Latest

Seeds of Resilience: An update from our Seed Savers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , , , , , , , ,

Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving

“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree

The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!

Photo Credit: Vanastree

From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.


Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management

A core aspect of the trainings  has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master.  A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.  

“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).


Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community

One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated  by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:

“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee

“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee

In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.

One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home.  She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”

Photo Credit: Vanastree

We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens.  We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!

For more on WEA’s work with women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.

[In the News] Farmer suicides: A call to climate action for India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , , , , , , ,

In a recent article by Suresh Babu of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Babu points out that “As both a contributor to climate change and a victim of its impacts, agriculture needs to become climate resilient. This direct connection between climate change and agriculture is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in India, where recent research has shown climate change as the key contributing factor to the suicides of more than 60,000 farmers.” 

For WEA, this shocking number and what it reveals about climate change and its deep impacts on smallholder farmers hits close to home. From 2014-2015 alone, farmer suicides across India increased by over 40% — from 5,650 to over 8,000. However, it’s Karnataka State in Southern India, where WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project is based, that has seen the sharpest jump — from 321 in 2014 to more than 1,300 in 2015, the third-highest among all states.

So, what is the connection between climate change and farmer suicides?

Photo: Vanastree

As many other countries, India has borne the brunt of climate impacts, seeing increased flooding, variability in rainfall, extreme heat, and vulnerability to more severe storms. Especially for small-scale farmers, the risks become clearer, and more dangerous, with each passing year.

Failing to address India’s climate change can spell trouble for many smallholders who continue to depend on rainfed agriculture. To save farmers lives and livelihoods, making Indian agriculture climate-resilient must be a priority next step…

Empowering farmers to become financially independent will prove another key step toward [climate] resilience. Currently, farmers are trapped in a cycle of seeking out loans from high-interest money lenders. By making institutional credit available at affordable rates, farmers can avoid debt traps.

Further complicating the financial prospects of agriculturalists, government compensation policies seem to work against the farmers’ best interests. In a morbid sense, the compensation in the case of death of a farmer is seen as a route for farmers’ families to get out of debt. The money distributed to the farmer’s family is often used to pay off the predatory loans, to keep the farm afloat. This distressing cycle of debt further leaves farmers and their families most vulnerable to future climate-induced shock.

This crisis reinforces the need for community-driven solutions, not just to climate change, but to agricultural development and land ownership as well. WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project aims to support the sustained organizing and capacity building of small-scale women farmers to preserve traditional agricultural knowledge, promote indigenous seed saving practices, support climate adaptation and mitigation through the cultivation of climate-resilient crops, and further the rights of women farmers.

For more on WEA’s work to support small-scale women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.

Malnad Mela Festival in Sirsi celebrates seeds and artists

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , , , , , ,

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.

Vanastree vendors talking with Mela visitors.

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:

  1. Mentor rural women and youth in advanced camera skills
  2. Encourage participants to fearlessly reveal their land, lives and inherent creativity through the camera lens
  3. 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 booth, where Mela visitors ask questions of the photographers about their art.

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!

 

Tanzanian farmers traditional seed exchange practices under threat

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

Topics: , ,

Tanzania-Ebe-Daems-Zaden-v1
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

Topics: ,

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.