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.

How Funding Women’s Climate Action is Unique and Necessary

Project: Mexican Indigenous Women Uniting for Land Protection

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 Global Greengrants Fund, the leading environmental fund supporting grassroots action on a global scale, and The International Network of Women’s Funds have put together a guide to supporting grassroots women’s organizations working on climate justice and women’s rights across the globe. The guide specifically addresses the urgent needs within the funding community and aims to increase appropriate funding for climate action and women’s rights worldwide led by women.

Women’s funders might describe grants that build on women’s traditional roles in agriculture or as service providers… [and] Although such interventions have supported women to mobilize and articulate their rights, they do not always challenge women’s secondary status in societies or address existing power dynamics within families and communities.

You can read the entirety of the guide here.

Supporting Landless Women Farmers in India

Project: Grassroots Indian women leaders improving food and economic security

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Basanti Dehuri, center, with the land title she received through a Women's Support Center (Photo: New York Times)
Basanti Dehuri, center, with the land title she received through a Women’s Support Center (Photo: New York Times)

Tina Rosenberg, in her article Letting (Some of) India’s Women Own Land, addresses how little land is owned by women in India even though more than three-quarters of Indian women live as farmers.”Without [land] title,” Rosenberg, a Pulitzer Prize award winning author, says, “female farmers acting on their own don’t have access to credit, subsidies, government programs for seeds, irrigation or fertilizer.”

In the face of this reality, WEA’s 2011 partnership with Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) provided ecological farming and climate change resilience training, appropriate technology, rights education, and seed funding to women farmers in India to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, and build political will. The year-long training program focused on strengthening foundations to support women leaders and farmers through asserting their rights as farmers, better managing their farms and resources, upholding their traditional knowledge systems, and encouraging the leadership of others.

Read Tina Rosenberg’s full article here.

India has the Most People Without Clean Water

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Water Aid, the international charity, released a report this week titled, “Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water in 2016” revealing that 75.8 million of India’s 1.25 billion people (5%) lack access to safe and affordable water.

Photo: U.S. News / AP photo, Bikas Das
Photo: U.S. News / AP photo, Bikas Das

Poor Indians without water access are forced to spend an average of about 72 cents to buy 50 liters (13 gallons) of water a day, the amount recommended by the World Health Organization, according to the report. That’s nearly 20 percent of their typical daily income, according to the report. By comparison, people in Britain spend about 10 cents a day for 50 liters.

Misappropriation of funds, resources, and the planning and execution of waterways and projects throughout india has also resulted in water shortages in areas where it was once plentiful.

Read the full article from U.S. News here, and read Water Aid’s report here.

A Glimpse at Women-Led Movements

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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Source: Rucha Chitnis, Yes! Magazine
Source: Rucha Chitnis, Yes! Magazine

Dayamani Barla, the Indian journalist who led an extraordinary movement in an effort to stop ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company from displacing thousands of indigenous people in Jharkhand. She discusses her views on development and explains them from an indigenous world-view:

“We want development, but not at our cost. We want development of our identity and our history. We want that every person should get equal education and healthy life. We want polluted rivers to be pollution free. We want wastelands to be turned green. We want that everyone should get pure air, water, and food. This is our model of development.”

In addition to Barla, there’s a group of Maasai women in Loliondo, Tanzania, who in 2013 braved threats and violence to prevent a “land grab” east of the Serengeti National Park. Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), fosters leadership and personal transformation in Latina immigrant women and promotes change for social and economic justice. After the Nepal earthquake in late spring of 2015, it became quickly evident just how crucial the leadership of women has been in rebuilding Nepal -from caring for the sick and injured, looking after children, growing food, to literally rebuilding the cities. You can read about these organizations and more, and the incredible women behind them, here.