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Celebrating the legacy of Vanastree’s Malnad Mela in Bengaluru

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Last month, WEA’s partner Vanastree held their tenth and final Malnad Mela in Bengaluru, India, closing such a bright chapter of work for this incredible organization. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and creations — has been embraced by the Bengaluru community and as the event grew each year, so did the scope of Vanastree’s engagement. With the Malnad Mela, Vanastree fostered a ripple of conservation in Bengaluru that has grown into a wave sustained by the growing community of local advocates and conservationists.

In anticipation of the final Mela, Nirupama Venkataramanan wrote a wonderful piece on Vanastree in The Economic Times. Ten years ago, she explains, a handful of members of the women-farmer’s collective found themselves traveling over 340 miles from their home base in Sirsi to spend a weekend selling their harvest and spreading the message of seed-saving and traditional farming practices in Bengaluru. A trustee in Bengaluru championed their efforts and the showcase soon developed into a beautiful and bustling annual event.

“Malnad Mela grew to be more than just an exhibition. It was a platform where women farmers could talk about themselves, their land and problems and teach others what they knew. People could buy a variety of products including honey, chips and hair colours. They could eat, listen to stories, learn a thing or two about farming, and sit back to enjoy performances or take part in activities.”

The Bengaluru Malnad Mela provided an opportunity for participants of WEA and Vanastree’s Seeds of Resilience Project to share their message about the importance of small-scale food systems and conserving traditional cultivation practices. These women seed savers and forest home gardeners made presentations to the public and sold the tubers and seeds they’ve learned how to cultivate. For so many years, WEA has been proud and humbled to support the Mela which, as the Seeds of Resilience Project prepares to grow in order to reach even more women, was a beautiful space to honor the community ties that have been built in Bengaluru.  

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The Honneru Youth Network from Chamarajanagar brought soaps and millets to sell at the Mela. The Chamarajanagar region has been hit with a devastating drought this year, so bad that instructors from Vanastree expect to shift the focus of their remaining farming curriculum to deal primarily with how to confront natural disaster.
Vendors present traditional tubers.
This is Veena at the Vanaseed stall which was a run-away hit. Kids and adults packed their tables making crafts with seeds and other natural materials and learning about traditional and native seed saving.

In her open invitation to the Mela, Sunita readily admits they will miss the community they’ve built in Bengaluru; from the head of Golden Bead Montessori School who let them hold the Mela on her school’s grounds for years to the countless customers who visit their stalls each year.

However, it is time, she explained, for Vanastree to focus their efforts on building the scaffolds of support elsewhere. “In the last decade there has been a sort of awakening,” Sunita said of the growing conservation movement in Bengaluru, “and new initiatives have come up along these lines.”

While Vanastree’s presence in Bengaluru is coming to a close, the work they started there is not ending, but will be carried forward in the hands of the Bengaluru community.

Tanzanian farmers traditional seed exchange practices under threat

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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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.

Women’s Land Rights Key to Enacting Gender-Responsive International Climate Change Action

Project: Mexican Indigenous Women Uniting for Land Protection

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According to a recent article from National Geographic discussing the Paris Agreement and its impact on climate change, the international negotiations left a few gaps in place, and if not addressed, these shortcomings  may have even more wide-reaching implications for global warming.

The article states that, “Among these key gaps are gender-responsiveness and attention to land rights. Better securing women’s land rights is a critical and largely ignored step toward climate change action and broader sustainable development.” This is something we have seen in much of our work, particularly through our partnership with Semillas — the only women’s fund in Mexico — which supports land rights for Indigenous women in five Mexican states.

Photo: Semillas
Photo: Semillas

Securing women’s rights to land is one approach that can offer a range of benefits tied to both climate change and socio-economic development. This approach can be particularly effective in developing countries, whose rural populations tend to depend on land, forests, and agriculture for their livelihoods, where women make up the majority of agricultural labor, and where women’s land rights are the most insecure. Since the agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sector produces roughly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, the confluence of land, women and sustainable development—and how nations manage that confluence—has critical implications for climate change.

Research suggests that secure land tenure leads to a greater sense of ownership over land, better prevention of soil erosion, and increased likelihood of afforestation (tree planting) which is an important method of creating emissions-mitigating carbon sinks, and which can also provide immediate benefits to rural women who depend on ecosystem health to continue successfully farming, gathering firewood, and accessing potable water.

Taking a gender-responsive, land rights-based approach to climate change action—particularly with respect to AFOLU— can help a nation to fulfill its commitments to the UNFCCC, while at the same time fulfilling its commitments to the women and other vulnerable populations that so many INDCs specifically pledge to protect.

Read the full article here.

Communities Taking a Stand at Standing Rock

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Continuing to send thoughts and strength to the encampment of protectors defending land, water, communities and future. Help to spread the word to build support for the camp and this movement!

Credit: Kim Ryu
Credit: Kim Ryu

Protecting water and our sacred places has always been at the center of our cause. The Indian encampment on the Cannonball grows daily, with nearly 90 tribes now represented. Many of us have been here before, facing the destruction of homelands and waters, as time and time again tribes were ignored when we opposed projects like the Dakota Access pipeline.

Our hand continues to be open to cooperation, and our cause is just. This fight is not just for the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but also for those of our neighbors on the Missouri River: The ranchers and farmers and small towns who depend on the river have shown overwhelming support for our protest.

As American citizens, we all have a responsibility to speak for a vision of the future that is safe and productive for our grandchildren. We are a peaceful people and our tribal council is committed to nonviolence; it is our constitutional right to express our views and take this stand at the Cannonball camp…

We are also a resilient people who have survived unspeakable hardships in the past, so we know what is at stake now. As our songs and prayers echo across the prairie, we need the public to see that in standing up for our rights, we do so on behalf of the millions of Americans who will be affected by this pipeline.

Read the full article in the NY Times here.

You can also read this article in Yes! Magazine for 3 Reasons the Standing Rock Sioux Can Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, which reminds us that:

People are more powerful than dollars.

Through social media, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people from Indian Country and beyond are making plans to travel to Standing Rock to be on that defense line. This is the power of social media, of people in numbers: There will always be more allies.

Photos Show Why The North Dakota Pipeline Is Problematic

Project: Shedding Light on Environmental Violence in North America

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A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman
A protester is arrested for standing on the outer layer of barricades that separate the protest site from the police line and construction zone on Monday morning. Photo: Daniella Zalcman

Last week, the U.S. federal government gave approved the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will run for 1,172 miles to transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oilfields to Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline would travel through lands sacred to the Lakota people, and cross under the Missouri, Mississippi, and Big Sioux rivers. Just one spill would mean contaminating farmland and drinking water for millions.

Hundreds of land defenders and protectors, including Indigenous community members and their allies, are gathering at the Sacred Stone Camp to say no to the pipeline.

This article from Buzzfeed shows what’s happening on the ground through a series of beautiful photos. And this article by Democracy Now! features an interview with Indigenous leaders and those standing on the frontlines of this battle.