IIED’s annual report is a panoramic snapshot of a year in the institute’s life. You can discover the part we played in getting adaptation to the top of the global climate agenda — and how we balance the biofuels debate, support innovative sanitation in slums, advise Peruvian potato farmers on their rights, create models of ‘food chains’ that give a fairer deal to the rural poor, plant the roots of fair forest management, and much more.
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A sample case study
Reaping the riches: biodiversity through a farmer’s lens
Group: Natural Resources
The Telangana region in the eastern reaches of India’s Deccan plateau sits on ancient rock — some of the oldest, and most stable, in the country. Perhaps it is fitting that the people here keep the old ways, safeguarding stores of diverse seeds gleaned from crop species long gone elsewhere. Yet these villagers are hardly stuck in the past. As an IIED project in the area has graphically shown, the women of Telangana are as deft with a video camera as they are with a hoe.
Most of the women in the area sanghams or village associations are dalits, at the bottom rung of India’s social hierarchy. Most cannot read. Their appreciation for a good story and for visual beauty, however, has made them naturals behind a camera.
Rebuilding sustainable food systems
The women of the sanghams are highly motivated to preserve their local crop biodiversity and food systems. Their health and livelihoods depend on a range of traditional varieties such as dew-fed millet and the legume black gram, which tend to be more nutritious and resilient to poor soil fertility and climate-driven conditions such as drought. In a semi-arid region like Telangana, where rainfed agriculture predominates, these characteristics are very important.
So when IIED and the Deccan Development Society, which works with many of the region’s sanghams, approached a group of them with the idea of studying ways to sustain diverse local food systems, they were keen to document the research and communicate its findings.
The result — a series of 12 films under the title Affirming Life and Diversity — was launched at the Conference of Parties to the UN biodiversity convention in 2008.
Weathering the pressures
The pressures on local food culture and traditional farming practice are immense. Supply chain requirements are often inappropriate to community needs, and prices for produce can be unfair. The introduction of genetically engineered crops is another threat. But this project has shown that biodiversity-rich local food systems can be sustained, as long as farmers, indigenous peoples and other locals are central to the process. It also created stable local markets for producers from the region to sell surplus vegetables, grains and beans, and improve local control over the choice of technologies, markets and policies for food and agriculture.The project has succeeded to a significant degree because IIED’s emphasis from the start has been on doing research with, for and by the people involved. Too often, research is imposed on rural people without their sanction. So on their own terms and in their own time, they assessed the desirability and relevance of engaging in the collaboration. Ultimately, the women of Telengana felt respected and empowered by this research, as they were equal partners in its design, implementation and communication.
"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. Since I learned to use the camera, I am doing the same. I am storing knowledge of my communities with my camera and interpreting them for the outside world which does not know about this."
Humnapur Laxmamma, sangham member, Telangana