Farmers take part in research, turn filmmakers

July 1st, 2008 - 12:06 pm ICT by IANS  


New Delhi, July 1 (IANS) Unlettered farmers have turned into filmmakers in a novel project that is helping preserve local food systems in Andhra Pradesh. The London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the NGO Deccan Development Society (DDS) and village-based women’s groups in the state called sanghams are part of the project.

Their project sparked a revival of local food culture that is helping preserve agricultural biodiversity and traditional farming practices in several hundred villages in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh, the IIED said in a statement made available here.

The project involved farmers in research and even made them document their effort in a book and films.

“I am a seed-keeper. I store a variety of valuable seeds in the baskets in my house and with them my own knowledge of farming, environment and life,” says Humnapur Laxmamma, a sangham member.

“Since I learnt to use the camera, I am doing the same. I am storing the knowledge of my communities with my camera and interpreting them for the outside world which does not know about this.”

This project identified ways to sustain local crop and livestock diversity to increase people’s livelihood options and ability to adapt to climate change.

It also created stable local markets for marginalised producers to sell their surplus produce and improved local control over what is grown, in the face of pressure to conform to the needs of outsiders.

Women in the project decided to use videos to document the research and share its findings. The Andhra Pradesh-based DDS had previously trained villagers to use the video and had proven that illiteracy was no barrier.

“Farmers’ traditional narrative and pictorial understanding of their environment found wonderful expression in the films they made,” says P.V. Satheesh, a former Doordarshan professional who founded the DDS.

Proponents of the project argue it shows that local food systems, crop and livestock diversity and livelihoods can be sustained in the face of modern pressures.

Says Michel Pimbert, director of IIED’s sustainable agriculture, biodiversity and livelihoods programme: “Too often outsiders arrive in a rural setting, impose their research on the poor and then depart without sharing the results or benefits of their studies.

“In this project, the women felt both respected and empowered as they were equal partners in the design, implementation and communication of the research.”

“In many parts of India and the rest of the world, contract farming, inappropriate supply chains and unfair prices for farm produce are eroding local control of food systems and the rich biodiversity and knowledge they depend on,” argued Pimbert.

“Farmers, indigenous people and other citizens have to be centre-stage in this process of transformation and cultural affirmation for food sovereignty, with researchers, policymakers and development agencies engaged in respectful conversations and providing support when needed.”

The book “Affirming Life and Diversity” and 12 films on four DVDs were launched recently.

The IIED is a nearly four-decades-old, independent, non-profit research institute. It focuses on researching and achieving sustainable development and is online at http://www.iied.org. The DDS is a two-decades-old grassroots organisation working in about 75 villages with women’s sanghams (voluntary village level associations of the poor) in Medak district.

Its 5,000 women members include the poorest of the poor in their village communities, many being Dalits. See http://www.ddsindia.com/

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