The effects of global climate change are often most extreme in areas that contribute least to the problem, such as the farming villages of Koraput in Odisha, India. There, monsoon season is critical to their traditional farming methods, but rain patterns have recently become increasingly erratic and sparse. The district turned to cash crops, mechanization, and genetically modified seeds to combat the drought, and tribal women who once performed the majority of agricultural labor became unemployed and unempowered. In response, the local Orissa Nari Samaj, a federation of women’s organizations from individual villages, teamed up with the Odisha Team for Human Resource Education and Action for Development and Gaia Education to develop a campaign to find more sustainable drought solutions.
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Their “Grow Your Own Food” initiative focuses on tailoring permaculture techniques to the climate and empowering villagers to become engaged in and educated about their food production. According to the chief executive of Gaia Education, May East, “The campaign is continually developing new climate-resilient agricultural approaches rooted in traditional ways of growing food.” The initiative focuses on crops suited to the local climate, such as banana, papaya, eggplant, moringa, tomato, cabbage, and cauliflower, and promotes gardening techniques that treat the soil as a living system. Vermicomposting, green manures, herbal pesticides, and native knowledge all afford Koraput’s people higher crop yields, and — unlike conventional agriculture — better access to clean water and improved soil health.
Education about eco-village practices and seed preservation also contributed to the success of the project, and the collaboration encouraged greater community outreach and involvement within villages and among nearby communities. Women inspired by the success of their efforts have offered permaculture technique demonstrations to others in their villages, generating a grassroots spread of the practices.