With the People’s Climate Shabbat and March happening across the country this weekend, I wanted to address the issue of being “resilient” in the face of climate change. We’ve surpassed the targeted goal of 350 ppm, the “safe” level of carbon dioxide emissions. How will the Earth (people-including entire nations, animals, plants, trees, etc) respond (and what/who will survive)? What about farmers and our food supplies?! As the Jewish Climate Initiative asks, will we chose to respond passively, like Noah, or actively, like Abraham to this environmental and humanitarian crisis? “The response of Noah’s generation during the hundred and twenty year construction period was to scoff, deny the threat and refuse to change. The flood came, Noah and his family was saved, the rest of humankind perished.”
I recently spent time at the Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation farm in northern India, near the city of Dehradun. It is a chemical-free agricultural wonderland, filled with 1,500 varieties of seed and trees and thousands of birds and insects. The group is doing phenomenal work with Indian farmers to help them respond to climate change through their active seed banks, polyculture (multiple plants grown together) farming, seed resiliency research, and zero-waste permaculture farm.
Under the leadership of their founder, Vandana Shiva, Navdanya is a leading a movement on behalf of small farmers in India and globally, in the face of industrial agricultural giants like Monsanto, Bayer DuPont, and Cargill and groups such as the World Trade Organization. Shiva’s a hero to millions around the globe who are fighting climate change, ensuring biodiversity in our food supply, protecting the rights and practices of indigenous farmers and protecting human health and the environment. Even the United Nations seems to have moved towards sustainable agriculture, declaring in March that “excessive use of pesticides are very dangerous to human health, to the environment and it is misleading to claim they are vital to ensuring food security.”
Unlike some seed banks which pack seeds away for safe keeping for future scenarios (without helping them adapt to a changing climate, they might not grow), Navdanya has 122 active seed banks across India. Each year, they collect seeds from their network of 700,000 farmers nationwide and plant them on 14 acres annually to ensure they’re strong and adapting to changing climate conditions (i.e. resilient). And they’re not just planted but done methodically with researchers who test different ways to grow them, including polyculture- growing them with other seeds to help them adapt. It’s all done without any chemicals. The following year, the farmers plant the seeds and begin the process again.
This is also about reclaiming Indian practices and heritage– in food, culture, agriculture, health and economics. Before the “Green Revolution”, there were 200,000 seed varieties in India. Navdanya is working to try to protect as many native seeds as possible (which will help to ensure the sustainability and biodiversity of foods grown in India) but some have been lost forever. For example, the farm now grows 716 rice types of rice (which guests get to eat at meals and I can attest that they are delicious). When faced with the crisis of climate change, one can easily feel overwhelmed or powerless. The dedication and courage of Navdanya farmers is inspiring.
Through our food choices we can each fight climate change and ensure the resiliency of our local farmers. Start by growing food, joining a local seed bank and swapping seeds. A common sign at climate change rallies says, “There is no planet B.” And, as the Jewish Climate Initiative explains, “Today, there is no ark except the earth, and no prospect of salvation apart from the entire global family. We have no choice but to act like Abraham, and work with the rest humanity to save our common home.”