“Beyond the city, past the highway…in the State of Karnataka, there’s a revolution — silent, nurturing and green. A revolution nurtured by…women of the region towards the larger global goal of sustainable agriculture and food security. A revolution that tackles food politics with a smile and indigenous seed varieties.”— Excerpt from She, the Forest Home Gardener
It’s official: our multi-year Seeds of Resilience Project in partnership with the women-run seed-saving collective, Vanastree, has borne fruit! As a result of growing seven community-managed seed banks and building women’s seed entrepreneurship skills, seed biodiversity has increased by 43% in these communities. These seed banks act as a safeguard for preserving and storing critical seed varieties alongside the landscape that acts as a seed sanctuary itself.
About 80% of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming. Women make up on average 43% of this agricultural labor in developing countries, and in South Asia, more than two-thirds of employed women work in agriculture. Providing more training and access for women farmers could boost agricultural output and decrease global hunger by 17%. According to Drawdown, it could also reduce 2.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. That’s why WEA invests in the power of women farmers.
Get a firsthand look at the Seeds of Resilience Project in Southern India and the women farmers who are leading this peaceful seed revolution.
We’ve got water filters! A few years ago, most families in the Tonganagaon community in Assam were among the 76 million people in India without access to a safe water supply. Many suffered from waterborne illnesses often leading to loss of work or schooling and expensive doctor bills. Thanks to Numi Organic Tea’s commitment to safe water, Together for H2OPE Project is ensuring that all 6,500 families have access to safe drinking water. This program is training women community leaders to be WASH ambassadors and educators. In this photo, they are presenting families with water filters and training on proper usage and maintenance.
This partnership represents WEA’s work with mission-driven companies, where we work together to optimize philanthropic investments in environmental and social change.
In Bolivia, women play a large role in the agriculture sector. They work to harvest crops, raise livestock and provide food for their families. The changing climate has impacts on the livelihoods of these women as unpredictable storms and irregular rainfall affect the productivity of their crops and security of their income and food.
For the last 10 years, Bolivia’s government and local NGOs have been focused on empowering women and creating decision-making space for them when it comes to adapting to these issues. NGOs have financed projects to empower women farmers, creating space for them in political contexts and empowering them to make changes in their communities.
Here is an excerpt from Al Jazeera’s photo story on women farmers in Bolivia. You can view the whole story here.
“Because of deep-rooted gender inequality, women are less informed, less valued by men and excluded from the decision-making process in the community, making them even more vulnerable.”
In 2006, WEA partnered with Global Exchange on a Transformative Advocacy Exchange which led a team of women environmental attorneys on a journey through the regions of La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Through this project, these advocates worked with indigenous and women-led organizations to encourage sustainable, indigenous-managed land use and agricultural practices, a necessary focus for agricultural communities as they face these irregular rainfall patterns, higher rates of erosion and inconsistent yields.
It is inspiring to continue to see the incredible skill and knowledge Indigenous women hold as they ensure and preserve their communities food security resources!
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.
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!
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.
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
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!”
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!