Annadana: Organic Farming and Seed Saving for good food

Vinita visits the organic farm of a corporate affairs strategist turned woman farmer to learn more about saving and banking of a kind of money that actually grows into trees!


Vinita visits the organic farm of a corporate affairs strategist turned woman farmer to learn more about saving and banking of a kind of money that actually grows into trees!

Adopt A Seed

Annadana is a seed bank that conserves and distributes 101 varieties of organic seeds.

It was sheer coincidence. I had been planning to spend some time making my organic garden more meaningful and wholesome when I chanced upon an invite to Annadana’s ‘fun farming’ trial at Ishana in Gopathi Farms, Bangalore. Heavy rains and the busy season of transplanting notwithstanding, I gave Sangita, the organiser, little choice but to agree to my visit; which she warmly did.

Sangita Sharma, a Corporate Affairs specialist till a decade back, found herself increasingly questioning where her food came from. A question she believes we should be asking ourselves as well. Her search for an answer led her to discover not just the power of the seed but more importantly the imperative to revive the ancient tradition of seed saving for us and subsequent generations to have safe food. She believes her skills as a creative strategist for promoting corporate visionaries is now being put to use to build farmer visionaries.

Annadana Seed and Soil Savers was founded in 2000 as a non-profit when Sangita teamed up with like-minded partners to conserve food plant diversity and support sustainable natural farming. The Annadana (meaning giving food) Seed Bank today conserves and distributes 101 varieties of organic open-pollinated vegetable seeds. Over the last 4 years, Annadana has been distributing an average of 25,000 – 35,000 seed packets free of cost to marginal farmers across India. For kitchen garden enthusiasts like you and me, there is a wide range of membership packages available on their website.

Ishana over the last year has been putting into practice a one-of-a-kind integrated low-cost farming system. Seeds and crops (like paddy, millets), vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants, and spices are being grown over 2 acres and 450 raised beds. The presence of a dairy in the farm is critical, as it makes available organic growth promoters in-house and nothing is sourced from outside. The mantra followed here, as they put it, is clearly “From soil to seed to plate.”

Mulching with green manure crops

Mulching of soil with green crop manure.

A sense of calm prevails over you the moment you step into the farm – like agriculture is a sort of meditation: an old farmer weeds away quietly in one corner, a group of lady farmers carefully turn raised beds to prepare them for transplanting, John- the young and enterprising agronomist goes through the motions of handling all farm issues with practised ease. The morning I visited, one of the senior farmers had to be taken to the hospital at short notice, something that was achieved with efficient team work and the least disturbance to other activities.

Sangita calls herself a farmer, and a farmer she surely is, with one goal – to save seeds. She is half-irked, half-enraged at how the term ‘farmer’ invariably conjures up an image of a dhoti-clad individual in dire need of dole. The precision and skill involved in seed saving at Annadana is to be seen to be believed. Sangita says, “Seed saving is a science and art that has to be learnt and the in-house team has developed its expertise in this area over the last many years.”

The process seems fairly scientific and rigorous going by the various gauges and measures (all low-cost) taken to record the temperature, rainfall, and other climatic conditions in conjunction with seed results.

Farmers are the lifeline of our country, believes Annadana, and in sharing soil fertility, seed saving and low-cost innovative-farming techniques, they hope to safeguard farmers across India, helping them regain access to bio-diversity resources and obtain control of their own seeds. Annadana also seeks to revive and strengthen the ancient tradition of giving and exchanging seeds.

Annadana Seed Saving Organic Farming

Annadana is a seed bank that conserves and distributes 101 varieties of organic seeds.

John and Sangita take me around the farm, to show and explain some of the low-cost innovative farming techniques they have adopted. Here is a list of some really cool things they have done:

1. A bio-digester-cum-immunity booster/ bio-pesticide. In its traditionally available design, it costs nearly Rs. 2 lakhs. At Ishana, however, it has been adapted to the farmers’ needs in a low-cost and ingenious manner for just INR 5000.

2. A vermi-wash set and compost piles that smell healthy.

3. A Rainwater Harvesting System across the farm ensuring not just water for the plants but regeneration of the ground water table.

For more details on these techniques, visit Sangita’s blog.

During the walk-through, I also got to taste the goodness of tomato (yellow cherry -like variety that grows in bunches), some fresh fennel and experienced the thrill of a seed (belongs to the citrus family) that looks like lipstick when rubbed on your lips!

Having been at the forefront of the fight against Bt Brinjal and GM foods, Sangita has now decided to focus her energies on building Ishana Gopathi farm and the Seed Bank and let her work speak on her behalf. She continues to utilise various opportunities that present themselves to speak to larger audiences on the importance of seed saving.

Annadana Seed Saving Sangitha with durga

Sangitha is irked with the stereotypical perception of a farmer as a dhoti-clad individual in dire need of doles.

Ishana is working to build a full-fledged seed bank in Bangalore (presently their seed bank is only at Auroville), facilitate an exciting programme for school children, and continue workshops for farmers and those interested from the cities.

In the midst of some wonderful tea and home baked biscuits, Sangita asked me, “So what’s stopping you from becoming a seed saver?” From gathering atleast 5 other residents to support the local milkman in earning a livelihood. From encouraging neighbours and friends to grow their own kitchen herbs and realise how refreshing it is, from getting schools interested in adopting such an approach?

Indeed, there is nothing stopping me or us. More good food for thought!

Visit for more details:

http://www.annadana-seed.org/

http://myrighttosafefood.blogspot.in

Pics Courtesy: Annadana


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vinita S spends her time trying to worry less and do more - about the kind of world she is leaving for her daughter and the next generation. Have worked closely on elementary education, child labour and livelihood of the informal sector, the last few years have drawn her closer to sustainable living. She lives in Bangalore and works for Daily Dump, an enterprise developing home composting solution... more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vinita S spends her time trying to worry less and do more - about the kind of world she is leaving for her daughter and the next generation. Have worked closely on elementary education, child labour and livelihood of the informal sector, the last few years have drawn her closer to sustainable living. She lives in Bangalore and works for Daily Dump, an enterprise developing home composting solution... more

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