Celebrating women farmers at the forefront of the Indian organic movement, Twenty Women Farmers allows the reader a glimpse into their daily lives. These women are not celebrities or public figures, they are hard working farmers who tend their land each day and make sense of their environments and livelihoods using experience, knowledge and wisdom.
These twenty women are linked by their commitment to protecting soil and seed. Each woman was taught how to farm for the subsistence of the family by her mother, mother-in-law and ancestors, in a mountain area where the majority of agricultural work is carried out by women.
All of the women live or have lived in Mandakini valley or in Pratap Nagar, areas of the Garhwal Himalayas. Garhwal is a mountainous region located in the East Indian Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. The women we met and interviewed are only a small percentage of the 4 million plus women who live in this state, but their insights speak beyond the borders of villages, state or country.
In Mandakini and Pratap Nagar, water, forest, soil, and husbandry systems are intrinsically linked through human labour. Leaves from the forest are used for animal fodder and wild plants are collected for medicine. The forest is a vital source of firewood for cooking and maintains the natural water systems. Cows and buffaloes provide not only milk, but the manure which is converted into essential compost for the farmland. Soil is farmed for cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, spices and fruit, providing food for the family. The by-products of farming, the straw and green manure provide food for animals. Land and animals are cared for with the acknowledgement that human survival depends on nature’s capacity to continually renew itself. Careful mixed-cropping techniques, planting schedules, occasional irrigation and composting are used to enrich the soil. Seeds are saved and worship is an integral part of daily farming practice.
The region has a varied climate according to altitude and the crops are outstandingly diverse from cereals and pulses, to vegetables, fruits and spices. Each area, village or home often grows different varieties of the same crop. The genetic evolution has been cultivated and protected through generations by the effort and skills of many, as seeds are selected, saved and shared within the community. Seed-saving and seed-exchange is governed by the women farmers as an ancestral heritage.
This is not to say that the women featured in these profiles live with out the challenges of the modern world. Some of the women live in the shadow of enormous Hydro Electric Dam building projects, which are having very real impacts on their lives. Others talk about the challenges of farming in a ‘changing’ or ‘extreme’ climate and the loss of crops after this years damaging monsoon. Many of the women are separated from husbands and children for long periods of time as more and more people go out into the world to seek paid work, modern careers and higher education.
It was an honor and a privilege to meet with these strong, hardworking and knowledgeable women. It is our hope that each profile allows the reader a glimpse of each woman’s heart and mind. In addition, it is hoped these women’s wisdom will prompt readers to ask questions integral for living together in harmony with earth and each other: Why is diversity important? What is work? What is enough?
(Excerpts from “20 Women Farmers” a Navdanya Project completed by Lakshmi Eassey, Eva Munk-Madsen, and Hannah Claxton, Bija Vidyapeeth, Autumn 2010)