Stewards of Food Culture and Biodiversity: Voices from the Northeast

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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In her piece for Vikalp Sangam, Rucha Chitnis shines her light on the challenges faced by communities in Northeast India to preserve the region’s rich agrobiodiversity and food culture.

“A journey on a food trail in the region [also] reveals a rich agrobiodiversity and a unique food culture that has been stewarded by local communities–from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam to remote mountainous tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. In the face of modernization, mining, oil exploration and escalating deforestation, both, the biodiversity of species and food crops, including wild edibles, are threatened.”

As Rucha explains, since forests are a vital source of food and indigenous crops, new economic policies supporting large infrastructure projects in the area could pose a direct threat to small scale farmers.

The article uplifts the voices of four activists and advocates working for ecological justice in their communities of Northeast India. Their work takes different angles but it is no coincidence that each is concerned with empowering women to raise their voices and be recognized as key players in ecological justice. We are especially excited to hear from Mary Beth Sanate of Rural Women’s Upliftment Society (RWUS). RWUS works to promote sustainable livelihoods in the face of conflict and climate change, and was a WEA South Asia Small Grants Initiative partner. Mary Beth and RWUS’s work advocating policy and social change on behalf of women’s rights continues to be an inspiration to us!

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Mary Beth Sanate of RWUS (third from right). Photo: Rucha Chitnis.

“We need a strong gender policy in the state and women’s participation in the development of climate change policies is key…women are slowly realizing that the customary law is discriminatory. It needs to be reformed so that women can have equal access to property, political participation and other resources.” — Mary Beth Sanate

Read the full article here.

Connecting the dots

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Dear Friends,

Did you know that women and girls are 14 times more likely to die in a climate-related disaster than men? Natural disasters can be seen as great equalizers — indiscriminate forces that can threaten anyone. But in reality, these catastrophes like floods, droughts or hurricanes kill more women, especially those of poor socioeconomic status. In many places, girls and women aren’t offered the chance to learn survival skills like how to swim, reducing their chances of surviving a flood. WEA is working with Vanastree, a women’s collective in Southern India, to coordinate  trainings for women leaders to learn skills not only to survive but to thrive in the face of climate change. Our trainings will reach more than 4,000 people, empowering women leaders to launch and scale indigenous seed businesses and seed banks, build model farms, and improve farming practices. Below is a photo of women learning to swim and navigate in water, a part of our Seeds of Resilience Training happening now! It is time for women to be at the helm. $50 covers the materials for a woman to launch her seed growing business.

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What does it cost you to cook a meal for your family? In some places, it is much more than grocery money. When a woman in Nigeria cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner over a wood fire, she suffers the equivalent of smoking between 3 and 20 packets of cigarettes a day. Over 93,000 Nigerians (mostly women and children) die annually from inhalation of smoke from indoor cooking (not to mention the deforestation that is destroying regions and increasing climate instability). In partnership with WISE, we will reach more than 13,000 people in Kaduna by training and funding 30 women entrepreneurs to build clean cookstove businesses, train their communities to adopt cookstoves, and form networks to advocate for clean energy. $15 covers the cost for a clean cookstove for a woman entrepreneur.Let’s fuel this work!

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Do you ever think about what it takes to make a cup of tea? In some parts of the world it means turning on the tap. In other parts, it can mean a 4-hour walk to fetch water, the threat of violence, missed school or lost employment. With Numi Organic Tea (the leading global tea company in organic and Fair-Trade tea), we are changing this. Numi Foundation and WEA’s partnership is ensuring safe drinking water for the Tonganagaon tea community in Assam, India, where Numi sources its largest supply of organic, Fair-Trade black tea. Together with our Indian partners and the Tonganagaon community, we are equipping all 6,500 residents to create access to safe drinking water that will eliminate water-borne illnesses, improve nutrition, strengthen livelihoods, bolster women’s leadership, and improve school and work attendance. It all boils down to water. And it all boils down to us. $100 covers the cost of a community leader to take a water, sanitation and hygiene training.

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What does fracking have to do with violence against women? A lot. The safety of North American Indigenous women and youth is threatened daily by the violence inflicted on them by oil, gas, mining and fracking industries. The impacts of this environmental violence include sexual and domestic acts, crime, murder and disappearances, trafficking, toxic exposures and illnesses, and harm to culture and Indigenous ways of life. In partnership with NYSHN, we are conducting community trainings and providing 5-10 seed grants to actions on the ground. See our extensive report and toolkit featuring Indigenous-led solutions to environmental violence and join us in #landbodydefense.

Photo: W.C.K.
Photo: W.C.K.

We hope you will continue on this path with us as we grow our commitment, our capacity and our reach. Thank you for who you are. Together WE are WEA!

With gratitude,
Melinda, Amira and the WEA Team

Lighting the Grid

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Dear friends,

After the U.S. election, our international colleagues at WEA did not hesitate to reach out to us with words of support. They reminded us that what is happening in the U.S. mirrors experiences many of their communities have lived through for generations. In the face of oppressive governments, worsening climate change, severe resource shortages, and threatened ecosystems, women are the most acutely affected. From these frontlines women stand strong, raising our hands to protect, nurture and uphold. And we don’t give up. We are writing today to invite you to be a part of strengthening this global alliance as we step up to the next level of our reach.

More than ever before, our future hinges on the creative, strategic and nimble grassroots movements that protect our earth and keep lives safe and strong. Women are at the heart of these movements.

Women are the “backbone of the Standing Rock movement” that recently pushed the federal government to halt the destructive Dakota Access Pipeline. Women are contributing to carbon sequestration by launching massive tree-planting campaigns and grassroots clean cookstoves initiatives. Women are launching seed banks, preserving heirloom seeds, and teaching regenerative farming that will help feed our world in the climate change era.

At WEA, we work every day to light the grid of women’s grassroots movements. Our work equips women leaders with the skills and tools they need to protect our Earth and strengthen communities from the inside out. We work with women who are tapped in to what their communities need. They are masters at listening, building consensus, and mobilizing masses. We support these leaders in designing solutions to the pressing environmental challenges their regions face—and building up more leaders to do the same. One becomes two, two become four, four become eight, and eventually we have millions.

WEA invests in this strategy because it works. In a comprehensive, 30-year, data-driven study of policies in 70 countries, researchers found that mobilization by grassroots women’s movements and networks has a significantly more enduring impact on improving women’s rights and safety than policies or government actions.

And each year, more analyses show that when women are empowered, everyone benefits. Local economies improve, populations stabilize, health and education improve, and ecosystems vital to our survival regenerate. According to the Guardian (Dec, 2015), in order to spark this transformation, “women’s access to training, technology and financial resources is essential to enhance their vital role in contributing to solutions.”

We invite you to weave this vital alliance ever stronger so that we can replicate the sustainable, inclusive community development models that are creating the blueprint for the future.

We can do this. Let’s activate our Earth’s most powerful immune response—brilliant, strategic, connected, committed grassroots women leaders who will never stop resisting and reimagining.

Please join us with a tax-deductible gift today.

In partnership,

Melinda, Amira and the WEA Team

Open Ears and Hearts

Dear Friends,

Last week was a moment to swim in the depths of a sea of complexities, to touch base and regroup with our colleagues around the world, and to remember that we know how to reach our hands across seemingly unbridgable divides to transform communities from the inside out. And we won’t stop. And we will do it better.

On Democracy Now! Bill McKibbon said, “It’s a difficult moment, but there are real lessons to be taken from it. People who tell stories and engage with the public are the people who are going to be successful — whether they are good or bad.” Let’s not be overwhelmed by engaging with “the public”. Let’s recognize that “the public” is all of us. It’s the people we saw at the grocery store this morning, it’s the parents we smiled at when we dropped off our children at school, it’s our families in other states, and “the public” is our old friends on Facebook.

The majority of people do believe in racial and social equality, in celebrating rather than fearing our differences, and in the leadership of women, people of color, those who are born in this country, and those who have come and enriched it. And it’s time for us to increase our conversations around these deeply personal issues — to really, truly see and hear one another, and to understand that that’s where healing begins. The rallying cry of the feminist movement “the personal is political” still rings true. When we share our stories, when we recognize that we are “the public”, and that what happens to some of us happens to all of us — we transform. And from a transformed place — we act. That is how we do better.

Last week, we felt, we absorbed, we struggled to find our footing in this changing global community, and now we anchor.

We remember that whether it’s supporting grassroots women as they reach ever-higher in local and national leadership roles, investing in the leadership of young Indigenous land defenders standing on the frontlines against a life-threatening pipeline project, or working to preserve traditional knowledge in the face of destructive industrialized agriculture — lasting change happens one loving conversation at a time. Difficult and compassionate conversations between trusted people create incremental change. Like WEA’s Project Leads around the world, each of us can be a trusted leader, holding space for these conversations and encouraging any and all to gather together and listen.

Even in difficult times, we are uplifted because we are together. So, for women and girls everywhere, for activists and allies fighting for what’s just, for Indigenous land and sovereignty defenders, for those whose safety from state violence or whose right to love who you love is under threat, for our future — we are here, with open ears and hearts.

With love,
The WEA Team

“The future ones are grateful for us, and the ancestors can take our hands now and help us over this hard time.” -Joanna Macy, WEA Advisor

WISE Women’s Clean Cookstove Project Update: We can’t wait to meet the next clean energy entrepreneurs!

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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Olanike Olugboji (right), director of WISE, distributing clean cookstoves.

WEA’s WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project is in the application phase! By the end of the year we will identify 30 women leaders in Kaduna State, Nigeria who will join our training to gain the skills, knowledge and resources they need to promote clean cookstoves and launch their own clean energy businesses. We are accepting applications from women with backgrounds in a variety of fields ranging from business, community activism, and NGOs who can apply in pairs to begin our training in February.

WEA Founding Mother, and Founder and Director of WISE, Olanike Olugboji, has spent the last year and a half distributing various models of clean cookstoves throughout communities in Kaduna and gathering feedback to narrow down a list of cookstove models that work particularly well for her region’s needs.

Take a listen to this call for application submissions; it’s got us pumped!

 

Finally, World Food Day on October 16th also marked the end of our 10-day #WEAWorldFoodDayGiveaway campaign. The giveaway brought together countless WEA champions who gave at least $15 (the cost of a clean cookstove) to ensure that the women participating in this upcoming training have clean cookstoves and are poised to start their own clean energy businesses. Thank you to everyone who joined the giveaway!