Tuesday, August 31, 2010

WEA Advocates Strategize for Solar Energy on Navajo Mine Land

This week, WEA is hosting a two-day strategy meeting in collaboration with our Sacred Earth Advocacy Initiative project partners from the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, and advocates from Dominican University’s Green MBA and the Environmental Finance Center. Our aim is to support the Navajo team in developing the business plan for a visionary initiative: a solar energy project on reclaimed mine land at Black Mesa.

This team, composed of members of Black Mesa Water Coalition and their allies, have worked for years to protect the Navajo Nation's water and mineral resources from exploitation by Peabody Coal Company. Peabody’s operation on the sacred Black Mesa mountain, viewed as a feminine mountain in the Navajo tradition, mined tons of coal each year for 40 years and drained billions of gallons of clean, drinkable groundwater from the Navajo Aquifer beneath the mine in order to "slurry" (move) coal to affiliated power plants. Peabody's operation contaminated the land, brought illness to the surrounding communities, and prolonged the region’s dependence on coal.

In the face of decades of environmental and cultural desecration, the women leading the Black Mesa Water Coalition in Flagstaff, AZ and their colleagues take a multi-faceted approach to protecting the land. While building coalitions and engaging decision-makers at every level in order to oppose the mine, these leaders also envision and implement solutions to the long-term problems of poverty and lack of economic development resources on the Navajo Nation. They are building a new consensus among Navajo leadership that green energy makes good economic sense, evidenced by the summer 2009 historic establishment of a Green Economic Fund and Commission by the Navajo Nation Council.

Now this team is working to bring an unprecedented 20-200 MW solar project to the reclaimed mine land – bringing clean energy and economic benefits to the communities surrounding the mine, restoring the reclaimed mine land and ensuring its productivity in a non-harmful way, and modeling grassroots-driven renewable energy development for communities across the United States. WEA’s Sacred Earth Advocacy Initiative works to link the Black Mesa team with experts in business and organizational development, federal law, and policy advocacy, to support this groundbreaking work in coming to fruition.

In addition to saying “no” to harmful development projects that negatively impact their lands and communities, indigenous environmental justice leaders are saying “yes” to alternative systems of energy production and economic development. Women lead the way in the grassroots-based emergence of local and regional solutions to the problems that are typically the sole province of state and federal officials, such as green energy and economic development. WEA is honored to support this work through our strategic partnerships within our Sacred Earth Advocacy Initiative, so that the vision of a just transition from coal to renewables can be fully realized.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Raising Our Voices: Women farmers share their accounts

A heart to heart conversation with women farmers in the desert state of Rajasthan, who share their first-hand experiences with climate change and water issues and the solutions that women need to creatively solve their problems using local knowledge and appropriate technologies. This meeting was facilitated by CECOEDICON, a grassroots organization that works to advance the rights, livelihoods and dignity of rural communities.

Interviewed by: Rucha Chitnis

Women Farmers, Drought & Resilience

Blog entry by Arshinder Kaur, WEA India Coordinator, and a founding mother.

Farmers's club members

A few days ago, I had the rare honor of witnessing the work of an innovative community-based organization called CECOEDECON that works on holistic rural development initiatives in the desert state of Rajasthan in India. I was on a site visit with Rucha, WEA's India Program Director, to learn how this group is advancing the rights of marginalized women farmers, many of whom are on the frontlines battling climate change issues. CECOEDECON's inspiring women leaders, Manju Joshi and Alka Avasthi, co-Deputy Directors who provide strategic programmatic and organizational direction, shared with us how their group works on issues related to natural resource management, livelihoods and gender. Kavita Mishra, a dynamic project coordinator, highlighted issues related to Panchayati Raj, a system of self-governance in India at the village, block and district levels. She manages stakeholder partnerships, youth and gender issues and participatory mechanisms for enhancing the value of girl child and eliminating sexual exploitation.

Rucha and I visited block Chaksu in Jaipur district the same afternoon and met some of the most inspiring women farmers who are served by CECOEDECON. These farmers were representatives of a strong women's Self Help Groups (SHG) created to provide micro loans among the group and generate small savings that are held in a common bank account. The SHG also receives a collateral security from CECOEDECON to receive larger loans from financial institutions, such as SIDBI and NABARD. This SHG has emerged from mahila mandals (women’s groups) that over the years resulted in the formation of women's cooperatives. The women have received extensive training in financial management, including book keeping, and other procedures on running cooperatives effectively. The women now have a complete sense of ownership, leadership and control in managing their affairs. These qualities were evident in the women who had gathered at the CECOEDECON’s offices to meet us.

The women, most of whom are farmers, showed immense interest in learning about water management techniques (paani ka mudda) and saving indigenous varieties of seeds (beej bhaat/ desi beej). Women in this arid region are severely affected by droughts and dwindling rains. In some areas, we learned that it had rained after four years of drought. The women articulated a need for capacity building support for implementing relevant innovative coping strategies in the face of climate change. They also expressed interest in learning about appropriate technologies, like building soak pits, maintaining their village hand pumps, rain water harvesting systems and other sustainable water management systems to counter the debilitating impact of fluoride pollution in their wells. They expressed concern about health, education and sanitation issues that affected their children and observed that when their young ones fell ill, the women, as mothers and care givers, suffered as well. The women clearly had made the connections between the health and well-being of their families and livelihoods to their natural environment and that climate change coping mechanisms needed to be implemented soon at the community level.

Many women farmers were passionate advocates of sustainable agriculture and natural resource management practices that would sustain their livelihoods in this drought-prone arid landscape. Some elders had strong reservations on corporations and foreign companies who were selling expensive hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers that left the marginal and small farmers in a debt trap given the high costs involved in purchasing such packages. Issues related to land rights were also a priority for women, although many said that they had fought for joint ownership of land, which was heartwarming to hear.

We also had a chance to visit Niwai block in the district of Tonk with Manju Joshi, who shared a wonderful rapport with the community. We met a mixed group of men and women, members of the Kisan Sewa Samiti (Farmer's Club). Manju Ji noted that no success can be made in gender development efforts if men were excluded from the overall objectives and were not sensitized about women's unique issues and perspectives, as well as their tremendous potential to advance the health and well being of their families and communities. There are 103 villages in the blocks, where CECOEDECON is working and issues affecting women, children and youth, as well as livelihoods, such as agriculture and dairy, and education are raised. There is a children’s committee, known as bal panchayat, that addresses problems affecting the younger demographic. Critical issues affecting the villages and blocks are escalated at a state level people’s self-governing committee called the Maha Sangh.

At our meeting with the farmer's club, men and women both expressed concern on the changing weather and monsoon cycles, which was affecting their farm harvest. They shared their struggles with recurring droughts that had adversely affected their crops and livelihoods and had led to widespread migration from surrounding villages. A glimmer of hope came through a personal story of a woman farmer who said that even during difficult times she sowed indigenous seeds and used organic compost, which made her more self sufficient as she did not rely on the market to buy additional inputs. Other farmers noted that poor health prevalent among the younger generation was because of the change in their dietary habits, where people moved away from nutritious healthy grains like millets. The members shared that a major issue affecting many villages is the presence of fluoride in their water sources. Nearly 15 villages are affected with alarming levels of fluoride, and with diminishing rainfall, water is being extracted from deeper stone plates that has higher levels of fluoride.

An inspiring elder woman farmer called Kamla Devi shared that she farmed organically using goat manure, and grew a small vegetable garden using vermicompost in a small terraced landscape. She told us that once she tried growing a hybrid variety of pearl millet purchased from the market, but was shocked when the seeds did not germinate. This reinstated her faith in farming with indigenous seeds. She is now a strong proponent of seed sovereignty and in the self-reliance of farmers in using natural inputs from their own farms and through farmer-to-farmer seed exchanges. Kamla leads by example for other women and men farmers who wish to make strides in self-sufficiency and sustainable agriculture practices. Today, she is a respected elder in her community and beyond and has traveled to Italy, Nepal and Bangladesh advocating for ecologically sound agricultural practices. She’s a true visionary, and her fellow members of the Kisan Sewa Samiti were beaming with pride on her accomplishments.
Meeting with women farmers

Monday, August 2, 2010

Yes! Women are Farmers!

A blog post by WEA's India Director, Rucha Chitnis

Mahila hi kisaan hai! Wohi bharat ki shaan hai,” chant a group of rural women assembled at a meeting in the village of Janakpur, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This slogan is a rallying cry by rural women, who are proclaiming, “Yes, women are farmers! They are the pride of India!”

I am here visiting Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a respected grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of small and landless women farmers. GEAG is guided by sound gender and ecological principles, where sustainable agriculture and natural resource management practices are key program priorities.

Why Women? Why Agriculture?

For generations, women farmers across India have struggled for their rights and identity. The deeply entrenched patriarchal norms deny women their basic rights as farmers, which include land rights, access to agricultural extension services, control over productive resources and assets, and decision-making over family income and expenditures. This is ironic given that women produce over 50% of the food in India and over 85% of rural women are engaged in agriculture. This pervasive and systemic gender discrimination often starts within the confines of their homes to the farms and finally in the laws and policies of the government, where farmers are regarded mostly as male. Such inequalities have also rendered the agricultural labor of rural women largely invisible and unaccounted for.


And yet, as we drive across the national highways of India from the desert state of Rajasthan to the flood-affected parts of Uttar Pradesh, we see rows of women bent over fields sowing, weeding, harvesting and caring for the livestock. We see girls carrying a heavy load of fodder and fuel wood, and we see women selling their produce in local markets. Women farmers make valuable contributions towards their household food and economic security, as well as conserving the biological diversity of crops by saving indigenous seeds, growing food and managing the water and energy needs of their homes.

During our meetings with women farmers, they shared grave concerns about water resources for irrigation and personal consumption. Given that most small farmers (majority of whom are women) depend on rain-fed irrigation, the changing patterns of monsoons have a devastating impact on their livelihoods. Women also expressed a need for capacity-building and training support to learn about improving their food security, appropriate technologies and reviving traditional farming practices that are eroded in the face of industrial agriculture.

india4Align Center

During a meeting with landless farmers in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, women shared how they are farming ecologically by making natural pesticides and fertilizers from their farm inputs. These women were also saving their indigenous seeds, which they recognized as an important step towards self-reliance by reducing their dependency on external, expensive seeds from the market.  I also met an inspiring group of women, who were master trainers; they traveled to different villages training women on ecological farming practices and exchanged their indigenous seeds with others. They are, also deeply committed to claiming their identity and entitlements as farmers. As one woman said: "I feel awakened. I know now that I have rights as a woman and as a farmer. We are all a part of this struggle to fight for our livelihoods and dignity."

WEA's India Program partners with Indian grassroots groups who are holistically building the capacities of women farmers and grassroots women leaders to improve their food and economic security, preserve the environment and traditional knowledge, and build political will. 


Global Sol Festival

We're so excited about Global Sol this weekend, featuring Arrested Development, Hamsa Lila, Michael Kang and others, all benefitting WEA. Check out the posting in the East Bay Express about the event for more information. We look forward to celebrating with you!

House of Hamsa Presents:

GLOBAL SOL: an eco-conscious urban festival featuring live music from all over the world with, among others, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HAMSA LILA & ERNEST RANGLIN. Experience 2 nights of stellar music, visionary art, dancing, vendors and organic food, all to benefit the Women's Earth Alliance. Come celebrate music and art at the new heart of the Bay Area music scene.

This event is 18+, Tickets start at $35, VIP at $75. Visit www.GlobalSolFest.com for tickets and information.