The 101st International Women’s Day is March 8th. Despite often hearing about existing obstacles to women’s well-being, there is much to celebrate this year.
Climate change, of course, is an enormous threat to just about every topic one could name. In India, though, people are taking a holistic approach to the problem, including tapping into traditional knowledge, especially that of women.
I’ve written before on the work of the Women’s Earth Alliance(WEA) and its initiative to improve livelihoods and food security of small and vulnerable women farmers. WEA works with a local Indian environmental organization, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, helping women farmers start or strengthen organic farming practices and diversify their food production. And just as importantly, they connect women farmers, who share best practices with one another and start campaigns to create change in their communities.
According to WEA, the women they are working with are experiencing much success:
- Soma and Thumpa in West Bengal have guided women farmers to set up 20 nutrition gardens, as well as install improved cooking stoves that reduce carbon emissions;
- Manju Devi in Bihar has continued her training on organic farming practices and is encouraging others to plant multi-purpose indigenous trees. “My goal is to see women stand on their own feet and improve their self-reliance,” says Manju who set up her own organic kitchen garden as a demonstration site;
- Kusum Lata in Uttar Pradesh has worked to ensure that rural women have job cards registered under their names. This enables them to get fair wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that provides 100 days of employment to rural households willing to do public work-related work, including water conservation and reforestation.
Compare this to a recent report by the development NGO Action Aid and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, that found that more than 80 percent of smaller farmers – who contribute to half of India’s crop production – will be affected by climate change. One farmer quoted in the report said that “The pattern of rainfall has changed. It is so scattered that at times it rains but fields remain dry.”
And just last week Indian researchers reported that India’s monsoonal rains are becoming less frequent and more intense.
I heard similar stories from women farmers with whom I met in India a few years back. All over the world we are seeing how changing precipitation patterns are affecting water and food security. That’s why it’s more important than ever to empower women.
I also saw this news article by Aditi Kapoor, writing on how “Innovative measures by women farmers across India are helping several poor families adapt better to climate change and keep hunger at bay.” Kapoor interviewed a woman farmer from Uttar Pradesh, who said “Earlier, we could not produce enough food for a year because our village would get water-logged by the flood waters. Now, using early maturing paddy varieties and organic manure to revive soil fertility, we can at least eat for all 12 months from the same piece of land.”
What is needed in India and around the world, in terms of agriculture, is support for seed and grain banks, ecological farming training, appropriate technology, education, and economic empowerment for Indian women and farmers. This will enable them to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, build political will, and better their lives.
It sounds to me like we have lots to celebrate this year!