The Bija Vidyapeeth offers a unique insight into the tenets of sustainability and deep democracy through interactions with the foremost intellectuals of our times and communities whose survival is intrinsically linked to sustainability in an ambience that reinvigorates our vital link with nature, promotes contemplation, enquiry and dynamic action.
The Bija Vidyapeeth is an attempt to restore the last art of sustainable living through an experiment in international living, where people of all cultures live, cook, eat and learn together the inestimable vamlue of diversity and organic living from one another.
This is the introduction to the Bija Vidyapeeth course, taken from the brochure of Navdanya, the Indian organization founded about ten years ago from an idea by Dr. Vandana Shiva. The organization works to protect biodiversity, and the Slow Food award given to Bija Devi (who personally runs the movement’s organic farm) in Portugal confirmed the importance of the movement on an international level.
Navdnaya defends biodiversity by creating a bank of seeds which are exchanged among farmers belonging to the movement, and through the conversion of fields to organic agricultural techniques which use completely natural fertilizers and pesticides.
The farm run by Bija Devi and her worthy assistants is the feather in the movement’s cap. Situated in the valley of Dehra Dun, about 300km north-east of Delhi, it extends over 8 acres and around 600 vegetable species are grown there (about 250 varieties of rice – 13 of which are Basmati -, 19 of wheat, 3 of corn, 4 of lentils, as well as sesame, coriander, cumin, 6 types of mustard, peas, chili pepper and a large number of medicinal herbs). All fertilizers and pesticides used are, of course, natural.
In this little corner of paradise surrounded by forests and green hills, Navdanya has completed another ambitious project: the construction of a real school (with classrooms, common rooms, kitchens and dormitories) inside the farm, where the movement organizes short courses and study weeks devoted to sustainable farming and similar topics.
With the valuable assistance of the prestigious Schumacher College (International Center for Ecological Studies), the Bija Vidyapeeth project began its courses on the first of October, with a three-week course entitled ‘Lessons in sustainable life: learning from the south’. Using the fact that in the last 300 years western technology (considered superior to other forms of knowledge) has been extensively exported into the southern half of the world, as a starting point the course radically overturned this point of view, investigating instead what the south can teach the wealthy and dominant north.
The course was divided into three weeks: the first, held in the Navdanya organic farm, was dedicated to discussion of the fact that native knowledge of seed preservation (and therefore of biodiversity) and eco-compatible farming is absolutely modern and deserves careful study. The remaining two weeks were dedicated to study of various communities in the Himalayan hills, and their balanced coexistence with the surrounding environment, and the analysis of ancient techniques used by various inhabitants of the Indian desert state of Rajastan to improve water conservation.
Another two short Bija Vidyapeeth courses are planned in the forthcoming months.
The first will be held fromDecember 9-28 and will be called ‘Gandhi and Globalization’. Beginning with a study of the violence that afflicts society in various forms (terrorism, the high level of criminality, the militarization of society, police states; but also the violence implicit in globalization, ecological destruction and the impoverishment of natural resources, hunger and social disintegration), the comparative study of a non-violent point of view can lead to very interesting discussions and conclusions. Gandhi’s vision offers critical alternatives in the political, scientific and economic fields – man-sized alternatives focusing on the land. The three-week course – which is to be held principally by the Director of the Schumacher College, Satish Kumar – will include visits to Navdanya, meetings with people studying Gandhi’s life and thinking, and visits to places that were of importance to the Mahatma during his life.
The third course will be held from January 11-31 and will be called ‘The holistic sciences’. The reductional sciences which see the world of plants, animals and human beings as ‘chemical machines’ or ‘genuses’ have intrinsically violent relationships with the land, and all sentient beings. Modern health systems ignore the relationship a person has with his own body, the surrounding environment and nature, and therefore treats illnesses as if unconnected to the environment and the organism seen as a whole. The course will be held by biologist Brian Goodwin, Dr. Vandana Shiva and other Indian academics and will last three weeks: the first week will consist of an overview of holistic science, the second will discuss ecological agriculture and the third will look at ‘holistic health’.
Nicola Ferrero is a member of the Slow Food Internet Office
Photo: final touches to the school wich will host pupils at Dehra Dun (G. Bellingeri)