Thakur Das, 62, sifts through unhusked grains of basmati on the terrace of his two-storeyed house on the outskirts of Dehradun. The floor of the terrace is a carpet of gold—his rice harvest spread out to dry in the crisp September sun. Das’ basmati is special. It’s grown from indigenous seeds that make the Dehradun variety of basmati one of the best known in India, in soil that has no chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Navdanya’s Vidyapeeth farm used for organic farming research. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Navdanya began in 1987 when physicist-turned-environmentalist Vandana Shiva decided to promote organic farming to stave off the environmental hazards of using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and to protect the biodiversity of indigenous seeds.


Navdanya works in 16 states with small and marginal (below 1 hectare) farmers only, who account for more than 70% of farmers in India. Vinod Bhatt, 50, additional director of Bija Vidyapeeth, an institution set up by Navdanya which runs free courses on organic practises for farmers, says there are two basic requirements for farmers to become self-sufficient—when they don’t have to buy seeds, and when they have their own fertile land. “We teach farmers how to sort their best seeds and store them so they can reuse their own seeds," says Bhatt. “Traditional seeds, as opposed to hybrids or GM (genetically modified) seeds, work best because they are well adapted to the region."

Anand proudly shows us their organic set-up: A vermicompost pit where his two children dip their hands to bring up fistfuls of earthworms, a gobar gas plant whose byproduct is gobar khaad, and a large room to store their best seeds for the next crop. “Look at these beautiful corn kernels," Anand says, beaming, “we know how to spot the best seeds, it’s in our blood."

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