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India’s new reforestation law ignores indigenous people

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: ,

Analysts and experts are stating that a new Indian law — the Compensatory Afforestation, Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) law — aimed at boosting reforestation across the country ignores the importance of indigenous people in conserving land and tramples on their rights.

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“Evidence from around the world shows that farmers and local communities are far more efficient and effective at protecting landscapes as compared to centralized bureaucracies”, said Neera Singh, an environmental justice expert and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, in the Indian Express newspaper

Under the [previous law: the landmark 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA)], forest dwellers cannot be removed from their land without consent of village councils, which are made up of local residents.

Under the CAMPA bill however, authority to earmark land for development and assign compensation for it, lies solely with forest and state officials.

India’s new law facilitates displacement “without any accountability to the people whose forests, lands and lives will be damaged or destroyed”, said the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a coalition of charities supporting tribal rights.

This new policy raises deep concern for us at WEA, as many of the adivasi women we partner with are forest guardians and gardeners, relying on the forest as they have for generations as a source of food, fuel and livelihoods. Meanwhile, these women are also preserving traditional knowledge and holding critical expertise on forest management and, therefore, climate change mitigation.

Read the full article here.

Climate Change Effects Lead to Mass Migration in India

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: , , , ,

Source: Neeta Lal/IPS
Source: Neeta Lal/IPS

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“Displacement for populations due to erratic and extreme weather, a fallout of climate change, has become a scary reality for millions of people across swathes of India. Flooding in Jammu and Kashmir last year, in Uttarakhand in 2013 and in Assam in 2012 displaced 1.5 million people.”

South Asia continues to be hard hit by the effects of climate change. High temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased cyclonic activity in India are creating large-scale migrations. Just in the eastern Indian state of Assam and in Bangladesh alone, its been estimated that a million people have been rendered homeless. As droughts and flash floods prevent the success of crops, as much as a quarter of India’s population has been affected — many of whom, as we know, are women farmers who are the backbones of rural communities.

With precious resources, like land and water, being depleted by every passing day, we as a global community must come together to support one another as we address ‪climate change, and find solutions for those already hit the hardest. We believe women are key to finding, and implementing, these solutions.

To read more about this issue, click here.

Congress Passes the Global Food Security Act of 2016

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , , ,

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.

Why were the elephants so angry?

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

Topics: ,

By: Katie Douglas, WEA intern

In Ulhara, a village in the city of Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, India, a group of women gathered for a cluster meeting and sat in thoughtful conversation on a rising issue: Why were the elephants of the forest so angry?

The women questioned what had driven fourteen elephants to wreak havoc and destruction in the nearby villages where many of the women were from, leaving one man dead and destroying numerous food grains, houses and crops. The women began to share how mining projects were destroying their homes and natural resources, and the mental and emotional strain these processes were having on them. They likened this to the experience of the elephants, who were losing their homes and corridors to mining and infrastructure development.

In the end, the women were not angry at the elephants. Instead, they understood the animal’s anger and vulnerability as their own.

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Since 2013, WEA has partnered with Chotanagpur Adivasi Seva Samiti (CASS) to support their work to create a community development program for adivasi (indigenous) women of the Santhal tribe in eastern India. Large-scale open-cast coal mining and infrastructure development has resulted in the destruction of land, forest, and river. Not only are these resources the primary means of food and fuel that the Santhal women use to sustain their families and communities, but these resources also contribute medicine, peace, and spiritual sustenance. With the loss of their lands and rivers, the women have become increasingly dependent upon men and outside markets, which makes this not only an issue of environmental exploitation, but also indigenous rights and gender injustice.

In the face of environmental destruction and oppressive gender structures, CASS provides the women with different methods of support, all with an aim of helping them to exercise their rights, practice their culture, and enhance their natural resources for a future they have control over. This is facilitated through cluster groups, trainings, weekly meet-ups for female leaders, and by enrolling local girls in school. Cluster groups, like the one that met in Ulhara, are critical to the state of the community because they allow women to share stories and skills, collectively organize, and discuss basic human and forest rights. Here, they can find the space to reflect upon the state of the Earth, and relate that back to their personal experiences.

Ulhara-cluster-03

Through this partnership, adivasi women are also provided with trainings geared towards healing through the sharing of personal experiences, and building bridges of commonality and support amongst participants. These trainings ask the women to question what they know of gender. At one such training, Ms. Budhandi—a CASS volunteer—offered the group a song:

A group of men are sitting under the banyan tree
They have listened to the sufferings of women.
They are getting up and going.
The women beckon them 
To come back and listen.

Discussion of songs and stories like these allow the women to sit back and view the situation through a lens that considers gender as a social construct, and that then encourages them to take their place as leaders in their communities.

Driven by the destruction of the environment, once-sustainable communities like those near Hazaribagh have been reduced to dependent entities that are disconnected from their environment and unable to protect the rights of adivasi women. This partnership, and CASS’s tireless work, aims to provide the training, support, and networks necessary to uplift the leadership of grassroots women in some of the most impacted adivasi communities in the area, therefore promoting healing and providing peace to human and elephant alike.

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