Gardens of Resilience: How Gond Adivasi Women Are Cultivating Change Amid Crisis

PostedonMar. 18, 2024in Environment and Ecology

In Madhya Pradesh’ Panna Tiger Reserve, the Gond Adivasi community of Umravan village faces a dire situation. Displaced in the name of wildlife protection, they struggle to maintain their traditional way of life. A group of resilient women, however, has risen to this challenge. They have spearheaded a movement to cultivate kitchen gardens, using a solar-powered watering system. The kitchen gardens not only provide much-needed food security and support for the community and TB-Silicosis patients, but also represent a sustainable, gender-just climate solution. Their story is a call to action for recognising and funding genuine, community-led gender-just climate solutions and urgently providing the women access to clean energy to meet their daily needs.

The Devastating Impact of Displacement

The Gond Adivasi community, nestled near the Panna Tiger Reserve, is enduring a harrowing ordeal. Many from the community who lived in Umravan village, were forced to move out of their habitat, citing threats to wildlife. The villagers were not properly informed about the displacement, and the recognition of forest land for eligible farmers and settlement rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) were not done properly. Without resources and land, many villagers have no other option but to migrate and engage in hazardous, exploitative, and informal labour work in diamond and stone mines in nearby areas. This has led to a high incidence of respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis within the community.

The displacement has not only scattered the community but also disturbed the ecological balance – Mahua trees yield less each year, invasive species encroach upon the land, and contaminated water and increased human-wildlife interactions indicate the community’s disrupted harmony with nature.

This upheaval disproportionately affects women, who bear the burden of securing water and firewood while nurturing their families under these strained conditions. They hold vital traditional knowledge on medicinal plants, wild food, water conservation, and weather patterns essential for agriculture. This ancestral knowledge, crucial for future climate strategies, is now in danger of being lost due to the forced separation from their lands. This scenario underscores a grim reality of how environmental conservation efforts often bypass these indigenous custodians, who have safeguarded and nurtured these lands for generations.

Innovative Kitchen Gardens

In response to this crisis, the women of Umravan have turned to an innovative solution. Optimising the limited resources they have access to, women have cleared their own homesteads and those abandoned by families who left the village, and transformed them into vibrant kitchen gardens. 

To maintain these gardens, the women have harnessed the power of renewable energy by employing a solar-powered motor to draw water from the communal well and supply it directly to their homesteads. 

Today, they are using the produce from their gardens for their consumption and the surplus is being sold to neighbouring villages for supplementary income. Further, Dhaatri is also purchasing these vegetables for distributing them in our ration kits to all the Silicosis and TB patients as supplementary nutrition support to aid their recovery.

Call for Gender-Just Climate Solutions and Energy Equity

Concurrently with the Kitchen Gardens, Dhaatri supports the Gond Adivasi women in continuing their advocacy efforts with the authorities for their land entitlements and pushes for solutions that support their symbiotic relationship with their forest and habitat.

“We want to highlight the need for solutions that support Adivasi co-existence with nature. We women call for support that addresses our local needs, including guaranteed livelihood opportunities to prevent migration, and urgent access to clean energy for cooking and meeting our daily needs. It’s time to prioritise action that directly benefits women and local communities.” – The women of Umravan

The story of the Gond Adivasi women is a call for a reevaluation of the approach to climate finance and environmental conservation by authorities. It highlights the need for a shift towards solutions that are genuinely inclusive and consider the socio-economic realities of vulnerable communities. The global community is urged to recognise and support indigenous knowledge practices and decentralised alternate energy solutions, while promoting community conserved practices of ecosystem protection as against creating fortresses of conservation that prevent community access (and also access for the tigers!). This calls for a redirection of resources towards solutions spearheaded by women in local communities, and uphold their rights to land, energy, and a healthy environment.

This story is presented as part of the annual ‘We Women are Water’ campaign by the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA). Narrated by women from the affected communities themselves, the campaign presents a series of videos to raise awareness on the action of women around the globe for climate and environmental justice.

To know more about the campaign, and watch the other video stories, click here. 

First Published by Dhaatri on 14 March 2024.

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Ashok Kundapur March 22, 2024 at 7:14 pm

Wonderful initiative