Navdanya and the Seed Satyagraha

by the Navdanya Nine Seeds Movement

Editor’s Preface: This article inaugurates a series we shall be posting on contemporary movements and communities based on Gandhi’s Constructive Programme, which we are also posting in its entirety. For more information and links please consult our Editor’s Note at the end of the article. JG

Bija cover; artist unknown; courtesy of

Navdanya means “nine seeds”, (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds). In today’s context of biological and ecological destruction, seed savers are the true givers of seed. This gift, or “dhanya” and nava-dhanyas (nine seeds) is the ultimate gift, a gift of life, heritage and continuity. Conserving seed is conserving biodiversity, conserving knowledge of the seed and its utilization, conserving culture, and conserving sustainability.

Navdanya is also a network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 17 states in India. It has helped set up 111 community seed banks across India, trained over 5,000,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades, and helped establish the largest direct marketing, fair trade organic network in India. We have also founded a learning center, Bija Vidyapeeth (School of the Seed / Earth University) to teach biodiversity conservation, and we have an organic farm in Doon Valley, Uttarakhand, North India.

Navdanya is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture. It has created awareness of the hazards of genetic engineering, and defended people’s rights from bio-piracy and food rights in the face of globalisation and climate change. It is a women centred movement for the protection of biological and cultural diversity.

Our Mission

Navdanya’s mission is to protect nature, also people’s rights to knowledge, biodiversity, water and food. It is also to empower the communities belonging to any religion, caste, sex, groups, and landless people, also small and marginal farmers, deprived women and children or other needy person to ensure that they have enough to eat, live in healthy environments, are able to take action independently and effectively to become self-reliant through sustainable use of natural resources, and are treated with fairness and justice.

It is our purpose to promote peace and harmony, justice and sustainability. We strive to achieve these goals through the conservation, renewal and rejuvenation of the gifts of biodiversity we have received from nature and our ancestors, and to defend these gifts as commons. The setting up of community seed banks is central to our mission of regenerating nature’s and people’s wealth. Keeping seeds, biodiversity and traditional knowledge in people’s hands to generate livelihoods and provide basic needs is our core program for the removal of poverty.

Navdanya’s mission focuses on improving the wellbeing of small and marginalized rural producers through nonviolent biodiverse organic farming and fair trade. Biodiverse organic farming produces more food and nutrition and brings higher incomes to farmers than do monocultures and chemical farming. While avoiding environmental harm, biodiverse organic farming is also an insurance in times of climate change.

Our vision of Earth Democracy is, therefore, translated into a mission of creating biodiversity and seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and water democracy.

Bija (Seed) Satyagraha

The defense of seed, food and water sovereignty (Bija Swaraj, Anna Swaraj, Jal Swaraj) is necessary for fulfilling our mission of bringing prosperity to communities of small agricultural producers thus sowing the seeds of peace and prosperity. We are committed to resisting patents on seeds and life forms promoted by the TRIPS agreement of WTO which lead to the privatization of biodiversity and piracy of traditional knowledge (Bija Satyagraha). We have successfully challenged bio-piracy patents on neem, basmati and wheat. We are building the living democracy movement “Jaiv Panchayat” to defend biodiversity as a common right. We are committed to promoting alternatives to non-sustainable agricultural technologies based on toxic chemicals and genetic engineering. We are committed to changing the rules of unfair trade forced on small peasants through the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, which are leading to destitution, debt and farmer suicides.

Cover art courtesy

Our mission is to create living economies based on living democracy, with producers and consumers shaping their food cultures through participation and partnerships through cooperation and caring. Our mission is to promote organic fair trade, based on fairness to the earth and all her species, fairness to producers and fairness to consumers. We will expand our network of outlets and cafes to create another food culture, which respects diversity, local production and food quality. In partnership with similar movements like the International Commission on the Future of Food and Slow Food, we are committed to creating a future of food and agriculture in which small farmers prosper and biodiversity and cultural diversity thrive.

Biodiverse small organic farms increase productivity, improve rural incomes and strengthen ecological security. Large-scale industrial monocultures displace and dispossess small farmers and peasants, destroy the environment and create malnutrition and public health hazards. Our mission is to provide alternatives to a global food system which is denying one billion people access to food, and denying another 1.7 billion the right to healthy food, as they become victims of obesity and related diseases. Our mission is to provide “good food for all” through the promotion of biodiverse organic farming, food literacy and fair trade. We work with children so that future generations grow up healthy and free of disease, and can make informed food choices.

With school children and street children we design “Little Chefs” programs to create a culture of taste, quality, health and nutrition among our little ones. Our mission is to keep food security in women’s hands through our network of women’s producer groups (Mahila Anna Swaraj). Women are the custodians of biodiversity, the providers of food security, the preservers and processors of food, the conservers of the cultural diversity of food traditions. The future of food depends on keeping women’s food knowledge and expertise alive. That is why our movement “Diverse Women for Diversity” is at the heart of our mission for the protection of biological and cultural diversity. Our mission is to meet peoples needs while protecting the earth, defending our ecological and intellectual heritage, and strengthening livelihood and food security.

Our Vision Statement

Navdanya is born of a vision that all beings have intrinsic value and an inherent right to live, grow and evolve to their full potential through self organization (swaraj). The diversity of biological life forms and cultures is the basis of peace, harmony and sustainability. We therefore view the conservation of biodiversity and protection of all life forms as a fundamental human duty, as our universal responsibility.

Navdanya also has a vision that all humans have a fundamental right to ecological, economic and political security, and to the protection and defense of their resources, their livelihoods, and their production and consumption patterns. Biodiversity provides the basis for the livelihoods of the marginalized majority — of women, peasants, tribals, and fisher-folk. Biodiversity offers the potential to overcome poverty and powerlessness.

Through biodiversity, we envision improving the productivity and incomes of rural communities, thus combining conservation of nature with removal of poverty, destitution and misery. Biodiversity also enriches our lives by sustaining cultural diversity. And it is through the flourishing of diverse cultures that conditions are created for peace and harmony among the human community.

“Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom.”
M. K. Gandhi

As Gandhi wrote in 1946, “Life will not be a pyramid with the apex sustained by the bottom. But it will be an oceanic circle whose center will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units. Therefore, the outermost circumference will not wield power to crush the inner circle, but will give strength to all within and will derive its own strength from it.”

We in Navdanya view the right to biodiversity and knowledge, to livelihoods and creativity, as fundamental human rights in accordance with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and in the footsteps of the 1928 draft of the Indian constitution, which Gandhi helped to write. Vital resources like biodiversity and water are necessary for survival and wellbeing. They should be accessible to all. In our vision, biodiversity and water are the ultimate commons, which should not be privatized and commodified.

Our vision is based on the imperative to create alternatives to gigantism and centralisation by building on the strengths of the small and the decentralized, and for sustainability and justice, for freedom and peace. A globalisation of the local, rather than a globalisation driven by giant corporations and institutions, is our vision.

Ecological recovery cannot be based on centralized and globalised control over resources. It has to be based on the decentralized logic of Gandhi’s “ever-widening, never ascending” circles.

Earth Democracy and the Seed Satyagraha

Navdanya’s vision is based on Earth Democracy — the participation of all people and species in the common welfare of all.

To this end, Navdanya pioneered the movement of seed saving, which began in response to the crisis of agricultural biodiversity. We realize that conservation of agricultural biodiversity is impossible without the participation of the communities who have evolved and protected the plants and animals that form the basis of sustainable agriculture. The Navdanya program works for the promotion of ecological agriculture based on biodiversity, for economic and food security.

Seed Sovereignty (Bija Swaraj), Food Sovereignty (Anna Swaraj), Water Sovereignty (Jal Swaraj) and Land Sovereignty (Bhu Swaraj). We need once more to feel at home on the earth and with each other.

A new paradigm was necessary to respond to the fragmentation caused by various forms of fundamentalism. We needed a new movement, which allowed us to move from the dominant and pervasive culture of violence, destruction and death, to a culture of nonviolence, creative peace and life. That is why, in India, Navdanya started the Earth Democracy movement, which provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, in which we are connected to each other through love, and compassion, not hatred and violence, and in which ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism and competition as objectives of human life.

Following Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagraha inspiration, we declared the launch of “Bija Satyagraha” against Seed Laws and Patent Laws, which  seek to make sharing and saving of seed a crime by making seed the “property” of companies like Monsanto, forcing us to pay royalties for what is our collective heritage. The Bija campaign demands that Indian laws not legalise patents on seed and food, and seed and food may be excluded from patents. Under Bija Satyagraha and Swaraj, we pledge  to protect sovereignty to save our seeds and grow our food  freely without domination and control by multinational corporations. We have received the precious gift of biodiversity and seeds from nature and our ancestors and we pledge to protect our rich biological heritage and fundamental freedom to save and exchange seeds.

At the Public Tribunal on Hunger (Anna Panchayat) in May 2001, we launched our campaign on food rights and food sovereignty (Anna Swaraj) for a genuinely decentralized democratic and sustainable food system. The entry of companies like Monsanto and Cargill into direct procurement, transportation and processing is leading to the closure of small local and larger agro-processing units that provide livelihoods to thousands of people. We demand that food be accepted as a Fundamental Human Right and is produced and distributed in a democratic manner.

Pressured by the World Bank, WTO and corporate interests, the Indian government has been trying to sign away water rights to the giant multinationals like Coca-Cola and Vivendi, ignoring concerns for people’s needs, sustainability and democratic access to water. In the year 2000, Navdanya launched the Jal Swaraj Movement to protect our water from privatization and commodification and to promote traditional water harvesting systems and equitable access to water.  Citizens Front for Water Democracy (a coalition of more than 100 groups) have successfully stopped the World Bank scheme of privatizing Delhi’s water supply, effectively stealing water from farmers. We have also stopped Coca-Cola’s thievery of Kerala’s ground water, creating profits by hoarding and polluting the water that belonged to the commons.

Bija Satyagraha and Swaraj are the foundation stones for economic and food security. We oppose this corporate hijack of land because it is a sacred trust for human sustenance and cannot be used as a commodity, with no concern for the lives of people. Strongly believing that land must belong to those who till it and nurse it and for whom it is a source of sustenance, we  call for immediate measures to ensure land sovereignty (Bhu Swaraj).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Navdanya was co-founded in the 1980s by Vandana Shiva. Their extensive website has further purpose statements and a great deal of information about food security, GMO crops, campaigns against Monsanto and other corporate interests, lists of their own publications, and much more. Courtesy of

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi