Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Seeds and Stories in Araku Valley, India

By Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt, 2nd year MDP student

India’s food system has undergone many changes in the past few decades. Technologies have changed, staple foods have shifted, and food security has been variable. The situation for many tribal peoples is particularly acute as the varieties they’ve grown and the agricultural methods they’ve used for many generations become threatened by shifting economic, political, and cultural landscapes. 

But here I the state of Andhra Pradesh, in a hilly area called Araku Valley, the inevitability of that shift is being called into question. Tribal peoples are organizing to maintain the rich seed diversity that has characterized their lifestyle for generations. With the help of Sanjeevini, a community-based organization with which I’m undertaking my summer placement, people are becoming empowered to celebrate and cherish their seeds and the cultural lifeways that sustain them. 

Women carry a tuber harvest in from the fields

My role here is to develop a case study of Sanjeevini’s approach to mobilizing community-based seed conservation by interviewing farmers, network partners, government officials, and key staff and volunteer members about the impact of Sanjeevini and the sustainability of their approach. Most of my time thus far has been spent living in a rural village, nestled in a gorgeous agricultural valley, talking to farmers every day about the kinds of varieties they’re growing, the preservation methods they use, and their commitment to passing their knowledge on to their children and grandchildren. 

Understanding the role that Sanjeevini has played in supporting people in that work is inspiring. They take a holistic approach that is uncommon in the NGO world. They recognize that people cannot keep that agrobiodiversity alive without just access to land, livelihood opportunities, access to education, and the fulfillment of basic human rights. Their work is rooted in strong relationships with local people who know they can trust Sanjeevini to organize on their behalf when one of those factors is at risk. 

Selections from Sanjeevini's extensive seed bank

The founder and general secretary of Sanjeevini, Devullu, told me this: “In the beginning, they (government and others) thought I was a mad man. ‘Why would you want to preserve old seeds when there are hybrids, new technologies that tribal people should embrace?’ they would cry. Now, two decades later, everyone knows how important this work is – government, NGOs, universities, and all are keen to work with Sanjeevini to support tribal farmers.

Learning Dhimsa (traditional dance) with my aunties
Agrobiodiversity is increasingly on the radar of actors at the state, national, and international levels. Sanjeevini, however, has always known that supporting local, traditional knowledge is the key to sustaining that diversity. Indigenous people have to be supported if that diversity they have stewarded for so long is to be maintained. It’s encouraging to see that notion is catching, however long it’s taken to get there.

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