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Celebrating the legacy of Vanastree’s Malnad Mela in Bengaluru

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Last month, WEA’s partner Vanastree held their tenth and final Malnad Mela in Bengaluru, India, closing such a bright chapter of work for this incredible organization. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and creations — has been embraced by the Bengaluru community and as the event grew each year, so did the scope of Vanastree’s engagement. With the Malnad Mela, Vanastree fostered a ripple of conservation in Bengaluru that has grown into a wave sustained by the growing community of local advocates and conservationists.

In anticipation of the final Mela, Nirupama Venkataramanan wrote a wonderful piece on Vanastree in The Economic Times. Ten years ago, she explains, a handful of members of the women-farmer’s collective found themselves traveling over 340 miles from their home base in Sirsi to spend a weekend selling their harvest and spreading the message of seed-saving and traditional farming practices in Bengaluru. A trustee in Bengaluru championed their efforts and the showcase soon developed into a beautiful and bustling annual event.

“Malnad Mela grew to be more than just an exhibition. It was a platform where women farmers could talk about themselves, their land and problems and teach others what they knew. People could buy a variety of products including honey, chips and hair colours. They could eat, listen to stories, learn a thing or two about farming, and sit back to enjoy performances or take part in activities.”

The Bengaluru Malnad Mela provided an opportunity for participants of WEA and Vanastree’s Seeds of Resilience Project to share their message about the importance of small-scale food systems and conserving traditional cultivation practices. These women seed savers and forest home gardeners made presentations to the public and sold the tubers and seeds they’ve learned how to cultivate. For so many years, WEA has been proud and humbled to support the Mela which, as the Seeds of Resilience Project prepares to grow in order to reach even more women, was a beautiful space to honor the community ties that have been built in Bengaluru.  

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The Honneru Youth Network from Chamarajanagar brought soaps and millets to sell at the Mela. The Chamarajanagar region has been hit with a devastating drought this year, so bad that instructors from Vanastree expect to shift the focus of their remaining farming curriculum to deal primarily with how to confront natural disaster.
Vendors present traditional tubers.
This is Veena at the Vanaseed stall which was a run-away hit. Kids and adults packed their tables making crafts with seeds and other natural materials and learning about traditional and native seed saving.

In her open invitation to the Mela, Sunita readily admits they will miss the community they’ve built in Bengaluru; from the head of Golden Bead Montessori School who let them hold the Mela on her school’s grounds for years to the countless customers who visit their stalls each year.

However, it is time, she explained, for Vanastree to focus their efforts on building the scaffolds of support elsewhere. “In the last decade there has been a sort of awakening,” Sunita said of the growing conservation movement in Bengaluru, “and new initiatives have come up along these lines.”

While Vanastree’s presence in Bengaluru is coming to a close, the work they started there is not ending, but will be carried forward in the hands of the Bengaluru community.

Women bear the brunt of climate-forced migration

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In a recent article, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stated in 2014, “Environmental migration is a gendered process, but discussions within public, policy, and academia regarding environmental migration are often gender-neutral, few studies making the link between migration, environment and gender.”

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A family from Panama, Sri Lanka is driven out of their home by floodwaters during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Photo: Mangala, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to the IOM, “vulnerabilities, experiences, needs and priorities of environmental migrants vary according to women’s and men’s different roles, as do responsibilities, access to information, resources, education, physical security and employment opportunities.”

However, “The struggles of women environmental migrants have been documented but there is no statistical data to formulate effective policies.” What is known is that the IOM’s 2016 Atlas of Environmental Migration, “the latest and most exhaustive study on the subject, claims that in 2015, 19 million people were newly displaced due to climate disasters globally. This figure does not even include displacement from drought and slow onset environmental degradation. Overall, one billion out of the planet’s 7 billion people are presently on the move, either within countries or beyond borders.

Read the full article at Eco-Business here.

 

Taking steps toward clean water in an Assam tea garden

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Assam, India is famous for its high quality black tea and home to Numi Tea’s largest supplier. Yet Assam is one of India’s poorest states, in terms of access to safe drinking water. Fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. Many women and children walk up to 3 hours per day to collect and carry water for their families, facing security risks, poor health, and barriers to productive livelihoods.

In 2016 WEA and the Numi Foundation teamed up with local NGOs and the Chamong Tea Company to launch the Together for H20PE Project in a commitment to bring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagoan tea community, and to ensure residents have the knowledge and resources they need for a healthy water system for generations to come.

Together for H20PE’s first step in the spring of 2016 was to conduct a preliminary WASH assessment of Tonganagoan’s water system. “WASH” (shorthand for water, sanitation and hygiene) is a multi-faceted approach to assessing and developing healthy water systems. A WASH program looks at resident’s access to clean water as well as the community’s sanitation and hygiene practices. A good example of a WASH approach is recognizing that improperly stored water, even clean water, can cause contamination and make someone sick. Each aspect of a healthy water system enforces the others.

Demonstration on hand washing
Building a diverse and comprehensive outreach plan is essential to widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

The project’s implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) brought in Aranyak, a local conservation NGO, to help assess Tonganagoan’s existing water infrastructure and understand resident’s current water practices. Their comprehensive assessment guided the team in planning structural improvements while PBET designed an outreach approach to ensure the widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

From summer to fall of 2016, the team conducted a pilot program in one of the 12 villages that make up the Toganagoan Tea Garden. Over the course of two Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned the ins and outs of the technical WASH principles and built up their communication skills. These new trainers will be leaders for healthy water practices in their community. To support their outreach efforts, the team specifically learned some songs to remember WASH practices and developed a street play for public WASH demonstrations. (Below is a snippet of a song about hygiene!)

In the Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned how to conduct water tests and interpret the results from samples.
Volunteers learned songs and put together skits to engage their community in WASH techniques. Listen to one of the songs about hygiene that the new trainers teach to children.


The pilot program answered many key questions about outreach and education in the community. Extensive home visits and demonstrations helped the team pinpoint which water treatment practices are most readily adopted by residents and how to help volunteers be effective stewards of WASH practices.

Using everything they learned from the pilot program, we’re busy collaboratively designing a Master Plan to engage the other eleven villages in WASH practices. We’re so excited to see Together for H20PE take shape and make an impact in these communities.

Tanzanian farmers traditional seed exchange practices under threat

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Photo: Ebe Daems for Mo* Magazine

In order to receive development assistance, Tanzania has to give Western agribusiness full freedom and give enclosed protection for patented seeds. “Eighty percent of the seeds are being shared and sold in an informal system between neighbors, friends and family. The new law criminalizes the practice in Tanzania,” says Michael Farrelly of TOAM, an organic farming movement in Tanzania.

As this article in Mo* Magazine explains, under Tanzania’s new legislation, “‘If you buy seeds from Syngenta or Monsanto…they will retain the intellectual property rights. If you save seeds from your first harvest, you can use them only on your own piece of land for non-commercial purposes. You’re not allowed to share them with your neighbors or with your sister-in-law in a different village, and you cannot sell them for sure. But that’s the entire foundation of the seed system in Africa’, says Michael Farrelly.” To go against the law is to risk a prison sentence of at least 12 years, or a fine of over $219,500, or both. “‘That’s an amount that a Tanzanian farmer cannot even start to imagine. The average wage is still less than 2 US dollars a day’, says Janet Maro, head of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT).”

Examples like this from across the world underpin the need WEA learned about for projects like the Seeds of Resilience Project, a partnership between WEA and Vanastree — a women-led seed saving collective in Karnataka, India. The project ensures seed and food sovereignty, as well as the transfer of traditional knowledge in Karnataka State by supporting women to build and scale seed businesses, lead trainings to increase farm biodiversity and productivity, participate in demonstrations and exchanges, and build networks in their communities and beyond. It is a direct response to the growing monocropping and commercialization of agriculture, particularly seeds, that Southern India has experienced.

We send our thoughts and solidarity to the farmers of Tanzania, and will keep our eye on this issue.

Read the full article here.

Women Scientists and Environmental Activists Fight Back Against Climate Change Deniers in D.C.

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Photo: Julie Dermansky for desmogblog.com

A lot is happening this week, but a few things have remained the same for us here at WEA: 1) Facts are facts, 2) climate change is happening (we see the impacts in our work everyday), and 3) women continue to stand up for the earth and their communities.

We’ve been inspired by the thousands upon thousands of women who have joined together to ensure their voices are heard as our nation and global community debate key issues that will determine our future, such as the dozens of female scientists who met in front of the National Air and Space Museum for the Women’s March on Washington. They are part of 500 Women Scientists, who warn: “Our planet cannot afford to lose any time.”

Read the full article on DESMOG here.