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Mobile Biodiversity Festival

Festival on Wheels-Bullock Carts on way to villages to create awareness on Biodiversity
Festival on Wheels-Bullock Carts on way to villages to create awareness on Biodiversity.

Come January every year, the semi-arid and backward Zaheerabad region in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh hogs limelight for promoting a cause for which the marginal farmers here are proud of. These illiterate farmers perhaps may not be aware of such hi-fi words like 'global warming', 'climate change' 'Bio-diversity' etc. But they know very well that they are contributing their bit to preserve bio-diversity in their own way, i.e. through preserving ecological farming, preserving local variety of seeds and age-old agricultural practices. Without stopping here, they have been advocating these practices through a fortnight-long festival christened "mobile Bio-diversity Festival" in January every year since 1999.

Seeds preserved for posterity
Seeds preserved for posterity.

In spite of shift to 'marketable crops' everywhere post green revolution, these marginal farmers in Zaheerabad region still grow traditional crops like millets and traditional varieties of red gram, black gram, chick peas among others in a way they were grown since ages. These practices are even relevant today as they are cost-effective and can be grown even on poor soil without requiring irrigation, fertilisers or pesticides. They cultivate multiple varieties of these traditional crops which in turn helps to preserve the bio-diversity of the region. Keeping hybrid or seeds grown elsewhere at bay, they depend on only local variety of seeds that were handed down to them by their forefathers and preserve them in 'seed banks' in their villages for posterity.

Women farmers moving with their seed along with the caravan
Women farmers moving with their seed along with the caravan.

The 12th mobile bio-diversity festival was inaugurated on 14th of January at Pastapur village in Zaheerabad mandal and it ended on 28th January. It was organised by local farmers under the aegis of an NGO called Deccan Development Society.

Folk dancers participating in the Bio Diversity festival
Folk dancers participating in the Bio Diversity festival.

The festival aims at enthusing farmers in the region to exchange seeds among themselves and grow them by adopting ecological farming methods to protect their lands from degradation. The festival creates awareness among farmers about the need to reverse to traditional crops to protect the biodiversity of their lands and also to achieve food sovereignty. The festival also desires to remind people elsewhere that there is need to make these traditional foodgrains part of the regular diet for their high nutrient values when compared with rice or wheat.

A gathering of Women farmers at the inaugural of the festival
A gathering of Women farmers at the inaugural of the festival

The festival is basically a colourful caravan of brilliantly decorated bullock carts travelling along with singers and dancers carrying the message of the importance of retaining, reviving and rejuvenating traditional agricultural practices.

Bullock cart decorated with variety of food grains
Bullock cart decorated with variety of food grains.

The procession of bullock carts, decorated with sheaves of grain, flower garlands and colourful fabrics is an overpowering image of bountiful crops and food-sovereign villages. Inside the beautifully decorated carts are the small baskets with their own glass cases containing millet seeds, a colourful shop-window of biological diversity on wheels.

The farmers moving along the caravan visit 70 villages in the region and in every village they exchange their seeds with the seeds grown in those villages. They also spread the message of ecological farming even as other women prepare traditional dishes, bringing out the culinary significance of their crops. In addition, the millet growers in the region take an oath pledging to carry on the work of preserving for posterity the old farming systems and knowledge of biodiversity.

A Woman farmer handing over seeds to her next generation
A Woman farmer handing over seeds to her next generation.

As part of the festival, the elder generation of women, who have preserved, protected and nourished the heritage of agro-biodiversity for a generation, hand over in the form of a seed pot (a copper pot in which a variety of seeds were mixed) to the daughters/daughters-in-law of their communities for safe keeping, preserving and nourishing in their generation.

The "mobile bio-diversity festival" generates an unprecedented energy and an enlightened awareness on the issue of biodiversity in all the villages in the region. In addition, it also attracts several national and international visitors who come here to participate, share similar concerns and stand in solidarity with these farmers of Medak district. These types of festivals elsewhere would make people turn nostalgic about food and food crops that they lost touch with.

Traditionally decorated Bullock Cart
Traditionally decorated Bullock Cart.

D. Suprasanthi Devi, NE, AIR Hyderabad

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