Growing Diversity

Palash Baral (UBINIG)

(click to enlarge)

Summarised by Alexis Vaughan of GRAIN.

What is UBINIG?

UBINIG is a Bangladesh NGO, which in English stands for “Policy Research for Development Alternatives”. We work on policy research, campaigns and advocacy - those policy issues which have implications on the livelihoods of farming communities. UBINIG works on three broad areas: ecological agriculture, rural industrialisation and women & health. We started working with ecological agriculture in 1988 and at the moment around 105,000 farming households are members. This is equivalent to 752 villages of which 47 entire villages do not use any pesticides, fertilisers, high yielding varieties or hybrids. By 2005, we are expecting to have around 500,000 farming households. Of course, many other people practice ecological farming in their own way and are not included in these figures. We have also set up community seed wealth centres, of which there are now around 34 centres in various ecological zones. These centres do not sell seed; only exchange.

Does this type agriculture really work - without the use of any pesticides or fungicides?

I can 100% guarantee that no pests will affect any crops. Such ecological agriculture, which goes further than organic agriculture, is based on the principles of healthy soil, healthy local seed, water management and multi-cropping. Plants such as garlic, marigold and coriander are used for multi-cropping to attract predators and dissuade pests. The farm needs to be well designed.

So how does UBINIG support all these farmers?

UBINIG does not provide direct support, such as micro-credit. We just disseminate information, including farm visits, providing details of the destructive nature of industrial agriculture which then encourages farmers adopt ecological agriculture practices.

What aspects of farming do you consider are important to farmers?

There are 7 aspects to consider:

1. Soil fertility, 2. Seed and genetic resources (and control of), 3. water management, 4. taste of the food, 5. health of the farmers, 6. costs of the inputs, and 7. the real costs of production (not just accounting for the yield).

In Bangladesh there are 6 seasons including a monsoon, which ensures there is always enough rainfall. And these seasons are closely linked to the culture, health and diet of the communities. For example, there is one season, in which people can be ill with a fever, which is also the same season when a local variety of a pineapple is ripe to eat. This variety of pineapple also acts as a cure for the fever.

What have been the changes for farmers before they joined UBINIG?

Before UBINIG, farmers were dependent on high yielding varieties (HYV) and hybrids. After joining UBINIG, farmer communities would abandon these varieties and establish their own system which is entirely controlled by them and especially women. This system would include five important steps: 1. Selection of seed, selecting healthy and desirable characteristics, 2. collection of seed, 3. preservation, 4. regeneration to keep the varieties alive over the longer term, and 5. exchange.

Why do you say “especially women”?

Women have always traditionally selected, collected, regenerated, and exchanged seed. It is very natural and traditional for women to do this. So when hybrids and HYVs were introduced, men took over these roles by buying seeds directly from the market. Consequently, women were completely disempowered.

What have been the wider implications of UBINIG in Bangladesh?

One of the largest effects was the closing down of around 20 shops which sell inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers, all franchises of large multinational companies. They were simply not needed any more! But it goes much further than Bangladesh – it includes countries such as the USA, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. These countries will be affected by the substantial loss of pesticide and fertiliser sales.

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