Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) is an inspiring organization that is hosting a training this week in India on solutions pertaining to women, food security, and climate change. WEA’s mission is to create innovative solutions to issues of water, food, and land through collaborative initiatives that train, connect, and empower emerging women leaders worldwide. Currently I am doing some research support for the India program and want to excerpt a cross-post with WEA’s India Program Director, Rucha Chitnis, on what’s happening with women, farming, and biodiversity in India:
Let’s start from the very beginning. And some might say that it all began with the seeds.
Seed, a symbol of fertility and perpetuity, of culture and sustenance in India, is also becoming a symbol of self-reliance and a key to preserving the biodiversity of indigenous crops on small farms across the country.
In Southern India, GREEN Foundation, a community-based organization that works with small and marginalized farmers, including tribals and Dalits, in semi-arid regions of Karnataka, has immersed itself in this challenge of promoting the conservation of indigenous seeds among farmers since 1996.
During my visit to the Foundation, I learn that women farmers are in the center of their seed conservation efforts due to their roles as the primary seedkeepers in India. The Foundation began its work with five women farmers and a handful of indigenous seeds. “When we began talking to the farmers, we realized that traditional varieties of seeds had almost disappeared. Without seeds what we were attempting to do would be a non-starter,” notes Dr. Ramprasad, founder and a seed conservationist.
The Foundation believes that women farmers also hold the key to preserving the biodiversity of the crops and their knowledge systems of seed saving, mixed farming and natural farming are vast, which need to be documented and promoted. Dr. Vanaja shares an example of an elderly woman farmer, who identified nearly 80 varieties of greens in her field, as well as their uses for medicinal and nutrition needs. “Her knowledge was phenomenal,” she says. “When it comes to food security, women play a key role in identifying food that is available. In lean seasons, they trek to the nearby forests, and they are able to identify roots and tubers for their food requirements and medicinal plants.”
This intimate knowledge of women, believes Dr. Ramprasad is often undermined by the scientific community and biotechnology companies who promote agro-technologies, which might not be appropriate for rural communities, and especially for the economically disadvantaged farmers. Dr. Ramprasad shares that some of the greens on the farms, which poor farmers in India subsist on during lean periods, might be considered as weeds by some agro-companies, which are eliminated by herbicides.
The rest of Rucha’s blog post may be read in full here.