From The Fields : Touch down

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By Temra Costa

Even before the plane touches down, you can smell Delhi. It’s hard to describe – ammonia, cars, 17 million people breathing, half as many rickshaws, cumin – it’s the smell of thousands of years in the making, where modern meets ancient. And since the government has determined that “air” is a human right here, I’ve been told that it’s quality has greatly improved. But meanwhile, my lungs, eyes and senses are adjusting to the smells, fumes and the enormity of this place. Here we are, a group of 15 women from India and the U.S. to spend 10 days touring sustainable agriculture organizations and taking every form of transportation imaginable.

All of us, from Vermont, to Arizona, California, Africa and numerous parts of India are here out of more than tourism. We’re here to connect with women run sustainable agriculture organizations and to share our skills and knowledge as advocates for change. Each of us brings our skills that vary from non profit management and philanthropy, and include the diversity of writers and water harvesters. By bridging the international divide and letting the women and their organizations we meet know that we are here to support and engage with them in these issues, the world becomes a bit more palatable of a place. As it should be. With global environmental issues coming to a confluence, we have to figure out how to support localized, sustainable, food production, on a global scale, and fast. The knowledge that women in India have of seed banks, their traditional practices, their learned and passed down food growing techniques, and all of their learned tools have remained largely unrecognized by science as solutions to the global food crisis.

While the majority of food grown in India is produced by women, resources are still not flowing from the international community where it could make the most impact. With less funding than we spent on say the last election in the U.S. these women and their organizations could probably have solved their food ailements. As they stand as a special interest group of source, the FAO reports that women receive less than 2% of foreign aid. Less than 2% and they grow upwards of 80% of the food in developing countries. Obviously, we need some reform. But without hypothesizing too much, first, we are going to listen. What do they need? What are their challenges? How can we collaborate and help raise their voices?

As I adjust to this place, it’s smells, amazing food culture, and diversity of religion and organizations working for human good, I’m optimistic that the women of India already know what it takes and what the country needs. We just have to be willing to hear the message. Stay tuned…

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Temra Costa has over a decade of experience advocating for sustainable food systems starting with the USDA Organic Certification program in 1998. She came to California after earning a Bachelor’s of Science degree in International Agriculture with a minor in Women’s Studies, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2003, to work for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Her work has included projects of Farm-to-School, farmers’ market implementation, regional distribution research and directorship of a statewide marketing initiative, Buy Fresh Buy Local, that educates consumers about where their food comes from and by creating markets for family farmers (www.buylocalca.org). Her book, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat (Gibbs Smith Publishers), will be released in May of 2010 and highlights the impact that women have in changing the U.S. food system.

This is part of a series entitled From The Fields which follows WEA’s Women and Agriculture delegation on their 10 day journey through Northern India. Read more about this initiative here.

From The Fields : A preview

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Today the WEA team and the Delegates are arriving and settling into their hotel in Delhi. They are about 12 hours ahead of California time and so they are hopefully sleeping right now. While we wait to hear from them directly here is a preview of what they’ll be doing and where they’re going in the next two days.

Meet with Dr. Suman Sahai from the Gene Campaign. Gene Campaign, a grassroots organization with a presence in 17 states in India, was started in 1993 by Dr. Suman Sahai (an Ashoka Fellow in 1989) and a group of people concerned about food and livelihood security. Gene Campaign is recognized as a leading research and advocacy organization working in the field of bio-resources, farmers and community rights, intellectual property rights and indigenous knowledge, biopiracy, and issues related with GE food and crops.

drsahaiVisit Punjab Agriculture University. PAU is considered a big player in the promotion of GE seed, bio-tech and associated “green revolution” technologies. In more recent years it has expanded its emphasis on organic farming. We will visit with Dr. Aulakh who is heading the organic farming department and his wife who is in the Home Science department and who is active with local women’s groups.

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Visit Post Harvest Management Training Center. PHM Training Center creates training in basic, applied, strategic and adaptive engineering and technology research in post-harvest sectors of plants, livestock and aquaculture production. In particular interest to us, PHM trains women farmers in processing and value-addition of fruits and vegetables.

This is part of a series entitled From The Fields which follows the Women and Agriculture delegation on their 12 day journey through Northern India. Read more about it here and here.

Your invitation to join us From The Fields

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This Sunday, a group of 13 women delegates will travel to Delhi, India to learn, connect, share and strategize with Indian women who are leading the way in sustainable agriculture development. Among this group there are economists, biologists, academics, authors, permaculturalists, and urban farmers. Together, we will launch the first key phase of WEA’s Women and Agriculture Initiative.

A lot can happen when smart and passionate women get together over a common cause. Join us here to hear about their journey. They will send posts from their travels and we’ll learn about what they see, smell, hear and taste.

Add us to your daily routine, subscribe to our feed, and email our blog to your friends. We are all going to India on Sunday.



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Coming Up from the Roots: another full house!

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Last night more than 75 people gathered for the second of three events in WEA’s Fall Speaker Series Coming Up from the Roots. It was dry and warm inside during the Bay Area’s first storm of the season. And the room was full of environmental leaders, fellow tenants of the David Brower Center, social justice activists, WEA Giving Circle members, friends, family and one 2 year old.

4017604819_f6fd8afb6e_oThis group gathered to learn more about WEA’s Women and Land Initiative, and to hear from four inspiring leaders:

  • Vien Truong of Green For All: Vien spoke about the critical need for working across sectors to create green jobs. She invited people to get involved, and you can learn more about her critical work forging a nationwide green jobs coalition here.
  • Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition and WEA’s International Advisory Board: Her stories about passing legislation in the Navajo Nation for green jobs were inspiring! The focus, determination, creativity and sheer person-power to make that happen is humbling. You can read about it here.
  • Nina Simons of Bioneers. Nina talked about the power of women and what it means to be a woman leader. And that it’s Bioneers’ 20th year of convening social and environmental change leaders… Click here for more information about this year’s conference this weekend.
  • Adrienne Maree Brown of the Ruckus Society. She sang us a song that could be felt in our bones. It was a beautiful and peaceful way to end an evening.

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Our next event in this series, the final one of the season, will be held Tuesday, November 10 at 7pm. This will be a very special evening with Joanna Macy, a long time supporter of WEA and a member of our International Advisory Board. RSVP here.

 

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4017604859_2bcd8e999b_oWahleah Johns and Adrienne Maree Brown

WEAving Words

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“If we can make small-holder farming more productive and more profitable, we can have a massive impact on hunger, and nutrition, and poverty.”

—Bill Gates
2009 World Food Prize Symposium
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Learn about WEA’s newest initiative– the Women and Agriculture Initiative, which will work to equip Indian women farmers with training, business skills, networking support and seed funding to launch sustainable agricultural micro-businesses across India.