First Regional Agroecology Learning Exchange, India
By Rajiv Khanna, Thousand Currents Director of Philanthropic Partnerships
From April 23 to 25, 2013 participants from seven different organizations in the US, Nepal and India gathered in the searing heat of the Thar Desert in northwestern India for a learning exchange to discuss best practices in agroecology. In the driest state of India and in one of the harshest ecosystems on this planet, where drought and food challenges are a constant reality, we learned about each others’ work, talked about seeds, farmers, grassroots practices, advocacy, the power of collaboration and nourishing the rights of Mother Earth. Although we spoke in 4 different languages – English, Hindi, Nepali, Tamil – and 2 dialects – Marwari and Mewari – we all agreed that agroecology is the best way forward to cool the earth, feed the world, create sustainable and fair societies, increase the income of poor and marginal farmers, contribute to food sovereignty and provide an alternative to genetically modified and pesticide-intensive farming.
In 2012, IDEX formed a first of its kind, cross-sectoral Agroecology Collaborative with Grassroots International (a peer grantmaker), Focus on the Global South (a policy research organization), and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (a local and global policy organization). The Collaborative aims to grow the international agroecology movement and counter the rapidly growing industrial agriculture model favored by international corporations. This was the first IDEX-organized regional Agroecology Learning Exchange with two more slated for late summer/early Fall 2013 in Mexico and South Africa. The participating organizations in this first learning exchange were IDEX partners GRAVIS, Sahyog Sansthan, ASHA Nepal and WACN, the Tamil Nadu’s Women’s Collective, and Focus on the Global South.
The agenda for this learning exchange, which was spread out over three days, was: 1) to understand the practice of agroecology, its successes and challenges in the context of various organizations; 2) participate in an agroecology site visit; and 3) develop an advocacy strategy and plan of action. On the first day, as we became familiar with the work of our colleagues, we concluded that even though we may have our own terms and definition, we are all building on the knowledge and practices of small-holder peasant farmers accumulated over thousands of years. Central to this knowledge is the idea that Nature is the model for agroecology and that we must emulate and coexist with natural ecosystem processes.
The site visit on Day Two gave us an opportunity to observe actual practices on the ground. Our hosts and long-term Thousand Currents partner GRAVIS took us to two villages – Bhamboo Ki Dhani and Govindpura – where we saw community owned and maintained pasturelands, water harvesting structures called taankas, and a private, family-owned seed bank and horticultural unit with castor seed, guar gum, desert plum, lemons and other vegetables. A key theme that emerged from these visits was that the real innovators are farmers who are on the frontlines of climate change adaptation and mitigation. They are the first ones to notice changes, whether it is arrival of new pests, new types of grass, or changing rainfall patterns, and are also aware that adopting agroecological methods can lead to the prevention of these phenomena in the longer term.
On the last day, as we wrapped up our discussion with advocacy strategies and opportunities for future collaboration, participants enthusiastically articulated the need for a holistic advocacy strategy that encompasses not just farmers, agricultural institutions and national governments, but also the media, students, universities, consumers, the legal community and local governments. Many organizations identified prioritizing the voice of women in framing agricultural policy, especially since women constitute 70 percent of farmers in India. For future collaboration, some major themes that surfaced included promoting model farms with all components from seeds to market linkages, developing mechanisms to share learnings in agroecology, especially farmer-to-farmer learning exchanges, and pressing for institutional support for agroecological practices.
We returned from this learning exchange with a renewed sense of urgency and determined to continue the dialog, practice and advocacy efforts to cultivate a fair, inclusive and just ecosystem for all.