Women chart way out of ecological crisis


An initiative called Women’s Action for Ecology, led by a movement based group Kheti Virasat Mission has taken on a massive task to revive traditional seeds, traditional foods and farming.

A new wave of discussion is beginning to challenge the patriarchal, market dominated and mechanised practices that have dominated farming in the state of Punjab. And what is phenomenal is that it is being led by women, both young and old, as an effort to reconnect with their lives that were once away from the monocultures of the mind.

Touted as an epitome of the Green Revolution, pretty pictures of flourishing wheat and mustard fields have dominated the cinema influenced urban psyche for a long time. But this land of five rivers, where there is happiness, health and wealth is meant to be in abundance is facing a deep ecological and environmental health challenge. There are some harsh truths, which include a nearly complete loss of traditional seeds, knowledge around the food systems that existed just about three to five decades back, which co-exist with deepening disease and debt. 

‘No Pesticides No Foreign Drinks’ was the catchphrase among 80 plus villagers – 40 women and 40 natural farmers when they met at the village of Bhotna in May 2009. For them, it seemed to be a symbolic rejection of the two critical things that had eroded their farming and living. Pesticides had corroded the farmlands and predominance for alien food and drink has come to challenge their own traditional life practices.  

Away from market forces

So they first pledged to move away from market dominated, pesticide ridden agricultural practices to biodiverse natural farming. But then there was more that needed to be done to bring the diversity back into the everyday life. So the meetings began to also focus on re-engaging with lost food systems. And what better way than to start reviving the recipes.

Jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet), jaggery and barley were all integral to Punjab, but over the years had declined. Unfortunately, over the years millet grains like bajra and jowar began to be cultivated for fodder for cattle and not for human consumption.

Today, a self motivated initiative called Women’s Action for Ecology, led by a movement based group called Kheti Virasat Mission has taken on a massive task to revive traditional seeds, traditional foods and farming which is non-chemical, non-commercial and uphold a holistic world view in acquaintance with nature. In one of the very first meetings, women prepared a variety of dishes made out of the above ingredients. In the latest meeting, everybody was served with seven kinds of traditional drinks made from fruits like mango and bel fruit, jaggery etc. Now what more do you need to energise the mind, body and soul? It was truly touching when farmers in the 50 plus age group said that they were tasting the traditional drink prepared from barley and jaggery after 30 years.

What has been interesting about this process is not just re-engaging of taste buds but also the transmitting of oral knowledge about these recipes from older women to the younger ones, who had perhaps only heard their mothers or grandmothers refer to them in passing. In fact, in the very third meeting, twenty-five women came forward to grow vegetables in their farms without chemical fertilisers, and using natural farming methods.

This also includes learning how to make and use biopesticides. They are now in search of seeds similar to the local millet varieties that had once thrived in Punjab. This process has begun in all regions of Punjab including Majha, Malwa, Doaba, Puadh and Shivaliks and slowly but surely a lot of lost or forgotten traditional knowledge is being revived.

It sure is a beginning, but a very critical one. An attempt that is seeking to break away from the shackles of the predominant agricultural policies. It is an effort that is engaging with a vision that is core to natural farming practices. In the discussions in Punjab, it’s peeking out now, yet again…demanding answers from the closets of disinterest.  

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