Sowing Right; Reaping Bright

Empowering women by ensuring food sovereignty in rural communities.

Published on : 12/20/21
  • Empowering women by ensuring food sovereignty in rural communities

    Inclusivity is the cornerstone of Sodexo values. The organization believes in creating a better everyday for everyone to build a better life for all. Sodexo already has a Better Tomorrow 2025 plan and aligning with this vision, the company has taken up several community development initiatives to promote sustainable livelihoods. One such initiative is the implementation of food sovereignty for women, in association with Sulabh International Centre for Action Sociology.

    How to Work Towards Food Sustainability

    With an intention to establish food sovereignty, Sulabh International Centre for Action Sociology identified 16 villages in Sangamner and Akole blocks under the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra and sought the help of women volunteers to make this project a success. The objective was to create a seed bank, managed by these women, that would act as a storage for high quality indigenous seeds. Farmers could purchase these organic seeds for a nominal price; these seeds would give rise to a healthy crop, devoid of chemicals, and it would also help conserve agro biodiversity. Additionally, the project would establish food chain from farm to end-customer and lead to economic and social empowerment of women.

    Seeds from traditional agricultural varieties help to solve food shortages and malnutrition. This also intensifies food system resilience to climate and cultural challenges. Seed banks promote resilient and diversified food production of sorghum, millets and many more indigenous varieties which also protects the biodiversity of the area. In our initiative, women farmers are using the conservation of the native seeds as the basis of their own development.

    This vision aims to preserve and promote the indigenous seeds to achieve food sufficiency which eventually eradicates hunger and restores the dignity of farmers. I am sure this joint partnership of Sulabh International with Sodexo India – Stop Hunger will contribute immensely towards food security and will come out with a successful model of food sovereignty

    said Nirja Bhatnagar, National Director - Program and Advocacy, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation.

    However, several challenges had to be overcome first

    There were several constraints that challenged the success of this project. To begin with, the problem of patriarchy had to be resolved. Traditionally, the men of the house have always handled farming while the women looked after the house. Further, there prevailed a strong belief that hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers would help increase yield; quantity took precedence over quality. Inappropriate farming practices were followed too; for example, more interest remained in mono-cropping as it was easy, overlooking the fact that this practice would eventually rid the soil of fertility.

    But the journey became smoother

    Once the villages were identified for the project, community seed workers, or animators, having interest and experience in working with women farmers were employed. They held meetings in the village to build rapport with the women, discussed with gram panchayat members to gain support of key persons, visited nearby kitchen gardens to gather more knowledge and created focus group of already engaged women farmers who had been conserving and cultivating indigenous crop varieties. These activities helped both the project staff and the local women to gear up for project implementation.

    Many interesting facts were noticed after implementation

    There were many interesting and welcome changes once the project was implemented. The women became aware of gender discrimination in farming and endeavoured to break the shackles. They took active interest in cultivation of crops and promoted indigenous variety of seeds. Adoption of organic farming practices led to reduction of production costs of farming goods in comparison to farming with chemical inputs. Women were encouraged to start their own kitchen gardens. This helped them produce vegetables for their daily meals; and the surplus could be sold in the local market to get money that supplemented the family income.

    Gradually, the advantages of organic seeds became apparent, and women farmers started exchanging seeds among themselves instead of purchasing from the market at a higher price. This also fostered team spirit among the women. It led to increased collaboration and the women started discussing best methods for seed conservation and increase of farm produce.

    As Savita Lende, belonging to a small, remote, tribal village named Kandarmalwadi in Sangmner, Maharashtra puts it,

    I have understood the importance of local seeds and organic farming. Therefore, I have decided to grow the vegetables first for the consumption of my family then to sell in the local market. I will always try to meet nutritional need of my family and to keep the family healthy.

    On the productivity and financial side, there was an increase of around 13-14% in crop yield after the first quarter, and it was projected that this could go up to 20% if there was complete implementation of organic farming. Simultaneously, the average income too increased and the value touched Rs. 24000-25000 per annum in the project villages.

    Subsistence and climate resilient organic farming is the answer to climate change challenges and can also help overcome hunger. Let’s achieve food sovereignty and restore human dignity.

    says Ashwin Bhosale, Corporate Responsibility & HSE Head – Sodexo India.

    We too had a sublime experience

    The project was an extremely enriching experience for Sodexo. It brought huge satisfaction to the organization that has always strived to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, overcome gender disparity and promote local entrepreneurship for community development. It was also a huge learning experience as discussions with the local women and farmers helped us gain a new perspective. Further, the project helped create a storehouse of organic produce that the onsite kitchens nearby could depend on.

    By encouraging sustainable livelihoods every day, Sodexo is carrying on its legacy of creating a better tomorrow for the entire community