Posts Tagged ‘food security’

Women Farmers Training 2011 (photo: WEA)

Nearly eighty percent of Indian women work in agriculture, and less than seven percent of have land tenure.

Small farmers livelihoods in India are threatened by industrial agriculture, which degrades the environment and negatively impacts the role of women in agriculture. Women have traditionally been seed keepers who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops.

The good news is that many people are working to protect and improve the lives of women farmers. I attended a talk recently given by Rucha Chitnis of the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) on the “Women, Food Security and Climate Change Training” Program, which works to connect rural women farmers and help them overcome the many challenges they face, with climate change and food security at the top of the list. This program focuses on ecological farming, rights education, traditional knowledge, just livelihoods, and adapting to climate change.

WEA does incredible work, and this program promotes the idea that women are not victims but instead are the ones holding down the fort and finding ways to improve lives. Through peer-to-peer/farmer-to-farmer exchanges, women come together around empowerment, self-reliance, and to learn from one another.

One training participant, Manju Devi, is a single mother of three from Bihar who has trained over 144 women in five villages in organic farming and seed saving. She has also set up her own organic kitchen garden site, which she uses for demonstrations.

Another Indian woman farmer’s success story was that of Ram Ratti. A decade ago she was fortunate enough to receive training from the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (and now WEA’s partner in the Women, Food Security and Climate Change program) in sustainable farming practices. Today she grows over 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables and has trained 200 women in organic agriculture and seed saving. Ninety of these women are now smallholder organic farmers with a diverse group of crops cultivated from local seed varieties.

Both of these women understand that sharing women’s knowledge is an integral part of food security, especially in the face of climate change. And they are making use of women’s intimate knowledge of farming, natural pesticides, and medicine. In Rucha’s words, these “women are reclaiming “green” from the green revolution.”

Ultimately, it is women who are the primary caretakers of natural resources. By empowering them with property rights, economic opportunities, and decision-making authority our environment and communities will be better off. I know some of the women farmers I met in Maharashtra a couple of years ago talked about these same things.

The theme of the presentation and of the women’s training revolved around unity, sharing and empowerment. These are concepts that we should all use to guide our lives in light of the challenges facing the planet.

Countries all over the world can raise women’s status by educating girls and by improving women’s access to credit, land, jobs, and training. This is exactly what WEA’s India program is doing, but taking it a step further by bringing women together to learn from each other. And they are having great success.

Watch here WEA’s short video on the training, and get ready to be inspired!


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Dr. Vanaja Ramprasad, founder of the GREEN Foundation

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.

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Lately there has been some discussion of the increasing costs of staple food items, such as wheat, being a factor in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month. In a world of extreme weather it is something we need to to prepare for, as climate change has serious ramifications on food security.  And whether you “believe” in climate change or not, the fact is that changing weather patterns are deeply affecting agriculture.

In India many crops are under threat – coffee, tea, mangoes, wheat, rice, apples, cashew nuts.  Organizations are looking at ways of adapting traditional crops to changing weather patterns and lack of resources such as water.  In Tamil Nadu, in southern India,  Oxfam India is working with local groups and the rural poor to revive ancient systems of storing water.   Local communities and the government are repairing and reusing a water storage system that channels water through feeder canals and into man-made water troughs.  This is a system that has been used for hundreds of years, if not millennia, to conserve water during times of drought.

It is important to keep in mind that women are on the frontline of climate and food security.  Women are more dependent of agriculture than men. Depending on the region, women farmers account for 45% to 80% of all food production in developing countries.  In India, women comprise 72% of those employed in the agriculture sector.  Yet less than 10% of women own land and women are often excluded from decision-making processes. Increases in food prices make food more inaccessible to poor people, especially women and girls.  Moreover, it has been documented that female health declines more than male health during times of food shortages.

One way of dealing with the impact of climate change on food production is to empower women, who are traditional savers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity.   Initiatives should support tapping into women’s hands-on knowledge of ecosystems and best practices and supporting them as positive stewards of the land.  According to Berkeley-based Women’s Earth Alliance, when women are no longer marginalized from accessing land, training, markets, and policy recognition, and have the support critical to their sustainability and success, they will be able to improve their food and economic security and improve the health of their farm and natural resources.  Empowering women, especially women farmers, is a win-win for communities the world over.

(In a follow-up to my last post on climate refugees, the Asian Development Bank has a forthcoming report on the increase in migration due to climate change.  “National governments and the international community must urgently address this issue in a proactive manner.”)

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