An interview with Palash Baral of UBINIG, Bangladesh

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Date: 01 June 2002
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01 June 2002 | Seedling - July 2002

Interviewed in May 2002

What is UBINIG?

UBINIG is an NGO in Bangladesh, which in English stands for “Policy Research for Development Alternatives”. We work on policy research, campaigns and advocacy - those policy issues which have implications on the livelihoods of farming communities. UBINIG works on three broad areas: ecological agriculture, rural industrialisation and women & health. We started working with ecological agriculture in 1988 and at the moment around 105,000 farming households are members. This is equivalent to 752 villages of which 47 entire villages do not use any pesticides, fertilisers, high yielding varieties or hybrids. By 2005, we are expecting to have around 500,000 farming households. Of course, many other people practice ecological farming in their own way and are not included in these figures. We have also set up community seed wealth centres, of which there are now around 34 centres in various ecological zones. These centres do not sell seed; only exchange it.

Does this type of agriculture really work?

I can 100% guarantee that no pests will affect any crops. Such ecological agriculture, which goes further than organic agriculture, is based on the principles of healthy soil, healthy local seed, water management and multi-cropping. Plants such as garlic, marigold and coriander are used for multi-cropping to attract predators and dissuade pests. The farm needs to be well designed.

How does UBINIG support all these farmers?

UBINIG does not provide direct support, such as micro-credit. We just disseminate information, including farm visits, providing details of the destructive nature of industrial agriculture which then encourages farmers adopt ecological agriculture practices.

How do things change for farmers after joining UBINIG?

Before UBINIG, farmers were dependent on high yielding varieties (HYV) and hybrids. After joining UBINIG, farmer communities would abandon these varieties and establish their own system which is entirely controlled by them and especially women. This system would include five important steps: 1. Selection of seed, selecting healthy and desirable characteristics, 2. collection of seed, 3. preservation, 4. regeneration to keep the varieties alive over the longer term, and 5. exchange.

What have been the wider implications of UBINIG in Bangladesh?

One of the largest effects was the closing down of around 20 shops which sell inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers, all franchises of large multinational companies. They were simply not needed any more! But it goes much further than Bangladesh – it includes countries such as the USA, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. These countries will be affected by the substantial loss of pesticide and fertiliser sales.

Reference for this article: GRAIN, 2002, Interview with Palash Baral, Seedling, July 2002, GRAIN Publications

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