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.