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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.

Indigenous women in Peru use seed saving and traditional knowledge to combat climate change

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Throughout the 10 years of WEA’s work, we’ve seen how women are often those preserving traditional knowledge and shepherding intergenerational knowledge transfer within communities. This is true of both ecological and cultural knowledge, and those two things more often than not are intimately linked.

Seed saving is a wonderful example of this link, and we have learned so much about the preservation of seed and cultural/gender identity through our work with Vanastree, a women-led seed saving collective in Southern India, and our partner in our Seeds of Resilience Project.

This is why we’re so excited by this article from UN Women, which highlights the importance of traditional knowledge farming techniques such as seed saving in Indigenous communities in Peru.

Magaly Garayar works on her farm in Laramate, Peru. The indigenous women of Laramate use ancestral farming techniques intended to yield more nutritious and weather-resistant crops than modern methods. Photo courtesy of CHIRAPAQ
Magaly Garayar works on her farm in Laramate, Peru. The indigenous women of Laramate use ancestral farming techniques intended to yield more nutritious and weather-resistant crops than modern methods. Photo courtesy of CHIRAPAQ

The indigenous farmers of the Laramate district in Peru know what climate change looks like. They saw their crops shrivel in drought and rot under untimely rain and frost. The production suffered and their children were malnourished, until the indigenous women of the farming communities of Atocata, Miraflores, Patachana, Yauca and Tucuta turned to their ancestral techniques of choosing and conserving the seeds and cultivating the land.

The result has been astounding. The fields are now lush with potatoes, olluco, corn, vegetables, fruits and grains, such as kiwicha. The yield is higher and more diverse, the crops are more resilient to frost and drought, and the products are more nutritious.

The women select healthy seeds, rotate the crops to recover soil fertility and irrigate the land more efficiently, using the methods of their ancestors. Since they no longer use agrochemicals, their products taste better and last longer.

“Our land is the only legacy we have. We take care of it as our ancestors would…” says 37-year-old Magaly Garayar, resident of the Atocata community[.]

Read the full post here.

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.

Passing the Knowledge of Seeds and Ancient Farming from Mother to Daughter

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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

In the northeastern mountain state of Meghalaya, is the Khasi tribe, a matrilineal people, where the women own the land, and harvest numerous crops from their fields. Indeed, women are quick to note that by farming in the modern, monoculture way is ineffective, instead create jhum fields, following an ancient shifting cultivation method. Karamela Khonglam grows 35 different crops on her land. A diverse crop of foods leads to overall health and in this way, knowledge of different ancient grains and ways are passed down, generation after generation.

Indigenous women are also holders of traditional knowledge that enables them to gather medicinal plants and wild edibles in the surrounding forests, and gives them deep understanding of the ecology

That is not to say the Khasi aren’t facing problems. Today’s rice monoculture is encroaching ever closer to Khasi land, as is the market economy. You can read more about the Khasi people, the food festival hosted by  Meghalaya and see the beautiful photo essay by Rucha Chitnis here.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical: A Message of Hope for the Earth, but Where are the Women?

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By: Katie Douglas, WEA Intern

“Laudato Si” or “Praised Be to You”, Pope Francis’ recently released environmental encyclical, details how the collective actions of people are responsible for the irreversible degradation of our Earth. Subtitled “Care for Our Common Home”, the encyclical speaks boldly to the need for change to the structural injustices that drive environmental devastation. However, as the many years of WEA’s work has shown us, the Pope fails to identify one of the most prevalent social injustices that directly links to climate change: gender inequality. The question we—as women, as allies, as actors in our global community—are left with, then, is: how can humanity care for the planet while half of our population continues to fight for an equal position in ‘our common home’? 

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In general, the encyclical takes an important stance as it calls for people to accept our role in and impact on the degradation of the Earth. This has been the most controversial point of the statement across religious and political spheres, with Pope Francis calling out the unrestricted rights of human “dominion”. He states that being created in God’s image does not give humanity justification for the domination of other beings, and such “dominion theory” has only encouraged the destructive exploitation of the natural world. Our greed, he says, has led to an alteration of the Earth’s natural cycles, resources and productive capabilities. To find solutions, Pope Francis stresses the need to bring impoverished and Indigenous voices to the center of environmental discussions. This is a critical steps since, as we have learned from our partners, these communities already face the damaging impacts of climate change in acute ways, even though they’re often not the drivers of this destruction.

What this landmark statement doesn’t do is highlight the fact that even within these communities, women are typically those most disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation due to their roles as mothers, food providers, and community caretakers. However, despite this overall lack attention paid to gender issues and impacts, the Pope does acknowledge that, “This sister [Mother Earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse…. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” As we read this, we are reminded of the direct link between the body of the Earth and our bodies as women. The violence to Mother Earth that Pope Francis talks about is seen reflected in the violence experienced by women through climate change, pollution and natural resource development. At WEA, this is one of many reasons we are committed to supporting grassroots women around the world who intimately understand the interconnectedness of our place in this world as both women and stewards of the Earth, who draw strength and wisdom from our relationship with Mother Earth, and who are stepping forward and leading our communities toward a future where we co-exist in equality with one another, and in reverence of the Earth.

Gender equality must become recognized as a central point to the environmental movement, especially in a world where women living in poverty are the demographic most affected by the effects of our actions. While we applaud Pope Francis for taking this important first step in directing humanity’s attention to our historically negative impact on the environment, and for boldly calling for change where it is so very necessary, we stand firm in the knowledge that respect for our Earth and respect for women are undeniably linked.  We must understand this simple truth: we cannot have one without the other.

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Further reading:
Mother Earth Cries Out & We Must Listen and Act Boldly–Reflecting on Pope Francis’s Encyclical on the Environment
“Sister Earth Cries Out”: Did Pope Francis Just Proclaim an Eco-Feminist Theology?