These Alternative Economies Are Inspirations for a Sustainable World

By Ashish KotharionJul. 04, 2021in Perspectives
Making peace with the biosphere will require building communities and relationships that are focused on protecting life—human and nonhuman
Indigenous seeds, nourished by rainwater and organic supplements, help Nadimidoddi Vinodamma of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a farmers’ cooperative in southern India, grow enough food for her family as well as to sell in local markets. Credit: Ashish Kothari

No one in her village faced food shortages during the lockdowns, nor did they suffer from COVID-19, Moligeri Chandramma assured me through an interpreter this past March. A farmer in the drylands of southern India, she grows more than 40 species and varieties of crops—mostly native millets, rice, lentils and spices—on a bit more than a hectare of land. Chandramma is a member of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a cooperative of nearly 5,000 Dalit (oppressed caste) and Adivasi (Indigenous) women whose remarkable integration of biodiversity conservation with agricultural livelihoods earned them the United Nations’ prestigious Equator Award in 2019. Emerging from a situation of extreme malnutrition and social and gender discrimination in the 1980s, these farmers now enjoy food sovereignty and economic security. Not only are they weathering the pandemic, in 2020 each family in DDS contributed around 10 kilograms of food grains to the region’s relief effort for those without land and livelihoods.

On the other side of the world, six Indigenous Quechua communities of the Peruvian Andes govern the Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) in Pisac, Cusco, a mountainous landscape that is one of the original homelands of the potato. They protect the region as a “biocultural heritage” territory, a trove of biological and cultural riches inherited from ancestors, and conserve more than 1,300 varieties of potato. When I visited in 2008 with other researchers and activists, I was stunned into silence by the diversity.

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This article was originally published with the title “A Tapestry of Alternatives” in Scientific American 324, 6, 60-69 (June 2021)

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