In the flood plains of Bangladesh, community-based organic agriculture resulted from an increasing awareness to the harmful effects of the Green Revolution. The latter was showing a tremendous decline in crop yields despite an enormous increase in the need for the application of fertilizers and pesticides. Groundwater was less available, livestock and fish populations were diminishing, the health situation was worsening (including gastric, skin and respiratory diseases) and exogenous varieties were gradually replacing traditional varieties. This forced many poor farmers to sell their land and other productive assets, shifting from farming to non-farming occupations.
Following particularly terrible floods in 1988, some farmers, together with UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternatives), a non-governmental organization, gathered together to seek an alternative - not just an alternative method of farming, but community-based work, which is organic in nature. They named it Nayakrishi Andolon (New Agriculture Movement). The rationale for such a name was to indicate that this method is not “old” in a backward sense; but is a newer method, incorporating traditional knowledge and wisdom and appropriating newer ideas and “scientific” innovations that are suitable for farmers and the environment.
Initially, the peasant women took the lead in stopping the use of pesticides, mainly for health reasons. Then, a group of farmers organized themselves to experiment with green manure and compost. Compost made of water hyacinth, available in plenty, became quite popular and soon Nayakrishi Andolon spread from village to village. As experience and confidence grew, the farmers developed a set of ten simple principles for Nayakrishi farming, all focusing on the use of locally available resources to enhance the efficiency of land, water, biodiversity and energy as well as the control over seed within the farming community.
In addition to chemical-free agricultural practices, the production of biodiversity is built-in within the Nayakrishi method of food production. As a fundamental principle of agricultural practice, Nayakrishi farmers reject monoculture and base their practices on mixed cropping and crop rotation. It has an immediate effect in overcoming the present narrow genetic base, but is also a highly effective method for pest management and the nutritional health of the soil.
In Nayakrishi villages, farmers derive more varieties of fish, together with a wide range of uncultivated crops, which either come as accompanying crops due to multiple cropping in the fields, or grow on the common land as no more herbicides are used. Livestock and poultry also develop more rapidly, thereby enriching the food security of the people. Similarly, the planting of local-variety trees is an integral part of the practice in Nayakrishi villages, which, in turn, attracts birds, butterflies and other pollinators and predators.
The local species, varieties and breeds are always preferred to those that are introduced. The strategy of Nayakrishi Andolon for the maintenance and regeneration of biodiversity and genetic resources is based on some simple rules and obligations between members. The strategic importance is in the conservation and regeneration of species and the genetic variability of the cultivated crops and homestead forestry. However, there are a large number of species and varieties that are not cultivated. The conservation and regeneration of biodiversity for these species and varieties are mainly maintained by the overall organization of Nayakrishi Andolon.
Every village where Nayakrishi is actively adopted has its own gram karmi (extension workers). Apart from networking and campaigning for Nayakrishi, gram karmi maintain audits of the natural resources of the village. This information is pooled collectively and is a vital practice in maintaining and managing the local biodiversity. The Nayakrishi farmers can easily be put on alert if it appears that any “land race” or “wild” species or variety is disappearing or being lost.
Around 65 000 families from all over Bangladesh now follow Nayakrishi principles and the movement is spreading fast. Most important is the general confidence among farmers that Nayakrishi is “economically viable”, but the ecological situation is also improving, the land is regaining fertility and biodiversity is being strengthened.
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