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[In the News] A Look at Land Rights for Women Farmers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Here at WEA, we recognize that women are the backbone of communities and often play a much more significant role in community care-taking and resource management (i.e. food, water, energy, etc.) than they are often recognized for. This article published by The Indian Express discusses this dilemma. Women comprise up to 65 percent of all agricultural workers, yet despite their work and contributions to both family and community, they are still not legally recognized as farmers. This is because of current land ownership laws — ownership of land by women is not something that is protected or governed under the law. This often exacerbates unequal gendered norms, such as a lack of access to bank loans, crop insurance, and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

Source: Express Photo By Prashant Ravi

As many as 87 per cent of women do not own their land; only 12.7 per cent of them do. There are two primary reasons for the alarmingly low number: One, land being a state subject is not governed by the constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens but rather is governed by personal religious laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance. Second, the cultural aspect of the deep-rooted biases that hinder women’s ownership of land in patriarchal societies cannot be discounted.

Providing women with access to secure land is key to incentivising the majority of India’s women farmers. This, coupled with the need to make investments to improve harvests, will result in increased productivity and improve household food security and nutrition. As has been determined from numerous studies conducted worldwide, women have a greater propensity to use their income for the needs of their households. Land-owning women’s offspring thus receive better nourishment and have better health indicators. Land-owning mothers also tend to invest in their children’s education. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation all around — for the farmer, her family and the larger ecosystem.

Another recent article published by The Daily Mail discusses this issue of a lack of land ownership recognition of women even further:

Nearly three-quarters of rural women in India depend on land for a livelihood compared to about 60 percent of rural men, as lower farm incomes push many men to the cities for jobs. Yet land titles are nearly always in the man’s name. Only about 13 percent of rural women own land, which keeps them from accessing cheap bank loans, crop insurance and other government subsidies and benefits for farmers.

The macro-level results of securing women farmers’ land tenure are clear, but consider for a moment the impact it would have at the micro-level — the wiping away of the debilitating feelings of insecurity and vulnerability for rural women. The chance of propertied women being physically abused is reduced from 49 per cent to 7 per cent due to an increase in the wife’s bargaining power. If female farmers are provided security of land tenure, they will be officially recognised as farmers and hence, will see their household bargaining power increase. Women farmers’ self-confidence and agency will slowly grow and expand outside just their household.

These articles underscore the need for investments in locally-led grassroots efforts to secure land rights for women farmers. For these reasons and more, WEA Projects over the years have focused on these very issues. For more on our work to support rural women farmers in India, visit our Projects page.

Read the full article by The Indian Press here, and the full article by The Daily Mail here.

 

Malnad Mela Festival in Sirsi celebrates seeds and artists

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In June, WEA’s Seeds of Resilience project partner, Vanastree, held their 17th Malnad Mela in Sirsi, India. Vanastree has held this festival every year since 2001. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and products — strives to bring awareness to the environmental challenges in the Western Ghats region of India, and highlight the important role of women as ambassadors for food security and seed sovereignty in their local communities.

Vanastree vendors talking with Mela visitors.

The Mela is a community affair — bustling and full of action. Highlights from the festival included displays of organic seeds, tubers and diverse planting materials, traditional foods and crafts and even a pickling competition! In addition to the goods and demonstrations available for visitors, Dr. A.R. Vasavi, social anthropologist and founder of Punarchith (a trust based in Chamarajnagar that also partners with Vanastree), also gave a keynote address discussing the critical challenges faced by rural and agricultural communities, especially women.

“It is imperative and urgent that the women of Malnad recognize the wealth that is within their boundaries and their own roles and positions that are tied to this.…At a time when social changes are taking place at a pace far faster than we can comprehend and adapt, it is important that we recognize that seeds are for the wellbeing and future of communities. They are meant to be shared, sold, and exchanged among people and as the Vanastree members have shown us over the years, their place is with and among us as it is in this mela.”

– Dr. Vasavi, founder of Punarchith, giving the keynote address of the Malnad Mela

An exciting addition to the June’s Mela was a photo presentation given by women and youth photographers participating in Land and Lens – the new storytelling component of the Seeds of Resilience project. Land and Lens has three simple goals:

  1. Mentor rural women and youth in advanced camera skills
  2. Encourage participants to fearlessly reveal their land, lives and inherent creativity through the camera lens
  3. Provide rural women and youth with venues, as artists, to share their work.

At the Mela, Land and Lens artists and Vanastree members answered questions and fielded interest in the program, while showcasing their stunning photography of their connection to the lands and environment they live in. For the first time, Vanastree also had select Land and Lens photographers be the official photographers for event.

Land and Lens booth, where Mela visitors ask questions of the photographers about their art.

Land and Lens…is an extension of [our] mission — in discovering the many talents that individuals in our community did not know they had, and then applying those talents to further enhance and protect the natural and social environment of their home lands.”

– Sunita Rao, founder of Vanastree

Many participants and visitors of Sirsi’s Malnad Mela reported back that this annual festival is about more than just trade; the value of the Malnad Mela each year has been a day of gathering, conversation, seeds, plant and information exchange and an atmosphere of conviviality. This is the sort of thing that has no price tag, and we couldn’t be happier to have been involved!

 

Tanzanian farmers traditional seed exchange practices under threat

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , ,

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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.

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!

marybethsanate
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.

Congress Passes the Global Food Security Act of 2016

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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By: Janice Kim, Programs + Operations Intern

Last week, in a celebrated step forward, Congress passed the Global Food Security Act (GFSA) of 2016. With just the president’s signature needed now, the GFSA reaffirms the United States’ commitment to supporting global food security and nutrition.

Though the newest version of the bill doesn’t create new programs or add funding to existing aid efforts, what it does do is set new standards for U.S. involvement in global hunger relief efforts. The emphasis of the GFSA is on supporting women, children, and smallholder farmers through long-term efforts to reduce global food shocks and reliance on food aid.

Here are a few of the components of the bill that WEA is especially excited about:

  • Promoting non-U.S.-centric agriculture-led economic growth for small-scale farmers that could reduce global poverty, hunger, and malnutrition
  • Improving the nutritional status of women and children while improving stability of small-scale farmers

Overall, in its most aspirational form, the GFSA could mean more support of small-scale producers—many of who are women farmers (women are the backbone of the rural economy in developing countries and are responsible for 60-80% of food production)—and greater access to skills, resource management capacity, networking, and financing to sustain their work in the long run. This goes hand in hand with the work of many of WEA’s project partners, like Vanastree.

WEA and Vanastree have partnered together since 2014 to uplift the role of rural women farmers in the Malnad region of southern India. Through this partnership, Vanastree and WEA are building the capacity of small-scale women farmers, supporting them as they cultivate their own forest gardens and strengthen seed banks, providing training on integrated food gardens for women and youth, creating opportunities for women to generate stable, alternative sources of income, and more. These efforts are all in answer to the regions growing food security concerns.

Youth in the garden
Manorama Joshi (center, crouched down) of Vanastree teaches farming techniques.

WEA, together with many other organizations, are looking forward to seeing the positive impacts the GFSA can mean for women farmers, their communities, and the goal of ending global hunger, poverty, and malnutrition.