Women meeting for Millets and natural farming
at village Bhotna , District Barnala
19 March, 2009
It was the first of its kind of meeting in Punjab where women were attending the meeting sitting on the chairs and the men were busy preparing and serving the tea to them. The men sat at a distance of a few feet from the site of the meeting and kept wondering at the kind of knowledge sharing among women in the meeting.
The women who have been a neglected lot in the society for generations and who were further neglected and to say cornered by the mono cropping, chemical intensive, technology driven, market dependent and eco-devastating, culture of the green revolution, were elated at the women centric meeting in the village. Even at the end of the meeting the women did not feel like going to their homes.
The meeting started off with the differences in chemical and traditional farming systems, Traditional farming included the rich and healthy lifestyle of the villagers, the abundance of life forms in the fields, the participation of all members of the family in the agriculture, the means of pest control by farmers and the participation of women included in making the fodder available to the livestock, cutting and plucking the grains and vegetables during the harvest season and seed storage and the methods of seed storage in the homes. They also had memories of multi cropping in the fields.
In the next session some girls present in the meeting read out the brief description printed on the vinyl banners prepared for the meeting. It is worth mentioning here that the banners prepared for the meeting were a big hit. It included a brief description of the millets and the nutritive value of the millets and their value as warding of many diseases viz, heart ailments, diabetes etc and particularly their help in weight loss.
The sharing of the nutritive value attracted many women to include millets in their diets and almost all of them promised to use millets in their foods in one or the other form. Some of them even promised to introduce millets in the kitchen gardens.
Earlier the older women were a bit reluctant to introduce millets in the kitchen because of the vast popularity of soft drinks, change in the food culture and the widening generation gap but with some discussion and motivation they promised for its cooking in the kitchens in the form of khichri, porridge and roti and passing on the traditional knowledge to their children and grandchildren.
After that a vinyl banner specially prepared on the benefits of biodiversity and multi cropping was read out and discussed with the women. The women dug out their memories and came out with the memories of the multi cropping culture and also their dependence on their own farms for all the needs of the kitchen. They also discussed the economics of this system
The next session included sharing the method of preparation of various traditional foods that the women prepared for the women meeting. The women came with a dozen of traditional foods that included Mothh bajre di khichri, Makki di rotu, sarson da saag, Makki da dalia, Bajre di roti, Gur walian Savian, Tukean da aachar, namkeen vesan de poore, Gulgale, Gur wale Poore, Thandai and Bajre de tilan wale laddu.
Everybody present in the meeting were made to taste all the foods. Of the all present 50% were the ones who tasted the bajre ki roti for the first time in their lives. Some older men even found talking that they were tasting such foods after a gap of 30 years. While tasting the foods some older women came out with the idioms associated with the traditional foods and their heritage. The songs in the local dialect were written down.
From among the women, some school and college going girls were selected to register the biodiversity in the village and also the use of various plants for their food and medicinal value. The group will prepare the register in their vacations.
A traditional Seed saving committee was formed which included the following women members:
1. Jaswant Kaur
2. Mukhtiar Kaur
3. Manjit Kaur
4. Mohinder Kaur
5. Amarjit Kaur
These women possessed some traditional seeds of vegetables and will also find out who else in the village own some traditional seeds that can be used for multiplication. Amarjit Kaur will work as coordinator for the seeds committee as well as the coordinator for village Bhotna.
Another committee was formed whuch will take care of the coordination for women activities related to millets natural farming and environment in the village. The names are:
1. Jaswant Kaur
2. Mukhtiar Kaur
3. Sarabjit Kaur
4. Mohinder Kaur
5. Amarjit Kaur
6. Rajwinder Kaur
7. Kamaljit Kaur
8. Amanjot Kaur
9. Asha Rani
While discussing the about the traditional seeds the women were very clear that the the crops cultivated using traditional seeds tasted good and that because of the traditional foods people did not fell sick and they did not have to go to the doctors at all. Many older women possessed a wealth of knowledge associated with traditional healing medicines that very prepared in their kitchens to cure common ailments like sore throat, cough, headaches, body aches etc.
The older women were grieved and upset at the deterioration of health and at the rate of which the young generation is falling sick. They kept talking about the vigour and vitality that their generation possessed. The older women were also very disturbed at the lack of physical labour among the younger generation and the lifestyle changes that have occurred in the last ten to fifteen years.
It is worth mentioning here that the green revolution played havoc with the youth in the villages. The dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides rendered them idle who were earlier busy in manual and other creative ways of pest management and other activities associated with agriculture.
Many older women pointed out the absence of an attractive, multi cropped diversity filled, full of life fields. The magnetic attraction that attracted people to fields is missing. Not many children visit their family fields and they are cut off from the thought of pursuing agriculture and also their cultural heritage associated with farming, not just for the sale of the crop yields but a wealth of wisdom that has been carried of from since many generations is a far cry.
It is worth mentioning here that we also conducted one meeting some three months back in the village regarding the adverse effects of chemical farming particularly the havoc that it is playing with the reproductive health of women. Many women that participated in that meeting played an active role in organizing this meeting particularly the coordination among different women preparing the traditional foods.
Next meeting for further action was fixed in which the preparation for the pesticide free kitchen gardens and household seed banks will be discussed. The meeting ended with the women vowing to feed their children with pesticide free food.