By H H Mohrmen
The Indigenous food system is not only unique but more importantly, it has also survived the test of time and continues to exist till date. Despite the popularity of conventional agriculture made popular by the Green Revolution, indigenous farming practices in the state are still being patronized by farmers in different parts of the state. Anybody having experience in working with the farmers in Meghalaya will testify to the fact that the indigenous farming practice is alive and kicking. Recognizing the strength of the existing farming practice, the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) with the support of the Meghalaya Basin Management Agency (MBMA), introduced the Agroecology Learning Circle which is also an innovation component in the Community-Led Landscape Management project of the Agency.
What is Agroecology
The website of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines Agroecology as a holistic and integrated approach that simultaneously applies ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems. The system seeks to make the best use of the natural interaction between plants, animals, humans, and the environment. It also recognises that people can exercise their choice on the kind of food they eat and where it is produced. Agroecology is now considered a science that has expanded from something that is only on the field and farm to that which encompasses the whole of agriculture and the food system. It is now a trans-disciplinary system that includes an ecological, socio-cultural, technological, economic, and political dimension of the food system which starts from production to consumption.
It addresses the complex and interdependent challenges of livelihoods, health, and the management of natural resources through holistic approaches. It is looking at the fundamental connection between people and the planet, with sustainable agriculture and food systems. It is the focal point of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which stresses the urgent need to take determined action and pursue policies that will lead to transformational change. It is attempting to achieve the sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for example ending poverty and achieving zero hunger, while ensuring inclusive growth and sustainably managing the planet’s natural resources. It also looks into the context of climate change and biodiversity loss, and recognizes the fact that achieving these goals is possible through holistic and integrated approaches that respect human rights. Agroecology is also not conventional agriculture that is being made popular in the recent past.
The 10 Principles
Agroecology operates on ten principles which include (a) Diversity which recognizes that ensuring food security and nutrition diversity as well as conserving, protecting, and enhancing natural resources is key to agroecological transitions. (b) Co-creation and sharing of knowledge is another important principle of Agroecology and this means that agricultural innovations respond better to local challenges when they are co-created by farmers through participatory processes (c) Synergies which mean building synergies that enhance key functions across food systems, supporting production and multiple ecosystem services is an important Agroecology principle (d) Another important Agroecology principle is Efficiency which includes innovative agroecological practices that produce more using less external resources ( e ) The Recycling principle in Agroecology means more recycling of agricultural production which will help lower economic and environmental costs (f) Resilience means enhancing the resilience of people, communities, and ecosystems to ensure the sustainability of food and agricultural systems (g) Human and social values in Agroecology mean for sustainable food and agricultural systems protecting and improving rural livelihoods, equity, and social well-being is essential (h) Cultural and food traditions in Agroecology means supporting healthy, diversified, and culturally appropriate diets, agroecology contributes to food security and nutrition while maintaining the health of ecosystems (i) Sustainable food and agriculture require responsible and effective governance mechanisms which are responsible governance at different stages starting from local to national to global (J) The last principle is the Circular and solidarity economy which is an economy that reconnects producers and consumers and provides innovative solutions for living within our planetary boundaries while ensuring the social foundation for inclusive and sustainable development.
Why the Agroecology Learning Circle?
The project that NESFAS works on with MBMA is called “Empowering Indigenous Communities through Agroecology Learning Circles (ALC) for resilient, integrated and innovative natural resource management.” Agroecology Learning Circle is designed for community engagement and innovation that helps to bring out knowledge from knowledge holders which will also help co-create and test new solutions. The 18-month-long project also tries to document and disseminate the learning among the farmers. It aims at empowering indigenous communities by combining agroecology with participatory research. This will in turn help indigenous communities recognize, revive, practice, and develop traditional agroecology technologies and practices which will also help stimulate local innovation for a sustainable local food system.
It is a platform for farmers to discuss and plan their farming activities. It is also a space in which community members, government officials and scientists meet to co-create and learn new skills and capacities. It is where new tools and processes were introduced to help enhance the agroecology practices of the locals and ensure food sovereignty and social transformation through local food initiatives.
ALC is one more
institution in an already crowded space
To help enhance the income of the farmers and improve the economy of the state, the government promotes Self Help Groups and Producers Groups and to encourage thrift for easy access to funds, the state government introduced the Integrated Village Cooperative Society (IVCS). For Natural Resource Management the state already has the Village Natural Resource Management Committees and the Biodiversity Management Committees.
It may be mentioned that the CM while launching the new scheme called CM Elevate informed that 40,000 SHGs were created in the last 5 years, with a total funding of Rs 500 crore distributed to the groups. Another 400 crore was spent by the government on 20,000 farmers’ groups. Perhaps he means the Producers’ Group promoted under FOCUS. The government has spent a substantial amount of money on these projects so the pertinent question is why do we need another group when we already have so many in the village.
ALC Vehicle towards
making IPFS the Game Changer in the food system
It is true villages already have many of these groups but ALC is different because ALC works to build on the existing strength of the farmers. It is hoped that the ALC will also help coordinate with the government and its agencies to conduct training at their respective villages. The ALC also seeks to get scientific validation of the indigenous practices for the benefit of the farmers. It is a platform at the village level that provides an opportunity for the farmers to interact with each other, create, co-create, and co-learn lessons for improving farming in their villages.
NESFAS recognizes the invaluable role of women as custodians of biodiversity, food, land, nutrition, and more and takes the initiative to ensure that they are included in the process. The organization’s work is deeply rooted in the values of Indigenous Peoples, emphasizing sharing, caring, and consensus building. All these values are included in the functions of the ALC. Through ALC, NESFAS hopes to address various issues related to food security and sovereignty, health, nutrition, sustainable livelihoods, and green energy. By championing the cause of Indigenous Peoples, NESFAS strives to ensure their rights to cultural identity, food sovereignty, and nutritional security is kept intact.
It may be mentioned that unlike SHGs and PGs, the ALC were not provided funding except for the experiment that they conducted, yet they are very active and conduct their experiments and other activities without any glitch. It may be concluded that ALC is the right platform for developing and promoting good and sustainable farming practices and Agroecology is the answer to the kind of Agriculture that needs to be promoted in a state like Meghalaya. ALC can be a vehicle for making indigenous people farming systems (IPFS) the Game Changer in the food system of the future.