brazil farmers in legal feud with Monsanto over GM soy’, Agence France press, France