This year-end note from WEA’s Founder, Melinda Kramer, is one way we keep our community up to date on the important news impacting our work and world and ways you can get involved!
In this year’s letter, Melinda shares our dream for the kinds of contributions that can best support WEA at year-end:
20 monthly supporters step forward at the $25, $50, or $125 level. Pooled together, these monthly gifts cover the costs for a woman leader to participate in a year of WEA training;
5 donors join our Giving Circle, a dynamic group of supporters who pledge $5,000-$50,000 each year for 3 years. This gives us the runway we need to plan our multi-year programming, serving our grassroots partners in a sustained way;
40 people make a one-time gift of $75 before Dec. 31st so we can meet a $3,000 match made by a generous WEA champion;
“The women have gathered together to be pioneers of this clean cookstove. I see a lot of passion in them – passion to change lives, passion to go out there and talk to people about the usefulness of the clean cookstove – and I believe with time and with the enthusiasm I see in them, it’s going to go beyond the shores of this nation…clean cookstoves will become a household name.”
Regina Poto has been an invaluable member of our WISE Clean Cookstove Training team! She is currently serving as Financial Advisor to the 30 women clean cookstove ambassadors and has brought a wealth of knowledge in entrepreneurship, financial management, profitability, marketing, scalability and long-term sustainability. We are thrilled to have her as a Financial Advisor on this project because of her long tenure in the banking sector — she has been a perfect fit for our WISE team!
In August 2017, Regina led a refresher course on the financial topics and tools covered during our April and May training intensives for the women entrepreneurs. Since then, she has been working with the women to regularly update their business plans based on real order numbers and operating costs they’ve experienced since being in the field.
In the video below, Regina talks about the WISE Clean Cookstoves Training program and the promise of this work:
To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Project, be sure to visit our project page!
Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.
Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving
“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree
The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!
From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.
Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management
A core aspect of the trainings has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master. A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.
One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.
“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver
Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).
Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community
One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:
“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee
“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee
In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.
One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home. She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”
We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens. We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!
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?
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.
Here at WEA, a core component of each of our projects aims to encourage our partners to create and collect compelling emotional stories that help to link the women-driven, environmental work they do with our collective global community. These stories — told and shared by the women who experience them — ultimately strive to educate and inspire, change attitudes and behaviors, and can even be a call to action for critical movements supporting women’s leadership, land rights, climate change, and strong and healthy communities.
We’re excited to share with you a recent update from the launch of the storytelling component of our Together for H2OPE Project in Assam, India. Together for H2OPE, a partnership of WEA, Numi Foundation, Chamong Tea Company and local NGO partners such as Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET), aims to ensure clean and safe drinking water to all 6,500 residents of India’s largest organic, Fair Trade tea community, for generations to come.
Last month, our Together for H2OPE team invited Nassif Ahmed, a local cameraman and filmmaker, to the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to lead a digital photography and storytelling workshop for community members. This 3-day workshop focused on training participants in how to handle the technical aspects of cameras as well as some technical photographing principles such as the rule of thirds. Nassif also showed participants how to use their own smartphones creatively, since they can often be less intimidating to subjects and are easily accessible.
Nassif was joined by fellow trainer Banamallika Choudhury (Mamu), who led discussions during the workshop on taking a feminist approach to digital storytelling. Together, Mamu and Nassif teamed up to lead demonstrations and exercises which allowed participants to gets hands-on experience and support with the skills they learned. In one such exercise, participants spread out over the tea garden to take photos that they then presented to the group along with the story they hoped their photos conveyed. Nassif and Mamu were then able to provide constructive feedback on ways to improve both photos and stories so that it truly conveyed the narrative and experience participants were “shooting” for.
We’re honored to have had Nassif and Mamu lead this important training, and look forward to the photos and stories that Tonganagaon residents are able to share with their new skills.
Thank you to the entire Together for H2OPE team for all you do, and to Nassif and Mamu for sharing your knowledge and expertise!
To learn more about the Together for H2OPE Project, please visit our project page.