In the Spring of 2016, Numi Foundation and WEA launched the Together for H2OPE Project, an innovative partnership to ensure clean, safe drinking water to the 6,500 residents of the Tonganagaon tea community in Northern Assam, India. Since its launch, our project team on the ground has been busy building partnerships, hosting capacity building and leadership trainings for community members around water, sanitation and hygiene, and growing our own knowledge about the challenges and needs of women and families in the tea community.
In this blog post featuring Project Partner Numi Foundation, blogger Hannah Theisen invites you on a journey to the Tonganagaon tea estate (the largest Fair Trade tea estate in India) to learn more about the history of this once-struggling tea community, and how a little bit of “H2OPE” allowed it — and the thousands of men, women and children who rely on it for income — to thrive.
It’s a monumental task, and one that would be impossible to tackle without partners willing to pay a fair price for the tea the estate produces. Companies like Numi, who pay fair trade prices for each kilo of Tonganagaon tea, have provided much of the funds used to improve standards of living in Tonganagaon’s villages with items like cooking stoves and other household goods (Numi alone has contributed more than $100,000 in fair trade premiums to-date in Assam). Numi and Chamong’s partnership on the Together for H2OPE campaign is a beautiful example of the change that happens when both producer and consumer care about the people behind a product.
Before I visited Tonganagaon Tea Estate, I wasn’t sure exactly what story I wanted to tell… Little did I know that the story that would inspire me the most was learning about how tea “saved” a village, and how companies like Chamong and Numi are making unconventional business decisions that put people’s lives before easy profits.
Read the full blog post here, and for more information on the Together for H2OPE Project, visit our project page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Mentor rural women and youth in advanced camera skills
Encourage participants to fearlessly reveal their land, lives and inherent creativity through the camera lens
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…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!
In March, WEA Project Partner Vanastree held their first photography training session, kicking off a storytelling initiative within our joint Seeds of Resilience Project. This unique storytelling initiative supports the project’s ongoing efforts to ensure seed and food sovereignty and the transfer of traditional knowledge in Karnataka State, India.
In storytelling workshops, participants are gaining skills in multimedia and storytelling to craft and share their own narratives. These women and young people are learning how to use cameras, recording devices, and laptops, as well as how to master effective storytelling and dissemination techniques.
The Vanastree team gathered for three days at the Punarchith Training Centre in Nagavalli village, where Vanastree Director and Project Lead Sunita Rao, and volunteer photographer Batt Anderson, introduced the Punarchith staff to the equipment donated by WEA supporters and partners. The Vanastree and Punarchith team spent the day creating a curriculum to introduce the training participants to photography and ensure they felt comfortable and confident with the equipment.
The next day, seven enthusiastic young women participants had a full day of photography lessons. This was the first time most of the participants had ever handled a camera in their lives. They were excited and ready to explore all of the endless possibilities of this form of self-expression.
Do you remember the first time you saw your world through a new lens?
After a request to let their fears dissolve and imaginations run unbounded, they were off! Participants set out in pairs and threes to try out taking portraits of each other. They took the cameras on a stroll through courtyards with drying areca, forest gardens, quiet dark corners with snoozing grandmothers, and the ancient kitchen where masala majjigay (spiced buttermilk) was being churned in the heat of summer. Participants got to see their photos uploaded onto a laptop and learned more about framing, lighting, and the possibilities of digital editing.
The young women then set out a second time with the cameras that afternoon, this time with some guidelines to pay attention to color, pattern, and texture. Batt accompanied the group to provide guidance and answer questions.
While they uploaded and reviewed their second round of photos, participants discussed how photography could be used to engage in topics such as family, land, water, relationships, feelings, women’s tasks and other pertinent issues. They spent some time talking about how to let their minds and imaginations run free.
When the training weekend ended, the group decided that the equipment would remain at the Punarchith Training Center so that it could be checked out when someone wanted to work on their photography — this way, it was accessible to even more people than we originally anticipated.
Sunita remarked on the great joy and attentiveness the group showed as participants took photos and everyone got to share and discuss each other’s work. Later the women talked about how grateful they felt to be trusted with the equipment and how they had only ever seen cameras in other people’s hands. They celebrated the opportunities that presented themselves now that this remarkable tool was accessible to them, too.
Thank you to all the incredible WEA allies that donated tech equipment to this project and to other WEA projects. We are thrilled to see the results of this first wave of Storytelling trainings, all part of of our larger capacity-building trainings happening in partnerships around the world. The possibilities abound when the agency of women to share their own stories and experiences is respected and honored!