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September 12, 2008

Nayakrishi Farming and Happiness

Last night I was given the opportunity to speak at a forum in Adelaide, where I live, organized as part of the One Just World series. The forum is designed to educate the public on development issues, organized jointly by the International Women's Development Agency, World Vision Australia and the Australian bilateral aid agency, known as AusAID.

Farhadmazhar_2The highlight for me was a chance to hear an old friend and colleague speak, Farhad Mazhar. Farhad lives and works in Bangladesh, and last night he presented a movement of agro-ecological farming that now includes 2000 farmers in the country: Nayakrishi Andolon

Here is Farhad describing the movement: "In its simplest expression, it is an act of ananda, a happy way to relate with nature and enjoy life. It is production, distribution and consumption of happiness among and within the members of the world of human and non-human beings, both organic and inorganic. Why do you practice Nayakrishi? The response from the farmers is: 'I want to be happy, that's all!'"

Nayakrishi farming means using the land to generate the inputs you need: fertilizer, seed, pest management, and so on. Farhad said the movement has the seeds to grow more than 2000 varieties of rice, though that is just a fraction of the estimated 15,000 varieties that could once be found in Bangladesh alone. With the seeds is a knowledge base that is unparalleled in formal institutions such as seed banks. The movement does not eschew science or new learning, but rather, integrates it into a model that is focused on the health of the whole farm, which avoids creating dependence on external inputs.

The movement works with what people have, not looking for ways to bring in stuff from the outside (all of which would cost money--something the farmers are not endowed with). It plays to their strengths: use lots of labor; use the land for multiple purposes (raise fish in ponds or even in the rice paddies--something that makes the use of pesticides impossible; or, grow crops not just for their yield of food, but for their other uses: fodder for livestock, waste for compost or energy-generation); preserve multiple varieties so you can cope with late rains, floods, or a persistent pest that seems to like the variety you grew last year. These are all simple precepts but none of them is popular with the big development funders. They would rather subsidize fertilizer (until when? And what then?) and encourage biotech seed, which will cost money for the intellectual property and will go on costing money because the farmers are not allowed to save the seeds.

The movement was inspired in part by women, who wanted to end the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides because of what the chemicals were doing to their health, and their children's health, as they worked on the farms. The connectedness of the thinking and vision and practice is what makes Nayakrishi so exciting--and so powerful. And the movement has sisters around the sub-continent, linked in a network called the South Asian Network on Food, Ecology and Culture (SANFEC).

One_just_world_3 The panel also included Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, who gave an important speech on how the food price crisis is linked to climate change, and why climate change is an issue linked to fighting poverty and for justice. My speech was on why trade is not the solution to food security. A transcript of the event will be online shortly at the University of South Australia site-- UniSA (as it is known) was a co-host of the Adelaide forum.

Sophia Murphy

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