Women farmers exchange seeds from their respective areas with other farmers to carry forward each other’s farming traditions at the Biodiversity Festival on International Women’s Day (March 8), organized by the North East Network in Chizami, Nagaland. (Morung Photo)
Biodiversity Festival on International Women’s Day transforming communities
Morung Express News
Chizami (Phek) | March 8
It is the flowering season for wild apples—one of the many signs in the Naga hills to start sowing seeds. Chizami village elder, cultivator and community knowledge holder, Khenemvu L Mero (85), said these signs guide the Naga people through life. Agriculture and biodiversity here are intertwined in a way that “makes us self-reliant.”
When women cultivators from 24 communities exchanged seeds at the Biodiversity Festival on March 8, it was in the spirit to preserve this: to create a self-reliant shared future. This is the sixth year that the North East Network (NEN) in Nagaland’s Chizami village facilitated the exchange of seeds among cultivators of the hills to carry forward each other’s agrobiodiverse traditions that have sustained local communities for centuries.
Celebrated on International Women’s Day (March 8), this year under the theme ‘Time is Now: Rural Women Transforming Community Lives,’ the Biodiversity Festival has brought women cultivators, and the knowledge they hold, together from Nagaland’s hills and beyond, from the North East and the Indian sub-continent.
In Nagaland, 55% of the people are cultivators, of whom more than 70% are women. The agro-knowledge women hold is diverse, includes fostering a local economy, promotes solidarity and has facilitated the growth of life around food growing practices unlike in much of the capitalist world—it has transformed community life in ways that has helped people carry a wholesome life forward with or without a welfare state.
“Every year we gather here to proclaim that rural farmers are contributing towards ecological agriculture and genetic agrobiodiversity, both in our jhum and terrace fields, which is also the answer to the crisis of climate change,” observed Seno Tsuhah from the NEN in her welcome note to the Festival, a method to acknowledge the farmers’ contribution towards a shared, healthy future.
Among their many contributions has been the growth of artisans, with women weavers taking the centre stage. ‘Chizami Weaves,’ a unit started by the NEN Nagaland to give women access to the market, completed 10 years in 2018. Women who weave are also, often, cultivators and bringing this dynamism in touch with markets has helped in their holistic development—the Biodiversity Festival celebrated on IWD honoured the artisans of ‘Chizami Weaves’ who have been supporting their families through weaving amidst continued presence on the field. Chizami women are some of the rare ones in Nagaland to draw equal wages (as men) for labour and have become enterprising enough to start their own traditional-seeds banks, influencing women in neighbouring villages to enhance their own.
Chizami Village has progressed, thus, in a way that both women and men have become empowered, seeing the entry of women into the Village Council. Chizami Baptist Church now has a woman leading it as Pastor (who gave invocation for the Festival). Children here are keen to gain traditional knowledge from their elders, document it as well as put it to practice on fields, even as they continue modern schooling.
Women in governance
None of this is reflected in Nagaland State policies. Instead, “You are supporting the State through your work,” acknowledged Guest of Honour, Kevileno Angami (IAS), OSD (Planning) & Director, Evaluation, Government of Nagaland, speaking to the farmers on the IWD Biodiversity Festival.
Women must be included in the process of development for it to be holistic, and Angami hoped that much like the Chizami Village Development Board, women get to use their 25% representation in a way that uplifts the condition of rural women. “Village Health Committees should have women to address the particular biological, reproductive and medical needs of women,” she maintained.
Women consist of 48% of Nagaland State’s population but are missing from most levels of decision making, from villages, all the way up to the State Legislative Assembly.
Thus, “policies in Nagaland remain top down and decentralized,” observed Dr. Sangamitra Dhar, gender expert/consultant with UN Women, noting that this has led to the failure of such initiatives as the 33% reservation for women in Urban Local Bodies. She hoped that better political push is given to include women in governance and micro efforts are plugged into macro ones to affect such aspirations as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The program brought together students of Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Chizami, women artisans from Sakraba, Yimchunger women group, Khiamniungan women farmers with Khomi women artisans to showcase songs that bring together and transform communities; while women farmers exchanged seeds, others cooked a traditional potluck lunch for all. Farmers from as far as Senapati district in Manipur exchanged knowledge with those from Noklak sub-division of Nagaland’s Tuensang—each had travelled almost two days to access this platform of solidarity facilitated by the NEN in Nagaland. The Government of Nagaland should also take efforts towards broadening this much-needed space.