Seed bank of hope

On a farm in north India, an extraordinary woman is working to ensure food crops are protected for future generations by sourcing and banking seeds. The Foundation supported a team from Pōneke-based production company Storybox to travel to India with kaupapa Māori researcher Dr Jessica Hutchings to interview Dr. Vandana Shiva about her work. The episode, scheduled for release next year, will be one of an eight-part series Storybox is making with Dr Hutchings about Hua Parakore (a kaupapa Māori framework for growing organic food) and Māori food sovereignty.
A woman standing in front of a sign saying welcome to Mavdanya

Dr. Jessica Hutchings at the entrance to Navdanya biodiversity farm where she interviewed Navdanya founder Dr. Vandana Shiva

Entering Navdanya biodiversity farm via the long dirt driveway, the feelings of peace and abundance are unmistakable. Organic mango groves open out onto fields of diverse food crops including heritage legumes, greens, rice and grains.

A dragonfly circles bright yellow mustard plants, noisy parrots chatter in the tall trees overhead and squirrels sniff around the compost piles. Diversity of life is everywhere here - above the ground and below.

Navdanya (Nine Seeds) was set up just outside Dehradun in North India by Dr. Vandana Shiva, globally renowned in food and seed activism, an academic and writer who has been an effective environmentalist and ecofeminist for decades. 

In the middle of the Navdanya compound is a lush and sprawling ‘tree of life’ that shades the lawn. Surrounding it are a soil lab, office, library, and accommodation.

The local chef harvests and cooks simple and delicious organic food, grown on site, for workers and visitors from around the world who come here to study and work the soil. 

Four people gathered outside a building chatting

If you follow the well-worn path through the fields from the main collection of buildings, down where the bullocks are fed and housed, you will find the Temple of Seed. This simple earthen building is the heart centre of the seed saving movement in India. 

The main room is filled with hanging bunches of drying seeds, tubers dry on the windowsills. Shelves of tin jars hold collections of seed that are distributed yearly to small scale farmers so that they can grow and evolve in a changing climate. 

This is how biodiversity is farmed. Among the thousands of rice seeds for example, are drought and flood resistant seeds, salt resistant seeds. Dr. Shiva calls it “a seed bank of hope, not a doomsday seed bank”. 

With the help of our Indian based crew, we’re here at Navdanya to film an episode of our eight-part series for Whakaata Māori about Hua Parakore and Māori food sovereignty with Dr. Jessica Hutchings.

Three people holding camera gear with colourful buildings visible behind them on the other side of a large river

The Whakaari teamed up with a local crew for the shoot

Dr. Hutchings is a kaupapa Māori researcher, writer and kai farmer with Māori and Indian whakapapa. In this episode, she will meet with Dr. Shiva, a longtime friend and mentor, to talk about food sovereignty in a global sense, the ongoing threat of GMOs and biotech, monocultures and big Ag, the capitalist patriarchy and silicon valley philanthropists.

They will also talk about seeds. The conversation between them is unflinching and hope filled. In the face of all the BIG, the smallness of the seed shines through.

An image looking through the viewfinder of a camera which is trained on woman wearing a red shawl

Dr. Shiva calls it “a seed bank of hope, not a doomsday seed bank”. 

Dr Hutchings reflects on the experience of interviewing Dr Shiva for the Hua Parakore TV series: “There are those moments in life when you know you are in the right place at the right time doing the right thing."

She says this was her experience of being with Dr Shiva at Navdanya discussing food, farming, women and ecology.

"Her formidable insight into the globalisation of agriculture and the impact of big corporations, capitalist patriarchy and GMO’s on food systems and small farmer community livelihoods and in particular women is unrelentingly sharp.

There are many in Aotearoa New Zealand who follow her leadership in this area and having the opportunity to share her critique with viewers and to elevate organics and Hua Parakore is very important at the crossroads of many crises.”

The Hua Parakore series will launch on Whakaata Māori in 2024. It is funded by Te Māngai Pāho and made with support from New Zealand on Air.

The Foundation's media programme helps New Zealand journalists cover stories that shed light on Asia and on New Zealand’s ties to the region. We support journalists to build their knowledge of Asia by providing media travel grants, internships in Asian newsrooms and fellowships for senior journalists.

Our media travel grants offer New Zealand journalists the chance to travel independently to Asia to research and prepare stories – to help demystify Asia for New Zealand audiences.