Agroecology is the basis for the future. It is a durable, resilient and a sustainable response. It illustrates how it can provide answer to multiple challenges – old and new, to improve production systems, foster ecosystems, foster dignified farm based livelihoods. It creates the necessary resilience to deal with climate challenges, sustainable food systems and local economies. For instance, while the country was in turmoil because of the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience has been on display by farming communities.
While the world was in complete chaos, farmers in Rajasthan were dealing with locusts and lockdowns. They were using their traditional knowledge systems, using their own seeds, using traditional fertilisers like Neemastra, Keetnashak etc., and were also using the local village level mandis to sell their produce. They also absorbed migrant workers to the farms in villages which were considered ghost villages with many moving to towns in search of livelihoods. Some of them got immediate farm work, while some of them had to wait for the off-farm activities to reopen. “Mother nature has work for everyone”. (Rituja Mitra, p.6).
More than anything, it is necessary to understand how farmers deal with nature. To enable this, we should be sensitive to the way farmers have been dealing with nurturing biodiversity, facing and dealing with challenge of competing requirements of different living species on the ecosystem. One has to see this reality through a different ‘eye’ how our body, our land, and our bodily connections preserve and nurture Earth and Life. A cross disciplinary art project involving poets and artists along with farmers illustrated this interconnectedness of life how farmers involved in huge seed conservation and exchange nurture and uphold mother earth (C F John, p.9). It was a collective space fostering an act of regeneration with sharing sessions guided by people who have dedicated their life as a sacred duty to preserve and nurture land and communities. These intrinsic and sacred relationships were explained through symbolism and space for open reflections – specially erected walls mud and seed walls, pyramids symbolising eye of the seed, creating borderless landscapes of forest lands and farm lands depicting the relation between humans, farm land, wildlife. The attempt was to take the visitor to different layers of the story of farmers who work silently day and night like earthworms, nurturing, preserving and resisting, not waiting for anyone. Through this project it was illustrated that Art gains a new meaning by not making divisions between Art and Life.
Globally, there is an increasing recognition of sustainable local food systems. For instance, there was an upsurge of backyard gardening and ‘buying local’, practices that are important for local food sovereignty. Local food initiatives are being considered crucial for building more just and sustainable food systems as they support locally based economies and governance, bring consumers in contact with producers and with their natural environment, highlight the source of food, circumvent agro-industrial food production and avoid supermarket monopolies. It is true that not everyone has land, the know-how or time to garden. There is a need for intentional work in network building and allyship based on collective learning and transnational action, shift our efforts from individual to collective, exclusive to inclusive. This work is critical to building a more caring, sustainable and just food systems. (Colin Anderson, Jessica Milgroom and Michel Pimbert, p.16).
Importantly, for reviving local production and food systems, transgenerational knowledge sharing, between old and young is crucial. Most importantly, it has to be recognised that agroecology has a female face. Agroecology is being nurtured by women taking lead worldwide with their focus on sustainable food systems. Illustrating the power of women communities to harbinger changes, as a community educator, Leonida Odongo, with an impressive nowledge of the reality of farmers in Africa, emphatically says that “It is becoming clear that the future is agroecological” (p.17). Research in Kenya has found alarming levels of pesticides in fresh foods, which are partly responsible for increases in cancer and other diseases due to the carcinogenic components they contain. During the pandemic which affected access to markets and increased domestic violence, these women farmers were convinced about the benefits of moving ecological way by the use of theatre and music. Through community sessions, farmers take the role of bees, farmers, butterflies or chemical companies and each actor shares how pesticides impact them. At the end a judge, who is Mother Earth, makes a verdict. The ‘We are the solution’ campaign, led by women in West Africa, is an example of a strong women-led network that promotes female voices in policy processes for family farming. Like elsewhere, in Southern Africa, women connect with each other faster than men; they tend to share easier. They have more spaces for interaction, not only while farming but also in the market and other places. Of course, the interaction with men is also important.
We know that organised women are bold, resilient and transformative. This requires networking, forging collective movements, sensitive processes recognising the women play in rural life. Recognising and operationalizing these aspects women farmer networks in India, Chukki Nanjundaswamy, coordinator of Amrita Bhoomi, says, “We knew we needed a space to save our native varieties of seeds and transmit the traditional knowledge of farming which is agroecological, which does not harm nature,”. The experiences reveal that without this grassroots women farmers’ movement, it would have been impossible to scale these practices up to lakhs of famers with gender sensitive resilient working systems to manage farm as well as home. Thus, agroecological approaches pursued improved finances, nurtured food sovereignty, self-reliance, and dignity as well as right to take decisions. (Soumya Sankar Bose and Amrita Gupta, p.33)
There is a need to create internal responses and local solutions by the communities themselves, facilitated by well intentioned development agencies. They are the keys for sustenance of alternative approaches – be it alternative production systems, creating and accessing markets or accessing and adopting knowledge. ‘Farm on wheels’ is a timely initiative by farmer groups to sell their produce directly to consumers and at the same time, create sustainable livelihood opportunities for themselves. Collaboration with others is also necessary as small holder trade surpluses are limited and further bridging gaps through online platforms. (Janak Preet Singh, p.22). Mobile telephony has brought in new flexibility for adopting technology as a means to build bridges. For instance, NaPanta is a free to download ‘Agricultural crop management’ mobile application being used by more than a lakh of farmers. Recognising the gap the small and marginal farmers face in terms of knowledge access, this startup helps farmers access all kinds of agriculture-related information they need in real-time. (Na Panta, p.27)
New challenges throw up new solutions – be it reviving relationships with ecosystems, sustainable and resilient
food production systems, inducing new consumer preferences, easily accessible markets and wider knowledge sharing.