Nagaland: Millet for Community Resilience

Farmers exchange seeds during the 14th Biodiversity Festival held at NEN Resource Centre, Chizami, Phek on March 7. (Photo Courtesy: NEN)

Farmers exchange seeds during the 14th Biodiversity Festival held at NEN Resource Centre, Chizami, Phek on March 7. (Photo Courtesy: NEN)

North East Network host 14th Biodiversity Festival 

Phek, March 7 (MExN): North East Network (NEN) hosted its 14th Biodiversity Festival under the theme, ‘Millet for Community Resilience’, to commemorate the International Year of Millets at NEN Resource Centre, Chizami, Phek on March 7. 

An update received here stated that this year, the Festival brought together more than 200 participants, representing the farming communities from four districts of Nagaland (Kohima, Phek, Mokokchung, and Shamator), NGOs, community-based organisations, women organisations, government departments, research institutions, government departments, youth and students. Farmers from East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya working with NESFAS were also part of the festival. 

To build a momentum of millet revival in the NE region, much needs to be done at various levels – grassroots to national and global level involving diverse stakeholders, the update highlighted. Exchange learning and knowledge sharing amongst custodian farmers, seeking policy support to millet-based bio-diverse agriculture and practicing farmers; recognition of women’s traditional ecological knowledge and acknowledgement of their contribution to ecological agriculture, are some of the key points that echoed at the Biodiversity Festival. 

Deputy Commissioner Phek, Kumar Ramnikant, IAS graced the event as the guest of honour. In his address, the DC Phek extended admiration for Biodiversity Festival concept and said that “it required branding to reach out to a wider audience.” 

He highlighted the need to build a people’s movement in promoting millets and the importance of focusing on financial security besides food and nutrition security. He encouraged communities to grab the opportunity of building sustainable livelihoods from millets, through value addition, and he extended his support for the same. 

‘Becoming Better Ancestors’
Prof Bengt G Karlsson, Professor of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University, in his keynote address titled ‘Becoming Better Ancestors’, articulated that biodiversity sometimes is thought of as conservation of endangered species, but it is more - it is the care for all living beings, and to live responsibly is to recognise the lives of others, of insects, plants, animals, mountains, rivers, soil, all that we depend on for survival. 

He stated that ‘becoming better ancestors’ begins with a basic question: how to eat well, and this begins with seeds, “to have our own seeds that we know.” Stressing on the repercussions of unstable global markets and the vulnerability of farmers who depends on such markets, and with climate change, COVID-like pandemics and wars, he said, “Resilience can only be built by protecting the biodiversity, the keystone of local food systems.”

‘What Millet means to us’
The festival also amplified voices from the fields sharing on ‘What Millet means to us.’ The speakers included Seno Tsuhah, SC Member, Millet Network of India, Shilu Thurr representing Pochury Community and Kezukhalo Lasuh representing Chakhesang Community. 

Kezukhalo shared his experience of millet farming and the need to adapt to climate change to sustain. Shilu stressed on the importance of knowledge building and awareness amongst farming communities to sustain cultivation and consumption of millets. 

Seno Tsuhah highlighted that “millet should not be seen just as a crop, but as a concept. It is climate compliant, ecological, and bonds communities together. Millets are diverse and the diversity must be protected at all costs, for diversity means resilience.”

Khrienuo Metha, Member, General Body, NEN extended the greeting; in her address she acknowledged the significant contribution of the local communities in biodiversity protection. She reminded that “traditional practices sustains and saves biodiversity from collapsing and this needs to be recognised and supported.”

Efforts of communities in NE appreciated 
Rupa Chinai, Independent Journalist and Author in her solidarity speech, appreciated the efforts of the communities in NE for protecting the biodiversity through innovative methods. 

‘Sustaining local livelihoods through development of nettle and cotton products, protection of seeds through Community Seed Banks by women farmer collectives,  engagement of youth in wildlife and biodiversity conservation are some noteworthy examples,’ she noted. 

NE India has constitutional safeguards- 371 and 6th schedule, relating to natural resources, land, and administration, she maintained while adding that ‘these hard won rights have enabled communities to determine their own destiny and hence it must be valued and protected.’ 

“NE communities have a vital role in making a master plan for their own development, and Government must listen to the people, encourage dialogue and support what community wants, and the rest of India must support and know that our survival and health depends on this wisdom,” she added. 

Seed exchange and other highlights 
The highlights of this year’s biodiversity festival included Biodiversity exhibitions: Herbal plants of Chizami & uncultivated plants from Enhulumi, the Earth Market also known as Farmer's Market supported farmers from Shamator, New Phor, Meluri, Enhulumi; crafts from Phuhgi, Thurutsuswu, Runguzu Nasa, Thetsumi and SEWA Dukaan.  Millet food stall for promotion of the multi-nutrient grain was set up, to create awareness and encourage consumption. The seed exhibition showcased seeds from the Community Seed Banks of Rusoma, Chizami, New Phor and Shamator. 

This festival witnessed seed exchange between 10 communities; Shamator, Sumi, Jatahlakadong Mawbri (Meghalaya), Shatuza, Thurutsuswu, Meluri, Phor, Kuzatu, Phuhgi, Longsa, Chuchuyimlang Moalenden, Kubza (Mokokchung).

The event also witnessed cultural performances from Chizami and Yakor Communities and demonstrations of traditional cotton processing by Khumaisu Cotton collective.  The book titled, ‘Seeds and Food Sovereignty: Eastern Himalayan Experiences’ by North Eastern Social Research Centre was also launched during the festival. The book is dedicated to the Eastern Himalayan region Indigenous communities' traditional farming practices, seeds, food and more.  

Since 2010, NEN has been organising Biodiversity Festivals that bring together diverse stakeholders especially farming communities from within and outside Nagaland.