HELPING the poorest helps us all, writes May East
Rice has been cultivated in the east Indian state of Odisha since ancient times, its fertile land and running rivers supporting paddy cultivation as the mainstay of its people. Odisha is similar to the Latin word for rice (Oryza), and some believe the name derives from the crop Oryza Sativa, also known as Asian rice.
Koraput is a district of Odisha known for its abundance of paddy fields as well as many varieties of millets, yam, and tuber crops which are gradually vanishing due to the introduction of cash crops and GM seeds, and the increasing impact of climate change.
In Odisha, 70 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture. Although endowed with rich natural resources, 66.2 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning just 28,400 rupees per capita a year, the fourth lowest income of the 17 major Indian states.
In partnership with the NGO THREAD and the women’s federation Orissa Nari Samaj, and funded by the Scottish Government, we have been supporting tribal communities from the Koraput District to strengthen their agro-ecological production, while attempting to address the deeper structural changes needed to tackle the root causes of poverty and climate change.
The project aims to break the cycle of food insecurity, strengthen social linkages and improve the status of women. Through permaculture and sustainable farming practices, the project is improving the health of the soils, diversifying the crops, enhancing the villagers’ livelihoods and well-being. This is exemplified by Sabitri Sawnta from Dangapaiguda village, who sustains 33 types of vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and flowers in her kitchen garden.
Tragically it is those who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions who are suffering the worst effects of climate change. We are constantly developing new climate resilient agriculture approaches which are very close to the traditional ways of food growing.
The heart of the project is the campaign “Grow your own Food” to counteract biotechnology, which has been particularly damaging for farmers in India.
The Grow your Own Food campaign has two key components: a community learning element incorporating ecovillage and permaculture approaches, combined with seed preservation and distribution of seedlings of various fruits and vegetables.
As we know, nature can be harsh and the monsoon dictates the course of farming in India. This year, a late and insufficient monsoon has created difficulties for the kitchen gardens of the villagers. Instead of the usual two and half months of rain, the region received only 15 days. The women still managed to plant their saplings but the harvest was small. New water-use efficiency techniques for vegetable cultivation have been introduced through our training programmes and next year, biochar techniques will also be taught to keep up the moisture for the soil when there is no rain.
Gaia Education is one voice amongst thousands calling and acting for climate justice.
As world leaders consider their next steps, we join in solidarity with the women of Odisha who, in the face of looming crisis, are tackling climate change in their own understated manner.
• May East is chief executive of Cifal Scotland