1. Executive summaryA. Project duration: December 2021 – October 2023 (23 months, inclusive 4 months
    extension)B. Project cost: Rs 5,80,83,105 (Indian Rupees Five Crores Eighty Lakhs Eighty Three
    Thousand one hundred five)C. Project lead: Mr. Pius Ranee, Executive Director, NESFAS, + 91-9856800587,
    piusranee.nesfas@gmail.comD. Project implementation agencies:
    a. North East Society for Agroecology Support (NESFAS), formerly known as
    North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society, Shillong.
    b. Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE), Jowai
    c. Social Service Centre (SSC), Shillong.E. Project areas: The project area includes 100 villages from all three major indigenous
    communities in Meghalaya (Khasi, Garo and Jaintia) across 8 of the 12 districts in
  2. Background
    NESFAS is an organization established in 2012 with a primary focus on reviving, defending, and promoting Indigenous Peoples’ Food Systems (IPFS). Led by local young people, NESFAS recognizes the invaluable role of women as custodians of biodiversity, food, land, nutrition, and more. The organization’s work is deeply rooted in the values of Indigenous Peoples, emphasizing sharing, caring, and consensus building.
    NESFAS is dedicated to addressing various issues related to food security and sovereignty, health, nutrition, sustainable livelihoods, and green energy. By championing the cause of Indigenous Peoples, NESFAS strives to ensure their rights to cultural identity, food sovereignty, and nutritional security.
    NESFAS implemented a project in December 2021 titled “Empowering Indigenous Communities through Agroecology Learning Circles (ALC) for resilient, integrated, & innovative natural resource management” in partnership with Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE) and the Social Service Centre (SSC). This project, funded by the
    World Bank and supported by the Meghalaya Basin Management Agency (MBMA), combines the principles of agroecology with participatory research to empower indigenous communities and foster sustainable local food systems.
    ALCs aim to recognize, revive, practice, and further develop traditional agroecology technologies and practices, while also stimulating local innovation. The project investigates various aspects of natural resource management, including land planning and seed selection for community resilience, reducing yield loss through pest management, and reversing soil degradation.
    The project is an exemplary initiative that combines traditional wisdom, innovation, and community engagement. It not only addresses immediate challenges related to natural resource management but also empowers indigenous communities to be the architects of their own sustainable futures. By recognizing the importance of local knowledge and fostering collaboration, this project sets a remarkable example for others to follow.
  3. Project areas and stakeholders
    This program was effectively implemented across a total of 100 villages, strategically spread across eight districts within the picturesque state of Meghalaya. These selected villages represent a tapestry of diversity, as they are home to all three of the major indigenous communities thriving in Meghalaya, namely the Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia communities. A distinctive characteristic of these villages is their strong dependence on agriculture, with farming practices deeply rooted in nature-based traditions. The sustenance of these communities primarily relies on essential production systems, including jhum cultivation, bun cultivation, and kitchen gardens. Additionally, they derive a significant portion of their sustenance from a rich array of products harvested from the bountiful natural ecosystems comprising forests and rivers. However, these systems are threatened by the dwindling number of knowledge holders, hence the decline in traditional knowledge and the gap in the intergenerational sharing.The loss of genetic resource and the gradual shifting land use further exacerbate these challenges. The indigenous farmers are also confronted with new challenges posed by climate change and these require a collaborative approach in co-creation and sharing of knowledge among all stakeholders. These villages were selected not only for their unique ecological setting but also for their invaluable repository of traditional knowledge, which enriches and defines their intricate food systems. (Annexure 1: List of project villages)
  4. Project activities
    a. Category 1: Awareness and Community Trust for newly selected 71 villages Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) was obtained from 71 new villages that were included in the project, following a comprehensive general awareness
    conducted across these villages. In the course of the project, spanning twenty months from 2021-2023, a total of 2039 farmers were successfully mobilised to become members of ALCs across 100 villages. Of these, 1209 are women farmers and 487 youths are members of the ALCs. (Annexure 2: List of ALC members)
    In collaboration with SIRD (State Institute of Rural Development), Government of Meghalaya, 100 community facilitators received training in leadership skills and the ethos of the community-led ALC approach aimed to empower them to lead and support the ALCs within their respective communities. The Programme was divided into three clusters- one each for the Community Facilitators of Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo Hills, and each session lasting for three days, commencing from March 10 till April 8, 2022. The curriculum of the programme was designed to hone their leadership and communication skills. They were also trained in basic documentation and storytelling skills.
    ALC members actively participated in free listing exercises documenting their rich biodiversity and sharing their traditional knowledge of food systems. An innovative approach was adopted to involve children and youth in this process through the ABD (Agrobiodiversity) walks, led by custodian farmers. This initiative promoted and encouraged intergenerational learning to ensure the preservation of biodiversity and knowledge. During such walks, the diversity of food plants within each system was demonstrated and recorded. (Annexure 3: List of Agrobiodiversity/ABD documented
    during ABD walks)
    b. Category 2: Analysis of Existing Information and Identification
    of Knowledge Gaps and Opportunities
    The Agroecology Learning Circles (ALCs) adopted a bottom-up approach, placing a strong emphasis on promoting peer learning within the farming communities. This approach was facilitated through focus group discussions and exchange visits, which served as platforms for collaborative knowledge sharing and problem-solving. These gatherings provided valuable opportunities to identify key agricultural challenges, propose solutions, and address knowledge gaps. (Annexure 4: List of ALC problems
    and solutions)
    One of the most significant challenges faced by farmers in these communities was pest infestation of their crops. A total of 14 pests were identified as problematic, with common ones including corm borer in taro, loppers and aphids in mustard, and white grub and cutworm in crops like potato, maize, ginger, and turmeric.
    Another pressing issue was the decline in soil health. Soil management practices varied from organic to a combination of natural and inorganic methods across the villages. Villages that predominantly practiced jhum cultivation maintained organic soil management practices. This includes villages in West and East Garo Hills on other hand, many villages that engage in bun cultivation and paddy have resort to a combination of organic and inorganic treatments. The use of the chemical is particularly noticeable in regions where potato cultivation is prevalent, such as the areas in Laitkroh, Mawkynrew and pockets of Umling and Bhoirymbong block. The
    extensive usage is found in villages of Mawthadraishan.
    Seed diversity was another area of focus. While farmers continued to cultivate and save seeds of various crops, there was an overall decline in both seed diversity and quantity. Some crops, like millet, had been lost in many villages or were limited to a few households. Farmers were also introduced to new crops like lettuce, carrots, and
    cole crops, usually grown in winter, but lacked knowledge of seed saving and had to depend on the market for seeds.
    To address these challenges, peer learning led to the documentation of 40 practices adopted by farmers in their villages, encompassing methods to improve soil health, reduce pests, and manage seeds. 48 technical training sessions (Annexure 5: Technical trainings) were organized to bridge knowledge gaps, with experts, custodian farmers, practitioners, and progressive farmers providing guidance. These training sessions covered various topics, including compost preparation for soil health improvement, locally available resources for pest management, and seed production techniques. This holistic approach aimed to empower farmers with the knowledge and skills needed to overcome agricultural challenges and promote sustainable farming practices within their communities.
    Exchange visits were a pivotal aspect of the Agroecology Learning Circles (ALCs), comprising a total of 48 gatherings (Annexure 6: Exchange visits) where members from various villages shared and learned from each other’s agricultural practices. These visits facilitated an exchange of knowledge on diverse farming techniques,
    seed preservation, and agrobiodiversity conservation. Custodian farmers played a vital role in imparting traditional wisdom, and the visits resulted in the exchange of seeds, strengthening crop diversity and preserving traditional varieties. Beyond knowledge sharing, these visits fostered strong community bonds, unity, and shared
    purpose among ALC members, promoting the adoption of innovative and sustainable agricultural practices across the region. These programmes were also attended by participation of 55 non-project villages. (Annexure 7: List of non project villages)
  5. Outputs
  6. Outcomes
  7. Challenges
  8. Lessons learned
  9. Recommendations and Way Forward
  10. Voices from the ground

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