30th May 2019Shillong, MeghalayaThe TIP Fellows 2019 joined the NESFAS Team and partners SSC (Social Service Centre) and SURE (Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment) that came together to share updates, ideas, local solutions and knowledge at a three-day retreat
The purpose of the retreat was to learn more about the basic concepts for sustaining indigenous food systems and well-being. The 29 participants also took the opportunity to form a bond with the two fellows, Nofri Yani from Indonesia and Edgar Osvaldo from Mexico, who are touring Meghalaya as part of the TIP Youth Fellowship Programme 2019. Meets with them became avenues to understand similarities and indigenous lessons that their food systems and cultural heritage provides for agrobiodiversity propagation.
NESFAS’ latest field work to develop the Dietery Diversity Score (DDS) across its network of villages for better understanding the state of nutrition was reviewed. This was supplemented by a key orientation by Dr. Carl O Rangad, NESFAS Board Member, who broke the stereotypical notion of young team members that soil is not dirt. He said, “We walk on it, we build our houses on it but we don’t really give in and think about how important this membrane, that is looking after our earth, is.” He stressed on the importance of conserving the soil which is being eroded away to Bangladesh at an alarming rate. “Taking the soil for granted can lead to many problems unknowingly,” he added. This was followed by key aspects of participatory mapping, ABD (Agrobiodiversity) findings, challenges and mistakes that could be detrimental, and campaigns to promote health and nutrition in the villages. All oriented to the thought ‘Protect your environment, protect your diet’.
Dr. Kevin Gallagher, one of the founding authors in Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations on Farmer Field School and Ethnobotanist Lukas Pawera, who were also touring Meghalaya dropped in to meet the NESFAS team. They had visited a few partner communities of NESFAS to see the indigenous heritage. Before leaving Shillong, Gallagher dropped in at the retreat to share with the NESFAS team the various avenues that they could explore for insect management- a species which can be used to balance the equation on the field and not as pests. He spoke about the importance of ‘digital green’, a movement which uplifts farmers from poverty by making use of technology, which enlightened the Fellows and inspired them to look at adopting the technology in their communities.
The participants also engaged in several ice-breaking activities which were mostly focused on the works and campaigns of NESFAS. Two members from the Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment and Social Service Centre also took part in the program. Rathindra Roy, mentor for NESFAS, who was principally responsible for facilitating the three-day program, spoke about the importance of narratives. He said, “Indigenous people’s stories are always marginalised in mainstream media. Therefore, there is a need to change the narrative so that the right story is being focused and the right message is being sent out to the mass.” He was joined by Ajay Nayak to work with the team to understand the possibility of ‘Changing the Indigenous Narrative’ to a positive world view on their contribution to biodiversity.
Lukas Pawera reviewed the work of the NESFAS team on the DDS and addressed the indigenous food system of the Minangkabau indigenous group from West Sumatra, Indonesia. Yani, who comes form the same community, on the other hand, spoke about the matriarchal and cultural system of the same indigenous group. Dr. Bhogtoram Mawroh, an Associate at NESFAS, along with Pawera gave a presentation on the mapping of micronutrient-rich species.
S F Lyngdoh, Chief Operating officer, Meghalaya State Rural Livelihoods Society (MSRLS), The Nodal Agency of government of Meghalaya for Implementing National Rural Livelihoods Mission joined the panel on Livelihoods initiatives of NESFAS and said, “It is important for us to focus on the ‘below the poverty line’ group using the self-help group approach which is found to be a successful method from our experiences to develop entrepreneurship.”