© Women's Earth Alliance

Transferring Traditional Knowledge by Supporting Women to Build Heirloom Seed Businesses in Karnataka, India

Organization Women's Earth Alliance
Realm Indomalaya

The Project Marketplace is organized by the major terrestrial realms divided into 14 biogeographical regions – N. America, Subarctic America, C. America, S. America, Afrotropics, Indomalaya, Australasia, Oceania, Antarctica, and the Palearctic realm, which coincides with Eurasia and is divided into Subarctic, Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern regions.

Category Regenerative Agriculture

There are five main project categories: Energy Transition focuses on renewable energy access and energy efficiency. Nature Conservation includes wildlife habitat protection and ecosystem restoration, as well as Indigenous land rights. Regenerative Agriculture supports farmers, ranchers and community agriculture. Climate Change covers global science efforts, climate adaptation, and social justice work.

Status ongoing

Seed indicates an early stage project that needs some level of support to develop into a larger funding proposal. Ongoing indicates any project that needs core programmatic funding. Urgent indicates a short-term project initiated in response to a natural disaster or other impending risk.

Funding Level $

A single $ indicates a small project requiring $50,000 or less.

Timeframe 1 Year

Karnataka is located in the Western Ghats, a region recognized as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots but largely unprotected. With the intensification of chemical agriculture, and a changing and unpredictable climate rendering the monsoons unreliable, animal and plant species that have sustained people for thousands of years are in jeopardy of extinction, and communities are increasingly vulnerable to hunger and poverty. The introduction of chemical agriculture has decimated India’s long history of biodiverse and ecologically sensitive agricultural and forestry practices. It has also entrenched the existing social hierarchies and gendered distribution of landholding and wealth. Women farmers have been hit the hardest. 

In India, WEA is helping to organize and build the capacity of rural women leaders and small-scale forest home gardeners in the Malnad region of Karnataka in order to preserve traditional knowledge, promote Indigenous seed saving practices, support climate adaptation and mitigation, and further the rights of women farmers. This project emphasizes working with local women and villages in the Western Ghats to push for a return to the long-standing tradition of biodiversity-friendly agriculture. This includes maintaining Indigenous seed stocks and food forests, practices that currently face great threats. 

The goal of this joint initiative called Seeds of Resilience, with local organization Vanastree, is to ensure seed and food sovereignty and the transfer of traditional knowledge by supporting women to build and scale seed businesses, lead trainings to increase farm biodiversity and productivity, participate in demonstrations and exchanges, and build networks in their communities and beyond.

Women farmers launched their own campaigns, product lines, seed enterprises, small businesses, and demo farms. Participants went on to train over 54,000 additional people with skills, tools, and knowledge in regenerative agriculture and seed saving, giving rise to new tree-planting initiatives, food forests, ecological product lines, and complementary microenterprises.

Participants launched and grew the Vanya Community Seed Bank, which now gives regional farmers access to previously unavailable Indigenous seed varieties. Since its launch, the Seed Bank increased the seed varieties it manages and sells by over 25 percent. Due to high demand, training participants launched a second community seed bank in the region, which provides food security for thousands more people.

4,000 farmers planted Indigenous seed varieties in their gardens, planting an average of 2-3 new varieties and employing regenerative farming practices. These changes increased nutrition, resilience to floods, drought and other climate shocks, and preserved native forest garden ecosystems.

10,000 trees were also planted by community members, contributing to the Indigenous tradition of agroforestry and biodiversity, while also increasing resilience to climate shocks and providing multiple ecosystem services.

96% of women farmers participating in the India Seeds of Resilience Initiative now have full authority over their farms, and their households support their garden plots as well as their use of native seeds and organic farming practices. The entire landscape has now become a seed sanctuary. Members of the local community, especially the women, are the stewards and keepers of seed diversity and the ethno-culinary traditions of the area, supporting intergenerational knowledge transfer.

Additional capital will support the expansion of the Seeds of Resilience project to other states in India, allowing WEA and Vanastree to engage with women farmers to incorporate regenerative farming practices and traditional seed saving in their local regions. The goal is to form additional seed banks, using them as a hub to preserve traditional knowledge, promote Indigenous seed saving practices, scale sustainable livelihoods. 

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