The International Agroecology Exchange in Bengaluru brings together practitioners and supporters from over 30 countries
Bengaluru: Early February this year Amritha Bhoomi – one of La Via Campesina’s agroecology schools in South Asia – and Agroecology Fund, a leading advocate of sustainable agricultural practices around the world, co-hosted a training and learning exchange for social movements and NGO representatives coming from over 30 countries around the world, at the Fireflies Intercultural Centre, on the outskirts of the city.
The week-long exchange programme, held from 03rd February till 9th February comprised joint workshops, panel discussions, working group sessions and visits to the fields of Natural Farming practitioners in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Speaking at the learning exchange, Chukki Nanjudaswamy, one of the senior leaders of Karnataka Rajya Raita Sangha (KRRS) and also the coordinator of Amritha Bhoomi Peasant School in Chamrajanagar said, “Agroecology is not just about natural farming techniques for farmers in Karnataka, but it’s also about reclaiming rights over our seeds, our food systems. It’s the transformation of our societies.”
“ This learning exchange is at one level about showcasing the different kinds of practices that is there in India, including the Zero Budget Natural Farming techniques adopted by several farmers in KRRS. However at another level it is also about explaining what agroecology means for the social transformation that we want to bring in – in the way we imagine our food systems, our means of production, land ownership etc.” , she added.
During the course of the exchange program, the participants visited agroecological farms near Amritha Bhoomi in Chamrajanagar, as well as those on the outskirts of Bengaluru city to understand Zero Budget Natural Farming and how it is helping farmers in Karnataka.
Social movements from Latin America, Asia and Africa – some of them also members of La Via Campesina – intervened during the exchange.
“What is important is a collectivisation of the agroecological process. It is good to see individual farmers taking on agroecological practices in their fields to challenge the industrial model of chemical farming. But it was also heartening to see in Chamrajanagar, a collective of women and men working on a common land using agroecological practices. If we have to transform societies, more such collectives need to come up. The Latin American experiences show us that with a little State support, collective farming using agroecological practices can bring in food sovereignty in our territories”…said Marlen from Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo, Nicaragua Nicaragua, also a member of La Via Campesina.
“Agroecology is a collective resistance against climate change. It is people’s alternative to agribusiness. With favourable public policies, government support and strong organisation at grassroots, it can become a movement among rural communities” added Kavitha Kurughanti, a renowned activist-researcher from India, who spoke during one of the panel discussions.
Rupert Dunn from Wales, also part of the Land Workers’ Alliance in United Kingdom and a member of Via Campesina, presented his story of building a small bread making entrepreneurship by using agroecology method at their community farm.
Among the fields that the participants visited were the farms of Sujatha and Jagdish near Kanakpura. Sujatha is a natural farmer near Kanakpura, in Karnataka, India, who supplements her farm income by making and selling ragi (finger millet) malt powder. Her district awarded her the best woman farmer award. On their 4.4 acres of dry land, they produce different types of crops with the help of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).
“Monoculture is dangerous. It’s against nature. Diversifying our farms is the solution, that’s what we have done on our farm. After transitioning to natural farming, we started growing almost all kind of plants and trees that are suitable for this region. We grow fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, fodder, trees and also manage our livestock and poultry.” Sujatha explained to the visiting delegation.
“We have diversified our sources of income. Natural farming is not just another farming model for us; it has become a way of life. We wish to see many more natural farmers in this neighbourhood.” Jagdish, her partner added.
During the learning exchange, participants also got a chance to visit Amritha Bhoomi, the peasant agroecology school in Chamrajanagar. They interacted with community members and women farmers who practise different agroecological methods, including the Zero Budget Natural Farming. The visiting delegation shared their experiences and knowledge with local farmers while visiting their fields.
The participants also got a glimpse of the Sankranti festival celebrations. While elaborating on the importance of ‘Sankranti’, the harvest festival, Chukki Nanjundaswamy explained that from generations to generations the rural communities in the region have been securing indigenous seeds, and this festival is the celebration of such a culture. Solliga Tribes from B.R. Hills who also interacted with the visiting delegation also performed indigenous music and dance.
On the last day of the exchange, participants visited Ananthpur district in Andhra Pradesh, where with help from the State government, Natural Farming techniques have been adopted by a large number of farming families. The visiting delegation met members of a landless women’s cooperative who are working on community-owned land.
” Securing the livelihood of small scale food producers, protecting the rights of small landholders, restoring relationship with nature, bringing youth back to agriculture and protecting the rights of consumers are all the objectives of A.P. government’s push for Natural Farming.” Added T. Vijay Kumar, Advisor to Govt. of Andhra Pradesh on Agriculture.
“It is important to keep in mind that organisations/social movements are key, which supports people get access to land, water, etc. We have to develop institutional relationships to get to the scale to build agroecology movement.” said Marlen from Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (ATC), Nicaragua.
“Young peasants are the present and future of sustainable agriculture, and we have an important role to play in amplifying the agroecology. Amrita Bhoomi is successful in engaging youth, both from rural and urban areas. Agroecology is visibly becoming a trend among young urban people. Only agroecology can sustain and bring more youth back to farming,” said Anuka De Silva, a young activist from MONLAR also Youth ICC from LVC South Asia.
Participants emphasised on the importance of enhancing institutional relationships and resources for people, organisations, and movements involved in agroecology.