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[In the News] Farmer suicides: A call to climate action for India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In a recent article by Suresh Babu of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Babu points out that “As both a contributor to climate change and a victim of its impacts, agriculture needs to become climate resilient. This direct connection between climate change and agriculture is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in India, where recent research has shown climate change as the key contributing factor to the suicides of more than 60,000 farmers.” 

For WEA, this shocking number and what it reveals about climate change and its deep impacts on smallholder farmers hits close to home. From 2014-2015 alone, farmer suicides across India increased by over 40% — from 5,650 to over 8,000. However, it’s Karnataka State in Southern India, where WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project is based, that has seen the sharpest jump — from 321 in 2014 to more than 1,300 in 2015, the third-highest among all states.

So, what is the connection between climate change and farmer suicides?

Photo: Vanastree

As many other countries, India has borne the brunt of climate impacts, seeing increased flooding, variability in rainfall, extreme heat, and vulnerability to more severe storms. Especially for small-scale farmers, the risks become clearer, and more dangerous, with each passing year.

Failing to address India’s climate change can spell trouble for many smallholders who continue to depend on rainfed agriculture. To save farmers lives and livelihoods, making Indian agriculture climate-resilient must be a priority next step…

Empowering farmers to become financially independent will prove another key step toward [climate] resilience. Currently, farmers are trapped in a cycle of seeking out loans from high-interest money lenders. By making institutional credit available at affordable rates, farmers can avoid debt traps.

Further complicating the financial prospects of agriculturalists, government compensation policies seem to work against the farmers’ best interests. In a morbid sense, the compensation in the case of death of a farmer is seen as a route for farmers’ families to get out of debt. The money distributed to the farmer’s family is often used to pay off the predatory loans, to keep the farm afloat. This distressing cycle of debt further leaves farmers and their families most vulnerable to future climate-induced shock.

This crisis reinforces the need for community-driven solutions, not just to climate change, but to agricultural development and land ownership as well. WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project aims to support the sustained organizing and capacity building of small-scale women farmers to preserve traditional agricultural knowledge, promote indigenous seed saving practices, support climate adaptation and mitigation through the cultivation of climate-resilient crops, and further the rights of women farmers.

For more on WEA’s work to support small-scale women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.

Together for H2OPE begins training community leaders in WASH

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Our Together for H2OPE: India Project team  — led by implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) — recently brought together a group of community leaders and volunteers from the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to build good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) through demonstrations, home visits, and educational events. The goal of this “Training of Trainers” (ToT) program is to give these volunteers the background knowledge, skills and experience that would be helpful to them as they go on to provide training and technical assistance to members of their community.

One of the primary activities of the ToT was the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) activity facilitated by a water expert from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). The activity asked participants to draw a map of the tea estate using different colors to represent different areas (e.g. roadside, temple, etc.) and highlighting where open defecation still occurs — an ongoing and complex issue in India. The water expert then led a discussion of where this fecal matter goes and how it travels, and participants were able to make the connection that some of it might even flow into the food they eat and water they drink.

It’s been incredible to support these community leaders as they step into their new roles as trainers, growing their own commitment to providing their families and neighbors with critical information on access and practices to ensure safe and clean water.

In addition to the CLTS activity, the ToT phase of our Together for H2OPE Project also included a trip for these emerging trainers to Digboi College. There, they were able to view water samples under a microscope, learn the more technical aspects of safe versus contaminated water, and solidify their awareness about the water their tea community consumes and where it comes from.

We look forward to seeing these leaders implement their new training skills as they share their knowledge and expertise with other members of the Tonganagaon Tea Estate. This is truly a community-led efforts, and we are honored to be a part of it!

To learn more about our H2OPE project, please visit our project page.

[In the News] Climate Change and Food Security in Nepal

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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Over the past few years, Nepal has faced troubling weather events and a substantial body of evidence points to climate change as a primary cause. Longer droughts, frequent flooding of rivers (due to melting glaciers), and extended summer seasons have directly impacted agricultural production and the availability of food, most especially for poorer communities. This recent article by The Diplomat discusses this in more depth.

There is a substantial body of evidence that points to climate change as jeopardizing food security in Nepal. A recent study by the WFP concludes that food security in Nepal is highly sensitive to climate risks. The study highlights that recent climate-related events in Nepal like droughts, floods, and glacial melt impact crop production, people’s access to markets, and income. As per data revealed by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of Nepal, “over the last decade, around 30,845 hectares of land owned by almost five percent of households became uncultivable due to the climate-related hazards.” Studies have predicted that if climate change continues to jeopardize agricultural production in Nepal, the livelihoods of two-thirds of the people will be at risk.

Climate change not only affects agricultural production and availability of food in Nepal, but also has a negative impact on access to food for the poor. Climate-related events have contributed to decreases in agricultural production in Nepal, which in turn has caused high inflation in the food market. The WFP’s report stated that the percentage of households spending a “very high” proportion of their income on food has increased in Nepal, which sequentially has exacerbated poverty and hunger in the country.


Nepal is not the only developing country whose food security is in jeopardy as a result o climate change. Many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia face similar threats as well. To counter this food crisis, the article posits that a tangible policy response is needed — specifically, the international community has an obligation to support our fellow community members in those countries, like Nepal, that are often hit hardest by climate change-induced food insecurity.

WEA’s South Asia Small Grants Initiative reflects our commitment to these efforts. From 2012-2015, this initiative provided women-led grassroots organizations with strategic small grants to fuel collective efforts and social movements in India and Nepal. Today, the groups we partnered with continue to work tirelessly to ensure food sovereignty, environmental sustainability, climate justice and dignified livelihoods for women in their communities and regions.

Read the full article by The Diplomat here, and for more information on our South Asia Small Grants Initiative, visit our project page.

WEAre Together for H2OPE: How Tea Saved a Village

Project: Together for H2OPE

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In the Spring of 2016, Numi Foundation and WEA launched the Together for H2OPE Project, an innovative partnership to ensure clean, safe drinking water to the 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Northern Assam, India. Since its launch, our project team on the ground has been busy building partnerships, hosting capacity building and leadership trainings for community members around water, sanitation and hygiene, and growing our own knowledge about the challenges and needs of women and families in the tea community.

In this blog post featuring Project Partner Numi Foundation, blogger Hannah Theisen invites you on a journey to the Tonganagaon tea estate (the largest Fair Trade tea estate in India) to learn more about the history of this once-struggling tea community, and how a little bit of “H2OPE” allowed it — and the thousands of men, women and children who rely on it for income — to thrive.

Photo: Hannah Thiesen

It’s a monumental task, and one that would be impossible to tackle without partners willing to pay a fair price for the tea the estate produces. Companies like Numi, who pay fair trade prices for each kilo of Tonganagaon tea, have provided much of the funds used to improve standards of living in Tonganagaon’s villages with items like cooking stoves and other household goods (Numi alone has contributed more than $100,000 in fair trade premiums to-date in Assam). Numi and Chamong’s partnership on the Together for H2OPE campaign is a beautiful example of the change that happens when both producer and consumer care about the people behind a product.

Before I visited Tonganagaon Tea Estate, I wasn’t sure exactly what story I wanted to tell… Little did I know that the story that would inspire me the most was learning about how tea “saved” a village, and how companies like Chamong and Numi are making unconventional business decisions that put people’s lives before easy profits.

Read the full blog post here, and for more information on the Together for H2OPE Project, visit our project page.

Running the Salmon Home: The Winter-Run Chinook Salmon

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This blog is part of a series on the Winnemem Wintu’s Run4Salmon, a two-week long prayerful event and call to action for public awareness about the need to restore the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon to the McCloud River in Northern California. To learn more about the Winnemem Wintu and this sacred relationship with Salmon, read our first post in this series here.

With a capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, Shasta Lake is California’s largest reservoir, and provides about 17% of the state’s overall capacity for water storage. In the wake of the recent and worst drought in California history –– which lasted for five years, affected 90% of the state, and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a three-year-long drought state of emergency –– large-scale infrastructure projects like the Shasta Dam are often applauded as remedial efforts to respond to water shortages, while the environmental, ecological, and cultural consequences of these projects go underrepresented or unaddressed. In Northern California, this indifference is evidenced by the lack of urgency expressed by both the government and the general public in responding to the threats that the proposed raising of the Shasta Dam poses towards human and non-human life in the area.

Chief Caleen Sisk at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Toby McLeod
Where have the Salmon gone?

Chinook salmon are anadromous fish, meaning they migrate upstream as adults to lay and fertilize their eggs in cold water and return downstream as juveniles to mature in the ocean. In the early nineteenth century, four distinct populations of Winter-Run Chinook Salmon flourished in the Sacramento River system. The fish spawned in upper tributaries for thousands of years –– in the McCloud, Pit, and Little Sacramento Rivers –– but California’s waterways and wetlands were drastically altered with the influx of Gold Rush settlers and the westward expansion of the American colonial project. In the mid-twentieth century, construction of the Shasta Dam blocked the salmon’s traditional spawning path along the river system and permanently altered the geological and ecological makeup of the region. Furthermore, above the dam, the rapid flood of water into the Shasta reservoir inundated homelands, burial grounds, and sacred sites of the land’s Native peoples –– including the Winnemem Wintu –– while water levels below the dam decreased, substantially reducing the river system’s ability to support the wildlife that depended on it.

In 1871, the Federal Government created the National Fish Hatchery System to manage the rapid population decrease of once-abundant fish populations nationwide. The first national fish hatchery, the Baird Hatchery, was built on the McCloud River. While these hatcheries have certainly been instrumental in preventing the extinction of countless species –– including the Winter-run Chinook –– they also contribute to decreased levels of genetic diversity and prevent the fish from fully developing their natural survival instincts.

Despite these early conservation efforts, Winter-run Chinook Salmon were listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act in 1994. Today, only one of the original four populations that once flourished in the Sacramento River system remains, and as their access to cold-water tributaries like the McCloud River is still obstructed by the Shasta Dam, Winter-Run Chinook are left with one short stretch of the Sacramento River as their only available natural breeding waters. As a result, only 5% returned to the rivers to spawn in 2014, and only 1% returned to spawn in 2015.

Shasta Dam. Photo: Toby McLeod.
The Winnemem’s fight to restore this sacred relationship

In 2005 the Winnemem Wintu tribe, to whom salmon are considered sacred, discovered that Winter-run Chinook eggs that had been sent to New Zealand’s South Island from the Baird Hatchery decades ago have spawned and flourished in the Rakaia River –– the only other place in the world where this has happened. According to the Winnemem’s proposed plan for salmon restoration, genetic diversity and necessary adaptive traits have been preserved in the Rakaia River salmon in ways that were impossible in the McCloud River following construction of the Shasta Dam and alteration of the surrounding waterways. After visiting the local Maori tribe and the salmon in New Zealand, the Winnemem have proposed that salmon from the Rakaia River be used to reintroduce Winter-run Chinook back into the Sacramento River system.

The Winnemem Wintu are advocating for spiritual and cultural awareness to be practiced in the development of this restoration plan. The tribe hopes that repatriation of their sacred salmon back to the McCloud River waters will be recognized as an act of restoring ecological health and spiritual balance to the homelands they have shared with the Winter-run Chinook for thousands of years.

The McCloud River in historical Winnemem homelands, which would be further affected by the proposed raising of Shasta Dam. Photo: Jessica Abbe.
The Run4Salmon

Restoring wild salmon to our waters is crucial to protecting the biological health of river ecosystems, as well as supporting the traditional and spiritual ways of life of the Indigenous peoples who lived on this land, with these same fish, long before western invasion and settlement intruded and put these relationships in jeopardy. The 2017 Run4Salmon, which will begin in Ohlone territory here in the Bay Area on September 8th, is part of the Winnemem Wintu tribe’s ongoing effort to bring the sacred salmon back home.

A traditional Winnemem dugout canoe on the McCloud River during the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe.

For more information on the Run4Salmon and ways to get involved, stay tuned for the next post in our Running the Salmon Home series. You can also follow the Run4Salmon journey on Instagram.

And to learn how you can stand alongside the Winnemem Wintu in their immediate efforts to bring the salmon home, visit here.

 

Blog post by Fiona McLeod, WEA Program + Operations Intern