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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.

[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.

[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.

 

First Public Preview of Land and Lens Photographs

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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In March, WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project partner Vanastree, a women farmer’s seed-saving collective in Karnataka State, India, held their first photography training for project participants and community members, kicking off the storytelling component of this work called Land and Lens. This unique initiative supports the project’s ongoing efforts to ensure rural women farmers are equipped with multimedia and storytelling tools that will enable them to tell their stories of seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and the future they envision for their communities.

We’re thrilled to share this first public preview of photographs taken by project participants trained through Land and Lens.

Showcased in this video is the photography of 9 intergenerational women from rural India — none of them had ever held a professional-level camera before. As part of Land and Lens, each photography student received basic camera training and as many as 3 week-long, self-guided sessions with their donated camera. The photos you see in this video were taken during those independent sessions.

For more information on Land and Lens, visit the official Facebook page for this initiative. For more on the Seeds of Resilience Project, visit our project page.

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!