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Posts Tagged ‘Organic farming’

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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The first time I went to India, back in 2000, I was on a steep learning curve to learn about seed saving, industrial agriculture, and genetically-engineered foods.  I was working at the International Forum on Globalization and organizing a trip for a handful of North American, European, and South American farmers, activists, and scientists to meet their counterparts in India.

What I remember best about the trip was visiting the organization Navdanya, located in the Himalayan foothills near the town of Dehra Dun.  Navdanya works with farmers to save seeds that have been used by Indian farmers for generations.  Seed saving is threatened by large corporations such as Monsanto and Cargill, and by global trade rules which they lobby intensively for (such as trade related intellectual property rights, or patents).  Once a seed is patented, then farmers, many of whom have been saving seeds all their lives, can no longer do so because they are violating patent rights.  Each year they must buy seeds to plant.

About a decade ago, neem, a tree endemic to South Asia, was part of a big patent battle in India.   It has many traditional uses, including medicinal, fuel, toothpaste, and even as a type of contraception. Neem has been used for thousands of years but in the 1990s a multinational company put a patent on neem.  An international coalition led a fight against W. R. Grace and the European Patent Office to overturn the patent, and eventually it was revoked. How can a company be allowed to engineer a native species and then force people to buy it when they have been harvesting and saving it for years?  Well, that’s a long story and another post.  Simply put, it’s the belief that man can do better than nature.

Along with seed saving Navdanya promotes biodiversity, organic farming, and farmers’ rights.  They also help build community seed banks and train farmers and others in food sovereignty and creates awareness of indigenous knowledge and practices.

Now that I cook Indian dishes, I can appreciate all the seeds and spices I saw at Navdanya’s farm.  Cardamon, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek and many other things I couldn’t recognize and never knew existed. It was simply amazing, as was the food they cooked up for us – all fresh and homemade.  None of this processed stuff we call food.

I would love to go back and visit with the Navdanya staff and farmers, now that I understand so much more about local agriculture, Indian food, and holistic living.  But I can certainly appreciate what I have here, especially in bountiful California. Support local, organic agriculture and you’ll live and eat well.  Someday we’ll overcome corporate rules that really don’t benefit anyone and threaten our environment and communities.   In India, farmers are fighting to protect their livelihoods, as are farmers here in the U.S.  It’s a cliché, but buying local and acting global makes a big difference in so many ways.  It tastes and feels good too.

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