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SOURCE: RRI

Support team helping with Komnas HAM National Inquiry
Support team helping with Komnas HAM National Inquiry 

The release of a new series of reports in March by the Indonesian National Commission On Human Rights (Komnas HAM), the government’s human rights agency, marks the first official process to examine the human rights impacts of land rights conflicts on Indigenous Peoples throughout Indonesia’s forest areas. The state-led “Inquiry,” which looks at 40 case studies of land conflicts across the country, is the result of a yearlong process which included public hearings, ethnographic studies, and discussions on the non-recognition of local communities’ customary land rights. According to RRI Collaborator AMAN (Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago), resolution of some of these 40 conflicts is just a matter of law enforcement. Following the National Inquiry, the situation has improved for Indigenous Peoples in some cases; however, violence has increased in others.

Forest zone determination started during the colonial reign of the Dutch East Indies, but 70% of Indonesia’s land was declared as “forests” during the Suharto Regime — without recognizing the rights of the thousands of indigenous communities who live in them. Vast areas of these forests have also been handed over to private companies as logging, plantation, and mining concessions, or declared as protected areas. The dispossession and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples from their own customary territories has led to an increasing number of conflicts; Komnas HAM estimates that as much as 20 percent of all complaints received by the agency relate to land disputes.

The Inquiry found that communities involved in these land disputes experience numerous abuses — including displacement, intimidation, violence, and takeover of traditional indigenous forests. Report findings also show that conflicts result from an array of factors: lack of legal certainty in recognition of indigenous territories; lack of standard police guidelines in handling natural resource conflict; and a state development agenda that is strongly biased toward protecting corporations over community rights.

The report was officially launched in mid-March in Jakarta, in the presence of state representatives from the Office of the President, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Teten Masduki, Chief of Staff of the Office of the President, welcomed the publication of the report results and reaffirmed President Joko Widodo’s commitment to respecting, protecting, and recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Despite this commitment, contradicting legal interpretations of a Constitutional Court decision that says adat forests are to be excluded from State forests has proved to be a major blockage to increasing protection for Indigenous Peoples’ territories.

The report’s concrete policy recommendations—including passage of the Law on Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, and the establishment of an independent Task Force on Indigenous Peoples—have prompted calls for the government to enact needed reforms. RRI Partners and Collaborators continue to advocate for effective implementation of Komnas HAM recommendations across Indonesia and encourage prompt government action to recognize community rights.

The Komnas HAM report is composed of five books on the “National Inquiry on the Rights of Customary Law-Abiding Communities Over Their Land in Forest Areas”:

  • Book One: Provides an overview about the National Inquiry process, main findings and recommendations
  • Book Two: Addresses specifically the situation of Adat Women
  • Book Three: Goes deeper into each of the conflict cases, providing ethnographic information and testimonies
  • Book Four: Describes main lessons learnt from this National Inquiry approach
  • Booklet: A policy brief summarizing key findings and recommendations of this inquiry to improve laws and policies

The full reports are available in English and Bahasa Indonesia.

– See more at: http://rightsandresources.org/en/news/landmark-report-investigates-human-rights-abuses-suffered-indigenous-communities-affected-land-conflicts-indonesia/#.VylH54RcSkr

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SOURCE: THE HANS INDIA
By Nita Bhalla

New Delhi : For as long as she can remember, Panchi Sahariya and those in her tribal community in central India have been threatened, harassed, beaten and even arrested for living on land which does not legally belong to them. But there is nowhere else to go, she says. For over 40 years, the forest village of Nibheri in Madhya Pradesh state has been home to 150 families of the Sahariya tribe and their children have been born and brought up there.

“We have no land of our own. We had no choice but to live in the jungle. We survive from the little farming we do there. But there is no comfort, there is no security,” she said. “The forest department guards come and threaten us and tell us to move. Sometimes they have even beaten us and taken our people to jail for protesting over the land.”

Sahariya is one of more than 5,000 people from India’s most impoverished communities who gathered in the capital this week to demand Prime Minister Narendra Modi bring in a law guaranteeing the rural poor the right to shelter. Despite wide recognition of the link between poverty and landlessness in India, and a slew of policies over the years aimed at helping the people secure housing, more than half of rural Indians do not have a permanent homestead.

Data from India’s 2011 Socio Economic and Caste census released last year showed that 100 million families, that is 56 percent of all rural households, were landless. Most are from low caste or indigenous communities, who have faced decades of neglect and social discrimination, and continue to live on the margins of society – partly due to a failure to enforce laws aimed at their uplift.

Social indicators such as infant and maternal mortality rates, literacy and monthly income are worse than national averages and their access to quality services such as good hospitals and schools remains a serious challenge. Homestead bill neglected After years of campaigning for land rights by the social movement Ekta Parishad which has organised multiple rallies involving thousands of homeless rural poor the government drafted legislation in 2013.

The National Rural Homestead Bill calls for a democratic and market-friendly land reform programme, providing landless families with plots of land the size of small football fields. The bill provides that titles for the land, which would be around 4,400 square metres, be registered in the name of the woman, rather than jointly by the male and female head of the household.

To ensure accountability of the local authorities, it also stipulates a time frame of five years for India’s 29 states and seven union territories to enforce the law. But the draft bill has never been presented before parliament, despite repeated promises by both the previous and current government to introduce it to lawmakers.

Activists acknowledge that land reform, like in many other countries, is a highly political issue but argue that securing tenure for the landless will help stem the rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation India currently faces. India’s towns and cities are projected to swell by an additional 404 million people by 2050, as villagers migrate to urban areas in search of opportunities and better standard of living, says the United Nations.

More significantly, experts say, land in India is the biggest predictor of poverty. Insecurity traps people in extreme impoverishment, restricts economic growth, and sparks conflict. “When women and men gain secure rights to land, they can begin investing in their land to improve their harvests and their lives,” says the land rights group, Landesa. “Further, land rights in India act as a gateway right.

When women and men gain secure rights to land, they can access a host of government services from work and nutrition programmes to agricultural extension services.” Research by Landesa suggests clarifying and strengthening land rights could increase India’s GDP by as much as 476 billion rupees  ($7 billion).

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SOURCE: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION
By Megan Rowling

A Yawanawa Indian splashes in the Gregorio river during the Mariri Festival in the village of Mutum, in the Amazon forest of Acre state, Brazil, Aug. 11, 2014. REUTERS/Odair Leal
A Yawanawa Indian splashes in the Gregorio river during the Mariri Festival in the village of Mutum, in the Amazon forest of Acre state, Brazil, Aug. 11, 2014. REUTERS/Odair Leal
 LONDON, Feb 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Conditions are ripe for a global leap forward in recognising the land rights of indigenous people and forest communities, but investors and the public need to pressure governments to make it happen, an international network of forest policy groups said.A rising number of politicians and businesses realise that if plans to exploit natural resources and expand agricultural production are to succeed, they must consider local peoples’ concerns and ensure they benefit too, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) said in areport released on Wednesday.

Key countries, including Indonesia, Peru and Liberia, are poised to make legal reforms or roll out policies that would give communities greater security on their land.

But political will is often lacking, RRI coordinator Andy White told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I think we are on the brink of major change, both for saving forests and recognising rights, but it’s going to require a push for governments to take that next step,” said White.

“That push we hope will come from both the major investors – the private sector – as well as the citizens of their own countries,” he added.

The report said “a critical mass” of actors, including governments, aid donors and companies, now acknowledge that secure local land rights are “a prerequisite for addressing poverty, conflict, deforestation, and the climate crisis”.

The new global climate change agreement adopted in Paris in December advocates forest protection as an important way to reduce planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide.

It also urges respect for indigenous rights, and the use of traditional knowledge as a guide for adapting to climate change.

A growing body of evidence shows communities are crucial to maintaining forests as stores of carbon, the RRI report said.

COSTLY CONFLICTS

New research by consultancy TMP Systems suggested that efforts to protect forests by turning them into reserves may be underestimating the impacts on local people.

Proposals to use international funding to set aside 12 to 15 percent of forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo as protected areas, and Norwegian aid to do the same for 30 percent of Liberia’s forests, could affect an estimated 1.3 million people through displacement or damage to their incomes, it said.

The costs of establishing those areas would be “significant”, running to hundreds of millions of dollars, suggesting the need for lower-cost approaches to keeping forests healthy and reducing emissions, the analysts said.

A separate TMP analysis of 362 disputes with communities over the use of land and resources in developing nations found that such tensions caused significant financial harm to investors in more than half the cases.

The study of conflicts in mining, energy, agriculture, transport infrastructure and forestry concluded that over 60 percent involved minorities and indigenous peoples, but in the forestry sector that number shot up to 90 percent.

White said companies, especially large multi-nationals, increasingly understand land conflicts can be expensive, leading to higher operating costs or even abandonment of some ventures.

“That is triggering government to take a more serious look at the urgency of straightening out land rights,” he said.

Free risk analysis tools have been developed to help businesses identify and address potential land issues.

TMP warned against assuming compensation can always provide a solution, because some communities will not put a price on their land and resources.

In its analysis, 93 percent of disputes were not over compensation paid to local populations, but other concerns – mainly displacement and environmental destruction.

“Investors and companies typically assume that disagreements can be resolved with money,” said TMP Systems founder Lou Munden. “But when you see that only one mining conflict out of 50 is driven by money, it makes you think differently about managing the risk.”

LIBERIA FEARS

According to the RRI report, governments in 33 low- and middle-income countries have recognised indigenous and community ownership of 388 million hectares (959 million acres) of forest land. They have “designated” an additional 109 million hectares for such communities, though that offers a more limited set of rights.

The total of almost 500 million hectares is over 30 percent of the total forest area in those countries – up from 21 percent in 2002, but below a 2015 target of 42 percent set by RRI.

If countries in the early stages of recognising community land rights at a national scale – including India and Colombia – follow through, it would add more than 100 million hectares of indigenous and community forest land, and directly benefit over 200 million people, the report said.

But in Liberia, there is concern over attempts to water down a groundbreaking Land Rights Act before it is passed.

According to Constance Teague of Liberia’s Sustainable Development Institute, 18 civil society groups recently claimed changes made to the act’s core principles “would erode rural communities’ land rights, exacerbate poverty, and potentially set up the country for further unrest”.

White said he hoped governments in Liberia and elsewhere would respond to pressure from indigenous peoples, conservation groups and businesses that are “joining forces and seeing the urgency, as well as the logic, of securing land rights”.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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SOURCE: Kapaeeng Foundation

On 23 January 2016, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad’s Gaibandha Unit and Sahebganj-Bagdafarm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee jointly staged a mass gathering in front of Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka demanding rescue of 1842.30 acres of acquired land. Hundreds of indigenous and Bengali farmers of Gaibandha took part in the demonstration.

It is learnt that the demonstration was staged to demand restoration of the right to land of farmers from 20 villages whose 1842.30 acres of lands were acquired by the erstwhile Pakistan government in the mid-1950s to grow sugarcane for Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills under Gobindaganj in Gaibandha district. At that time, residents of 15 indigenous villages and five Bengali villages were evicted. As per acquisition contract, if the sugar mill shuts and the land is not used for cultivating sugarcane anymore, authority must handover the lands to the land owners. Because these lands are currently being used for cultivation of other crops, and as the authorities shut the mills in 2004, around 400 farmers, most of who belong to indigenous communities have put forward the demand to give their farm lands back.

It is worth mentioning that on 31 March 2004 production of Mahimaganja Sugar Mill was closed due to corruptions, mismanagement of authorities and damage of mill. But the terms of the agreement are violated by the cultivation of rice, wheat, corn, tobacco, potatoes, mustard, etc in the property instead of sugarcane and Mahimaganja Sugar Mill has provided the lease of the property to influential individuals and racketeers. In this situation indigenous and marginalised famers who has lost land have been applied to the Government several times to get back the acquired 1842.30 acre property. Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) of Gaibandha district visited Shahebganj-Bagdafarm for spot investigation on 30 March 2015. Assistant Commissioner (Land) and Surveyor of Gobindaganj upazila were present during the investigation. They have listened the hearing of Managing Director, General Manager of Rangpur Sugar Mill and accusers.

Rangpur Sugar Mills authorities said that allegations are confirmed after reviewing the applicants statements and documents submitted by the applicants. On 21 June 2015 Additional Deputy Commissioner submitted a report on this regard.  The record no. was 05.55.3200.030.00.001.15-41. Sugar Mill authorities mismanagement, corruption and irregularities has been exposed to the locals at different times. To hush these crime racketeers group and influential threatening, intimidating and harassing the villagers and keep conspiracy going on. As a result leaders of Shahebganj-bagadafarma Committee are living under fear of attack.

Pankaj Bhattacharya, president of Oikya NAP delivered his speech in the mass gathering as chief while it was presided over by Philimon Baskey, leader of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad’s Gaibandha Unit. Syed Abul Maksud, noted columnist and researchers; Sazzad Zahir Chandan, leader of Communist Party of Bangladesh; Robindranath Soren, president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad; Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum; Dipayon Khisa, leader of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS), among others, addressed the demonstration. The demonstration was moderated by Suvash Chandra Hembram, office secretary of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad.

Eminent politician Pankaj Bhattacharya said that according to the law, the mill has to surrender the land to the government and the government has to return the land to the original owners.” He also stated that if the government does not take initiatives to return land to the owners, they would wage a greater movement and the aggrievedfarmers are ready to sacrifice their lives for rescuing the land.

Columnist Syed Abul Maksud said, the state has violated the basic human rights by grabbing the lands. He also mentioned that the government proved them as promise-breaker as they did not comply with the agreement with the farmers. He urged the government to form a judicial committee to return the land to the farmers.

Robindranath Soren, President of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad said, “people of 15 indigenous villages and five Bengali villages of Sahebganj-Bagdafarm area have become landless and jobless as the mill authority illegally leased out some parts of the land to influential persons.” He also added that indigenous peoples want to cultivate on their own lands. The protesters later started off a rally from Central Shaheed Minar that ended up in front of National Press Club, where they staged a human chain for the same cause.

Earlier, on 30 August 2015, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, Sahebganj-Bagdafarm Land Rescue Action Committee (Sahebganj-Bagdafarm Bhumi Uddhar Sangram Committee) and Kapaeeng Foundation jointly organized a press conference and human chain for rescuing 1842.30 acres land from Rangpur (Mahimaganj) Sugar Mills ltd authority in Rampur, Sapamara, Madarpur, Narangabad and Chakrahimpur mouza area under Gobindaganj upazila in Gaibandha district and demanded to return those ancestral land to the victims at Reporters unity in Dhaka.

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SOURCE: THE DAILY STAR

Demand human chains in CHT, other areas

The district unit of Jatiya Adivasi Forum forms a human chain in front of cooperative market in Thakurgaon town yesterday demanding formation of a separate land commission for the indigenous people living in the country’s plain land and full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord. Similar programmes were also held in different other districts. Photo: Star

Indigenous people organised programmes in different districts yesterday demanding adequate steps to protect the rights of indigenous people.

Indigenous people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) formed around 400-kilometre-long human chain yesterday demanding full implementation of CHT Peace Accord without further delay, reports our Bandarban correspondent.

They also urged the government to return to the Jumma people hundreds of acres of land that had been earlier leased to different individuals from other districts.

Over the years, different government agencies and Bangalee settlers have occupied large areas of homesteads and agricultural lands that once belonged to the Jumma people of the CHT area, speakers said at the programme.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee, CHT unit of Bangladesh Adivasi Forum and CHT Headmen’s Network organised the programme in three hill districts.

Thousands of people, carrying banners, placards and festoons, joined the human chain from Gundhum in Naikhyangchhari upazila of Bandarban to Dhudukchhara in Panchhari upazila of Khagrachhari district to press for their demand.

Our Thakurgaon Correspondent reports: District unit of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad formed a human chain yesterday to press for their nine-point demand including immediate formation of a separate land commission for the ethnic people of plain land to protect their land rights.

The demand also includes ensuring constitutional rights for the indigenous people, establishment of a separate ministry for ethnic people to deal with their problems and mother tongue-based primary education for the children of ethnic minority groups.

They also demanded allocation of khas land among the landless indigenous people for their survival.

The human chain followed a discussion at the same venue.

District unit of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad (JAP), a platform of the indigenous people, organised the programme presided over by JAP General Secretary Babul Tigga.

Our Dinajpur Correspondent adds: The ethnic minorities at a human chain in front of Dinajpur Press Club yesterday demanded speedy trial of the cases for last year’s November 18 gun attack on Dr Piero Parolari in Dinajour town and December 10 attack on Iskcon temple in Kaharol upazila under the district.

The human chain also demanded the government to form a separate land commission to save their lands.

Several hundred ethnic people of different upazilas of Dinajpur lined up holding placards, festoons and banners highlighting their demands.

Rabindrath Soren, president of Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, spoke there, among others.

Our Tangail Correspondent adds: Indigenous people in Madhupur upazila under the district at a human chain yesterday reiterated the demand for formation of a separate land commission for the indigenous people living in the plain land areas.

They also demanded full implementation of the CHT peace deal.

Different organisations including Joinshahi Adivasi Unnayan Parishad, Achik Michik Society (women organisation of the Garos), Tribal Welfare Association, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, Jatiya Adivasi Parishad, IPDS, Adivasi Cluster Development Forum, Bagachhag (student organization of the Garos) and Gasu joined the human chain on Tangail-Mymensingh Road at Pochish Mile Bazar in Jalchhatra area of the upazila.

They also held a rally presided over by Ajoy-a-Mre, president of Adivasi Cluster Development Forum.

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SOURCE: DhakaTribune

Chittagong Hill Tracts Citizens Committee, Bangladesh Adivasi Forum and CHT Headmen’s Network announced a programme of 300-kilometre long human chain at a news conference at Tugun Restaurant in Rangamati yesterday.

People in Chittagong Hill Tracts will form the human chain demanding complete implementation of CHT Accord and establishing a separate land commission for ethnic people in plain lands on January 18.

The human chain would span from Dudukchara of Panchari in Khagrachari to Gundhum of Naikhyangchari of Bandarban from 10am to 11am, said sources.

Leaders of the organisations at the news conference alleged that the government was continuing to deceive people by providing wrong information about the implementation of the CHT accord.

They said there was no move to implement the basic aspects of the accord rather initiatives against the treaty was on.

National Human Rights Commission member Nirupa Dewan, Headmen’s Network leader Shaktipada Tripura and CHT Citizen’s Committee president Gautam Dewan were present at the news conference.

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SOURCE: PRI

Karamela Khongran’s daughter poses with finger millet, a nutritious grain that is packed with protein and minerals. Mentoring the next generation of indigenous farmers and revitalizing pride in traditional farming is an important priority for advocacy groups like NESFAS.

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

At sunset, Bibiana Ranee sets out to gather wild edibles for dinner from the surrounding forest. She returns with bright bunches of greens. Jarain and jali are washed, sliced, sauteed, and served with a hearty pork stew, with raw tree tomato on the side.

Ranee, 54, is proud of her ancestral roots: She’s a member of the Khasi tribe, which nestles high in the mountains of Meghalaya, a state in northeast India. All three major tribes of Meghalaya—Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia — are matrilineal. Children take the surname of the mother’s clan and girls inherit traditional lands — the youngest daughter typically receiving the largest share.

To reach her home in the village of Nongtraw in East Khasi Hills, Ranee must make her way down a steep mountain via some 2,500 meandering steps. Her front porch is adorned with rosy hues of amaranth, an ancient grain cultivated for more than 8,000 years. “When I was five years old, my mother took me to the fields,” Ranee says. “I learned about the foods in the fields and the forest from her.”

Across India, indigenous women step up to the plate in myriad ways: In Meghalaya, indigenous women are keepers of the seeds that form the foundation of their food sovereignty, a conscious choice by small food producers to define their unique food systems and culture. Indigenous women are also holders of traditional knowledge that enables them to gather medicinal plants and wild edibles in the surrounding forests, and gives them deep understanding of the ecology.

“Women are conservers of seeds and know when each grain has to be sown,” says Patricia Mukhim, a prominent Khasi journalist and editor of The Shillong Times. “They exchange seeds, and if today we still have been able to conserve the indigenous seed species, which are hardy and can resist the vagaries of climate change and its extreme temperatures, then women are singularly responsible for that conservation effort.”

While a majority of rural women in India struggle for land ownership, as well as recognition of their immense contributions as farmers, Khasi women are valued as food producers in their families and larger community. “Since [Khasi] women own land they can also control what crops and vegetables to grow and what livestock to rear,” Mukhim says.

Ranee grows more than 32 food crops in her field and home garden, an astonishing diversity that’s in stark contrast with the wheat and rice monocultures that were promoted during India’s Green Revolution.

She names three varieties of yams, four varieties of millet, two varieties of tapioca, and a medley of other vegetables — pumpkins, cucumbers, wild potatoes, beans, and sesame that diversify her food basket. Her home garden has rich offerings — a natural pharmacy with an abundance of medicinal herbs and shrubs, along with vegetables and fruit trees. The surrounding forest adds to the nutritious bounty, offering wild greens, nuts, medicinal plants, fruits, and mushrooms.

Dr. Daphne Miller is impressed by the biodiversity of food that is nurtured and sustained by indigenous women in Nongtraw.

“When I wandered around the village, I found plants that are very good at lowering blood sugar,” says Miller, who studies the world’s healthiest diets and is the author of Farmacology. “The foods are herbs — wild foods that are medicinal in their qualities for lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, stress.”

Nongtraw farmers, like Ranee, are proud that their village has sustained its traditional organic farming practices in spite of industrial agriculture entering the state. Ranee says that some farmers tried using chemical fertilizers on small plots of land when the government promoted them, but later refused. “My mother told me to grow food without fertilizers,” Ranee says.

“What indigenous famers do is they follow the rules of nature,” Miller says in an interview with Indigenous Rights Radio. “They have a huge amount of biodiversity within their land, they use dozens of different seeds. They are not just organic—they are regenerative. They are organic plus!” Ranee concurs and is proud that all her children value their indigenous food systems and understand that the health of the surrounding forest and river is key for their health and well-being.

While indigenous farmers in Nongtraw refrain from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the pressures of industrial agriculture loom large. Rice monocultures are increasing in Meghalaya, as is the influence of the market economy.

Women in matrilineal Meghalaya are also politically marginalized and as land becomes a scarce and valued commodity, instead of a community resource, new challenges are surfacing for Khasi women. Ranee has joined the North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) to celebrate traditional farming practices that conserve the vast biodiversity of foods found in their forests and traditional jhum fields (an ancient shifting cultivation method) and raise awareness of the vital links with indigenous culture and food sovereignty.

Last November, Meghalaya hosted Indigenous Terra Madre, a gathering of 140 food communities from 58 countries. Ranee and others from Nongtraw attended a food festival that was attended by more than 60,000 people across northeast India and beyond.

At the festival, indigenous foods, seeds, harvest songs, and dances exhibited how a deep relationship with land and biodiversity is linked with stunning cultural richness. Reflecting on their way of life, Ranee remarked: “We may not have a lot of money, but we have plenty of food. We are happy, because we live in peace and harmony with Mother Earth.”

seed farmers 2

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

The Khasi tribe in the northeastern state of Meghalaya in India is matrilineal, where children take the last name of the mother’s clan. Unlike other parts of India, where women struggle to access land rights, Khasi women inherit land, the youngest daughter typically receiving the largest share.

seed farmers 3

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Bibiana Ranee is proud of her Khasi lineage and indigenous roots. She is a strong advocate for local food systems and agrobiodiversity, where indigenous knowledge systems are preserved and celebrated.

seed farmers 4

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

“In matrilineal societies of Meghalaya like the Khasi, women are considered important partners like their male counterparts in any kinds of agrobiodiversity activities. If the land is ancestral or clan land, women are the custodian of such lands. Women have a distinctive part in the agrobiodiversity life and their contributions toward income generation and food security is recognized in Khasi society,” says Dr. A. K. Nongkynrih, Professor of Sociology at North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya.

seed farmers 5

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Karamela Khongran grows more than 35 varieties of crops in her jhum field, an ancient shifting cultivation method practiced widely in northeast India. “Being from a matrilineal system, I am respected as a woman,” she says.

seed farmers 6

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

“There are ceremonies attached to the sowing and harvesting season. Each grain is seen as a blessing from nature and what is conserved naturally is often more treasured than those given by the agriculture and horticulture departments, which are soaked in chemicals for preservation,” notes Patricia Mukhim.

seed farmers 7

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Khongran harvests sesame seeds from her jhum field. “If I grow just one crop, where would I get rest of our food from?” she asks, noting her reservations about monocultures.

seed farmers 7

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Women are also the seed savers, playing a vital role in preserving the immense agrobiodiversity of the region. Farmers in Nongtraw have also revived their tradition of growing millet — a nutritious grain that was marginalized by India’s Green Revolution.

“Women are conservers of seeds and know when each grain has to be sown. They exchange seeds and if today we still have been able to conserve the indigenous seed species, which are hardy and can resist the vagaries of climate change and its extreme temperatures then women are singularly responsible for that conservation effort,” Mukhim says.

seed farmers 8

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Ranee’s home garden has many medicinal plants. In this photo, a relative shows how his wound was healed using a combination of two plants from the garden that are known for their blood-clotting properties.

seed farmers 8

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Another herb, kynbat pallon, in Ranee’s garden is used to cure stomach ailments.

seed farmers 9

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

 

Traditional varieties of hill paddy are in decline in many parts. But there’s hope for revival; 14 varieties of local rice were found in a Jaintia village and food justice groups are working to revive more varieties.

seed farmers 9

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

11 varieties of indigenous fish are found in a river that flows below Nongtraw. Communities use baskets to catch the fish, and fishing is regulated by village rules.

seed farmers 10

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Ranee believes it’s important to instill pride in indigenous youth in their unique food culture and deep connection with nature.

seed farmers 11

Credit: Rucha Chitnis

Indigenous dancers showcase their traditional harvest dances at Indigenous Terra Madre in Shillong, Meghalaya in November.

This story was originally published by YES!, a nonprofit publication that supports people’s active engagement in solving today’s social, political, and environmental challenges. 

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