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The VOICE Seed Houses
In early 2007, VOICE and local farmers formed an Action Group committed to improving their livelihood by creating a source of traditional seed varieties. Several months later, two demonstration seed houses were established in Mymensingh (about 120km north of Dhaka), including one directly adjoining VOICE’s satellite office there. An initiative of local farmers to revive and preserve local seed varieties, the seed houses are maintained and stocked directly by the farmers, who are also encouraged to take their skills and knowledge to their village and discuss the importance of seed preservation and local crop varieties with other community members.
This issue is not just about agriculture, it is about culture. If hybrid seeds take the place of local varieties, we not only lose ownership over our source of food, we also lose our culture. Local crops produced from local seed has a distinct taste particular to that region. Women also play a big role in food production by preserving and, the following year, preparing the seed. All this is being lost as IFI conditionalities open the market to hybrid seeds which discourage seed preservation and increase the farmer’s overhead costs. Farmers are becoming dependant on external markets for seeds to a large extent.
VOICE is currently preserving rice, jute and vegetable seeds and is planning to preserve more varieties of seed in the future. This project also dovetails with VOICE’s Reflect Circles, as village women from Reflect Circles are encouraged to preserve their village seed and/or build their own seedhouses.
Jute Cultivation Plot
In 2007, VOICE initiated a program to promote jute cultivation among farmers in the Mymensingh area. Bangladesh was once known worldwide for its top-quality jute, called the ‘golden fiber’ for its seemingly endless variety of uses and benefits. All parts of the plant can be used: the tender leaves can be eaten, the stalk dried for fuel, and the fiber used in all manner of products: rope, bags, carpets, saris, sandals and fabrics. At one time, jute was a major cash crop in Bangladesh. But since the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) by IFIs like the World Bank and the IMF, jute cultivation is decreasing day by day and many in the industry have been forced to shut down. The Adamji jute mill closure is just one such example. As our agricultural industry is exposed more and more to the vagaries of the international market, jute farmers who can’t get a fair price for their product are switching to the monocrops the market demands.
But jute cultivation brings real benefits, like increased soil fertility, low overhead costs and a strong renewable resource.
That’s why, in addition to advocating for a better market for jute sellers, VOICE decided to revive this traditional crop by establishing 5 demonstration jute plots in the Mymensingh area. In early 2007, VOICE put out a call for farmers interested in designating some of their land and participating in the project. 5 were chosen and VOICE provided them with top-quality organic jute seeds collected from the Jute Research Institute in Dhaka. The land was cultivated by the farmers using ecologically-friendly agricultural practices like using local fertilizer made of cow dung. The jute seed was also saved in VOICE Seed Houses by the farmers, some of whom were also involved in the Seed House project (see above). In return, the farmers allowed VOICE to use their land as demonstration plots to show other farmers, and the community, the benefits of jute cultivation. The project was a success and more farmers are expected to participate this year.