The Bija Vidyapeeth, located on a farm in the newly formed Himalayan state of Uttaranchal, “brings alive the diversity of plant life essential to survival in the region”, says Maya Jani, Director of the college, and has conserved over 300 varieties of rice, as well as diverse varieties of pulses, millet, amaranth – a food plant with a wide variety of uses, including medicinal – and vegetables. The courses include travel around the country, and meetings with a variety of experts in sustainable living.

The courses are 21 days long, and are:

  • ‘Lessons in Sustainable Living: Learning from the South’ – which will include an examination of issues such as the value of indigenous knowledge, Third World freedom and dignity through biodiversity conservation, and sustainable systems of existence, and will involve travel to the Himalayas and Rajasthan;
  • ‘Gandhi and Globalisation’ – in which students will study Mahatma Gandhi’s model of decentralised land-based economics, and will include a meeting with senior Gandhians in Delhi;
  • ‘Holistic Science’ – exploring the new life sciences and the lessons for responsible action that arise from them, and will include studies of sustainable agro-systems and the value of diversity, with time spent in the Himalayas, studying holistic health and healing;
  • ‘Sustainable Cities’ – which will include an overview of urbanisation today and how it links to human migrations and current global environmental impacts, examining Delhi’s history and its environmental and social problems.

    There will also be two five-day courses per year on sustainable food systems. Students will study low external input, low-cost, high output and high income agriculture, as well as organic farming, seed conservation and alternative models of direct producer-consumer linkages which enable producers to get a fair price for their products whilst at the same time assure consumers safe food at reasonable prices.

    “India is today the only Third World country that is ‘highly developed’ in the Western sense in terms of science and technology, while at the same time, for the majority of the people, local biodiversity and indigenous knowledge form the basis of survival,” Maya Jani, Director of the college, told edie. However, says Jani, “the immense biodiversity and the deep indigenous wisdom of the people is today facing numerous threats”. These threats include the western notion on intellectual property rights, where large companies attempt to patent plant species, such as the case of the US company RiceTec which wishes to patent a variety of Basmati rise, what Jani describes as biopiracy. There are also threats to knowledge and biodiversity from untested technologies such as genetic engineering, and from the monoculture mindset.

    Interest has already been shown in the courses on offer, from prospective students around the world, in Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Australia, with occupations ranging from judges to farmers to students, architects and scientists. Courses cost US$1000 (£750) for the 21 day programmes, which includes accommodation, tuition, course material, and field trips. Registration and advance deposits need to be made at least six weeks prior to the start of the course. However, there are a limited number of bursaries and scholarships available for all courses.

  • Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie