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!

 

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.

Strengthening the resilience of West Bengali farmers

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GEAG-soma

Soma is from West Bengal, a state that boasts extraordinary biodiversity but is also one of the most ecologically fragile regions in the world.  At high risk of seasonal flooding, and prone to cyclones, West Bengal’s extreme weather patterns threaten the food, water, and economic security of its communities, especially its farmers. Committed to improving her circumstances and those of her community, Soma works with the local organization, West Bengal-based Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC) to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change on female farmers in her state.

As a farmer, water collector and caregiver, Soma is on the frontlines of the climate change crisis. She came to WEA and our partner GEAG’s 2011 Northern India Women, Food Security, and Climate Change Training with a vision: to improve the resilience of West Bengali farmers in the face of climate change and regional flooding. Soma was not alone — twenty-nine more Indian women farmers from other regions came to the WEA training with similar visions. By connecting women from across India who already have their own techniques and solutions for dealing with floods and maintaining food security, WEA and GEAG created a container for women across regions learn from one another.

At the Training, these women farmers exchanged knowledge and learned skills in low-cost techniques to mitigate the effects of climate change. During the training, Soma and her teammate created a year-long action plan to increase resilience to floods and improve food security in West Bengal.

Soma returned to her community armed with new solutions, ready to implement her action plan. Soma facilitated demonstrations of several appropriate technologies that help women access food, harvest water, and improve community health. She mobilized her community to:

  • Construct a rainwater harvesting system, providing water for fifty families
  • Build container gardens for an entire community to ensure their access to food
  • Provide twenty women with organic, low-input seeds
  • Build six smokeless chulhas, demonstrating the positive respiratory health impacts and improved efficiency of the stoves

Soma’s story demonstrates the power of what can happen when grassroots women come together and learn from each other.  In Soma’s community, women are moving from a place of dependency to a place of self-reliance.  Soma’s leadership has helped spread needed information and solutions that can help families survive during the rainy season. Soma has helped herself and other women leaders in her community unlock their leadership to take control of their own livelihoods.

As Soma puts it, “I am a farmer, I am happy, and I choose to remain so.”

We stand in solidarity with Soma as she is improving the independence and resilience of women farmers in West Bengal.

Women at the Forefront of Climate Change Adaptation

Project: Women Collaborating Towards Food Justice in Bolivia

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 Photo: Alexandre Laprise; Oxfam.org
Photo: Alexandre Laprise; Oxfam.org

The ever-changing weather patterns across the globe, but particularly in Latin America, where alternating periods of droughts and floods have gotten worse, has put particular strain on the indigenous and rural women of the region. Lack of land ownership, access to technical and social services means that those who depend on the land for their sustenance are at an ever-increasing risk. But the women are strong, and are finding innovative ways to keep supporting themselves an their families.

Indigenous women and rural women play a very important role in addressing climate change, specifically in efforts to ensure food security in their households and their countries, as well in climate change adaptation efforts.

Starting the Year Off With the Malnad Mela

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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At the end of January 2016, WEA’s Planting Seeds of Resilience Project partner Vanastree organized their 9th Malnad Mela. The Mela — featured in the Times of India — provides an opportunity for Sirsi women to showcase their seeds, soil, tubers, cotton, clothing, and food, increasing their recognition, honoring their knowledge, and providing and opportunity to learn more.

At this year’s event, the women farmers were especially able to increase awareness on the usefulness of tubers — a climate sustainable crop — and how to grow them, displaying seven varieties throughout the event.

The root booth at the January 2016 Malnad Mela. Photo: Vanastree
The root booth at the January 2016 Malnad Mela. Photo: Vanastree

“Women in the agriculture sector are not recognized anywhere. They play a vital role in handling all the aspects of agriculture in rural areas. Through Vanastree, we are trying to provide a platform to the women of Sirsi.”

–Sunita Rao, Founder of Vanastree

Read more about the event here, and experience last year’s Mela here.