A new film, ‘The Farmer, the Architect and the Scientist’ tells the story of a seed hero. Dr Debal Deb is a pioneering ecologist committed to working with traditional farmers in eastern India to conserve indigenous seed diversity. Over almost two decades, Debal has managed to save 920 varieties of rice, all of which he stores in community based seed banks in West Bengal and Odisha for farmers. This film follows the construction of a new seed bank premises in Odisha, a venture that provides a potent symbol of Debal’s values.
As we saw in Seeds of Freedom, small-scale traditional farmers and their rich diversity of locally adapted seed varieties are being written out of the story of seed. They are the victims of an aggressive global lobbying effort, designed to convince a world terrified about food security that the corporatization of the global food system, involving transgenic seeds, is the only way to feed the world.
But there are those who dispute this narrative – seed heroes, men and women, from around the world – who understand that the key to a healthy food system lies in maintaining the immense local and regional bio-cultural diversity of seeds and traditional farming methods. Their work to uphold farmland and community resilience and health has never been more important.
According to this holistic philosophy of environmental health, Debal’s scientific method is a far cry from the top down, exploitative practices of ag-biotech companies that Seeds of Freedom uncovered. His chief aim is to re-empower farmers to take control of their own heirloom seeds, creating the conditions for food sovereignty and security for future generations.
In Debal’s work there is no sense of the superiority of either science or traditional knowledge – the two are seen as mutually beneficial, a complementary pairing. Debal works with farmers as fellow scientists in the laboratory that is their fields; Truly recognising the depth of their knowledge, and that solutions to hunger must benefit the small producer who is at highest risk. This respect and concern is key to the collective successes Debal has helped realise.
The Farmer, the Scientist and the Architect reveals Debal’s commitment to this collaborative method through sharing the story of the construction of a new local seed bank. Made using local stone, mud, sand, adobe bricks and local labour, this building is aesthetically delightful and, most importantly, 100% sustainable and 100% local. Debal has been working on this feat of truly ecological architecture with French architect Laurent Fournier. Together they are building this vital community resource, brick-by-handcrafted-brick, to convey to the community (and outsiders as well) that sustainability involves not only ecological agriculture but also ecological architecture, biodiversity, and an environmentally concerned lifestyle. Fittingly, upon completion the seed bank will be bequeathed to the people who need it.
Like Dr Melaku Worede of Ethiopia, whose work is the subject of a forthcoming film from The Gaia Foundation and African Biodiversity Network, Debal Deb is a largely unsung hero. This film hopes to go some way to changing that, showing that there is another, ethical way to treat our seed inheritance; opening minds to the sustainable possibilities for the future of food and the beneficent role science can play in this.