The Young Seed Keepers of Punjab

The Green Revolution was an initiative that started in the 1960s with the goal of spreading agricultural technologies to developing countries. In India, the state of Punjab was selected to be the poster child for this revolution because it was already one of the highest producing agricultural states in the country. The Green Revolution brought synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and improved varieties of seeds to Punjab. For the first several years these technologies made good on their promises to increase farmers’ yields. Eventually, however, they started to break down as the land was stripped of its natural fertility due to the overuse of fertilizers. Farmers who had taken out loans at the beginning of the growing season to pay for these agrochemicals and seeds found themselves unable to pay them back at the end of the season due to their reduced yields. So began an epidemic of farmer suicides, as these men found that they would rather die than face the shame of not being able to provide for their families.

Recently in Punjab, some farmers have started to switch back to traditional agricultural practices. One of these practices is saving and using traditional varieties of seeds. Some farmers choose to save their own seeds on their farms in order to cut costs and give themselves the dignity of not being reliant on the big seed companies that are driving so many of their fellow farmers into debt.

In the villages surrounding Jaito, India (a small town in Punjab), a different group of agriculturalists is using seed-saving to take a stand in a unique and revolutionary way. Young Seed Keepers is an organization made up of girls age 15-25 from low income landless labor families. They have a 1 acre farm that they meet at once a week to receive training on organic agriculture and seed keeping practices. They save the seeds produced on the farm and sell them at local markets and in their villages.

In coming to the farm and learning to save and sell seeds, these young women are gaining the skills to be able to begin to disrupt a different kind of oppressive cycle than the one that large scale agriculturalists face in Punjab. All of these girls come from villages where normally they would not be permitted to leave their homes except to go to school, and they certainly would not be allowed to work on a farm. However, their families have allowed their daughters to come and to learn. Through their time with the Young Seed Keepers they are gaining both skills and confidence. Both of these things will serve them in the future. All of them will be married in the next several years; their duties will be cooking, cleaning, and raising children. However, these young women will have the confidence to demand respect from their husbands and in-laws. They will also be able to use their agricultural and seed saving skills to grow their own kitchen gardens (to provide for their families nutritional needs) and maybe even start their own seed saving and selling businesses in their villages. They can pass this knowledge and confidence on to their children and “shanti, shanti” (slowly, slowly) make a change in their society.

Contributing author: Evie Smith

Evie currently works as an intern at Kheti Virsat Mission in Punjab. In the autumn, she will start postgraduate studies in International Agricultural Development at UC Davis.

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