Local Knowledge and Womens Leadership are Key to Food Justice: Activists — Global Issues

  • February 17, 2024

Manjula Dungdung, a member of the Kharia tribe in India, said providing land ownership for women is a way to achieve food justice, at the World Social Forum in Kathmandu on 16 Feb. 2024. Credit: Tanka Dhakal / IPS
  • by Tanka Dhakal (kathmandu)
  • Inter Press Service

The Kharia tribe is a major Indigenous group in Odisha and a number of other states in India. For years they have been demanding land rights with the slogan, “our land is our Identity, our life.”

Dungdung says she traveled from India to Kathmandu for this week’s World Social Forum (WSF) because “we want a world where we get land rights and the right to grow food without any fear of losing it. People like us are the reason the world is able to eat every day.”

Dungdung’s words were echoed by Roma Malik, who is advocating for land and forest rights for Indigenous and Dalit communities in India. Ensuring women’s land rights mean guaranteeing food rights for the whole family, she said during a session called Land, Water, Agriculture, Food Sovereignty, and Natural Resources. “Land rights for women and food security are directly connected. It can’t happen if the land is not under women’s control.”

“She (woman) eats last,” added Malik. “If there is no food, she makes do with an empty stomach. If she is producing her own food, she will ensure that everybody in the family eats.”

Production up, nutrition down

Food security means not only having enough food but also having access to nutritious food. However, ignoring historical knowledge about agriculture and food to focus on the amount produced using commercial technology has resulted in grains that lack sufficient nutrition.

According to recent research published by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the 40-plus years of the ‘green revolution’, which succeeded in increasing food grain production, also saw a decline in nutrition, along with a rise in harmful substances.

“What we eat is leading us to the hospital,” Indian environmentalist Ashish Kothari told the session, Food Justice: Quest for Addressing Planetary Health and the Global Food Crisis.

Kothari is a founding members of Kalpavriksh, a non-profit organization in India dealing with environmental and development issues and their intersections. He emphasized that the multiple crises facing the world, including the climate crisis and ecological collapse, along with food insecurity, are all interconnected.

“Those facing the climate crisis are also experiencing food insecurity, and those in increasingly fascist countries are also grappling with malnutrition,” he added. “We are not only witnessing the symptoms of the crisis but also its roots, and for a large part it is capitalism that has eroded societal values crucial for maintaining a sustainable food system.”

In the same session, Frances Davies shared Africa’s struggles with the privatization of seeds and other aspects of agriculture, which threatens food sovereignty. “We are trying to reclaim and revive indigenous knowledge systems about seeds, land and agriculture,” said Davies, who works on food sovereignty in Africa through the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity.

“If we want to achieve food sovereignty, we need to bring back diversity through people’s knowledge.”

Women are showing the way

The Women’s Collective in Tamil Nadu state in southern India has been successful in creating a movement around reclaiming traditional seeds and food systems, in part by organizing rural women to promote collective farming through natural methods. “We started in 1994 with a focus on violence against women in rural areas,” said Sheelu, president of the collective.

“Soon, we realized that the majority of our members were agricultural labourers, and the cause of the violence was connected with food in one way or another.”

The group then shifted its focus to farmers, especially women growers. “We have been able to reach more than 35,000 women farmers, out of whom only 10 percent have land ownership,” Sheelu said. “Over the years, we have educated them about natural farming and crop diversification, enabling us to revive traditional seeds, traditional agricultural systems and sustainable food practices.”

Using the Women’s Collective as an example, environmentalist Kothari outlines potential solutions for food security by connecting culture, seeds, political systems and economics. “Education systems also play important roles to connect these aspects of food systems through introducing historical knowledge to the new generation,” he added.

© Inter Press Service (2024) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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