Gaia Education Project Based Learning Programme Empowering Communities in Orissa. By May East
In Orissa, 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture. Although rich with natural resources, 66.23% of the population lives below the poverty line1, earning approximately 5964 Rupees per person a year (£100 a year!), the second lowest income of the 17 major states in India2.
I arrived in Orissa’s Kakriguma Siddharta Village with the monsoon, which was nearly a month late, to the disquietude of local tribal farmers. While the Hindustan Times was stating the Monsoon is the real Minister of Agriculture of India, determining the course of farming, the India Times was focusing on different, yet related, matter: the alleged suicide of over 120 farmers, apparently due to the lack of clarity on the farmers’ loan waiver scheme. Experts are linking the farmers’ miseries to the fact that banks are not issuing fresh loans in the face of the poor monsoon during the sowing season.
It was under these grey skies that I came to launch a 2½ year food security project designed by Gaia Education in local partnership with THREAD and in consultation with a local women’s confederation, Orissa Nari Samaj (ONS). The project, funded by the Scottish Government Small Grants Fund, is targeting 750 families, especially women, in four Gram Panchayats of Laxmipur Block in Koraput District. The aim of the project is to increase food security, build social cohesion and address climate change.
Each year a mixed group of tribal villagers, farmers, ONS women and college students will participate in a Transition Training (TT) followed by the month long Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) course. The course takes place at THREAD’s Siddharta Village. The Village has been practicing & advocating organic farming, promoting indigenous culture & medicine and hosting Vipassana meditation courses for the last 20 years. Each year 250 families - 750 families over 2.5 years - will benefit from a Grow Your Own Food initiative and the development of two vegetable demonstration gardens. In addition, the TT and EDE participants will work with approximately 100 surrounding villages in neighbouring blocks to increase the impact of the project in region.
View "Grow Your Own Food" presentation here.
EDE Social Design and Transition Training material in process of being translated into Orya, the local language, were shared with an eager group of participants during 6 days of intense TT learning and bridging of worldviews.
Learning outcomes of the Social Design were measured before and after the course. Some of them included:
- to create a common vision for a collective project
- to improve their communication
- to use participatory approaches to make decisions that everybody can accept
- to deal with conflict and diversity
- to map the network of connections needed for their projects.
During the Transition Training we covered the context for transition along with TT’s 7 Principles, 12 Ingredients, 4 Scenarios, the role of positive visioning to unleash collective projects and how to engage villagers to join transition projects.
Thousands of tribal villages around the state are currently in danger of losing their ecological cohesion & diversity. Koraput District in particular, once abundant with 750 varieties of traditional paddy cultivars, is experiencing an alarming vanishing of this diversity due to the interventions of cash crops and GM seeds. Traditional varieties of millet, yam, and tuber crops are also gradually disappearing, along with sustainable lifestyles and cultural values. Our project intends to revert the process.
Through Open Space and participatory approaches 5 working groups were created to establish & advance the following projects:
- waste management in a students hostel in Bhubaneswar;
- integrated resource use in 3 villages of Laxmipur, including rain-water and manure collection for enhanced agriculture;
- two groups focusing on women’s empowerment through permaculture;
- and tapping into the renewable energy potential of the region while shifting kerosene lamp dependency.
In parallel, the Growing Your Own Food initiative has started with great enthusiasm! Since May we have distributed seedlings of banana, papaya, eggplant, tomato and drum stick to 140 families of tribal communities - our target is 250 families this year. The intention is to diversify their vegetable intake (and so vitamin intake), enhancing villagers’ health and well-being. Representatives of all communities are learning how to save the seeds for the next season.
After a slight dip in activity the monsoon picked up once again, and as I left Orissa the farming communities and THREAD co-workers were confident that by utilising ecovillage design and transition approaches we will break the cycle of food insecurity and strengthen their traditions to survive in rapidly changing environments.
Name of the Project:
Integrated Ecovillage Design Education and Transition Towns training to build the capacity of indigenous people, especially women, in four Gram Panchayats of Laxmipur Block of Koraput District to increase food security, build social cohesion, and address climate change.
Funded by: The Scottish Government