By: Rucha Chitnis
Manju Devi is a farmer, a single mother of three and a dedicated field worker with a local grassroots organization called Nav Jagriti in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Manju is on a mission to build the self-reliance of women in her community who are affected by poverty, food insecurity and climate change. Women farmers in her community are particularly affected by floods and prolonged waterlogging issues.
Manju was one of the participants of the Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training program that was designed and coordinated by Women’s Earth Alliance’s partner, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a grassroots organization working with small and landless women farmers through a people-centered approach focusing on their participation and empowerment for sustainable development. GEAG’s efforts also target poverty and hunger reduction by connecting women farmers with sustainable agricultural training, advocacy and networking support.
The goal of this training was to facilitate a regional exchange between women farmers and rural NGO workers from four flood-affected states to share their personal experiences with climate change and its impact on their health, livelihoods and food security. The training equipped women with information about sustainable agricultural practices, such as mixed farming — growing diverse food crops on small farms and making natural pesticides and fertilizers using farm inputs. Participants also learned about local and regional campaigns to advance women’s rights as farmers. Manju was particularly inspired meeting women from a community in Sahranpur, who were successful in winning back their forest rights access from a corrupt contractor who had exploited them for years. The women shared with, much pride, how they finally won their rights through a long sustained joint solidarity struggle.
Manju was clearly inspired and invigorated by the training, and she returned to her community with a plan to make a difference. First, she set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site to show women farmers how they could grow a variety of vegetables right at home even if their farms were flooded. She went on to organize 11 women’s groups, training 144 farmers on seed-saving practices and growing a variety of vegetables and grains using mixed farming techniques. Finally, she educated women on their rights as farmers and shared information on beneficial government programs that women could access to improve their economic and food security.
“My vision is that women in my community stand on their own feet and embrace organic farming practices. I am leading by example to show how this can be achieved,” Manju proudly beamed.
Women farmers, like Manju, clearly demonstrate how they play a crucial role in building the leadership capacities of other vulnerable women in their communities who are acutely affected by climate challenges, such as floods and droughts. As cultural and natural resource stewards of their communities, they are positioned to make a difference by using their traditional ecological knowledge systems of farming, seed saving of robust indigenous crops like millets, which require little to no water for irrigation, and by engaging actively in the political and civic affairs of their communities.
Farmers like Manju recognize that one sure way of increasing the resilience of rural communities in the face of climate change is to end the inequalities and discrimination that rural women face so that they can access critical information, useful agriculture extension training services and increase their participation in disaster management programs.