Justice and Sustainability

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

In India’s Panna Tiger Reserve, the Gond Adivasi community of Umravan village faces a dire situation. Displaced in the name of wildlife protection, these Indigenous people struggle to maintain their traditional way of life. A group of resilient women, however, has risen to this challenge.

By FCAM | March 12, 2024

Long Story Short:

In India’s Panna Tiger Reserve, the Gond Adivasi community of Umravan village faces a dire situation. Displaced in the name of wildlife protection, these Indigenous people 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, which not only provide much-needed food security and support for tuberculosis and silicosis patients but also represent a sustainable, gender-just climate solution. Their story is a call to action for recognizing and funding genuine, community-led gender-just climate solutions.

False Solution Affecting the Gond Adivasi Community

The Gond Adivasi community, nestled near the Panna Tiger Reserve, is enduring a harrowing ordeal. Many from the Gond Adivasi community who live in Umravan village, are forced to move out of their habitat for a tiger conservation project, which falsely accuses the community of destroying the forest and being a threat to the tiger population. The eventual displacement was poorly implemented – villagers were not properly informed, many were intimidated and forced to sign their consent, and the recognition of forest land for eligible farmers and settlement rights under the Indian Forest Rights Act (FRA) were ignored. Without resources and land, many villagers migrate and work in hazardous, exploitative, and informal labour work in diamond and stone mines in nearby areas, which has resulted in high incidence of respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis (TB) and silicosis for the migrants from the community.

This displacement has not only scattered the community but has also disturbed the ecological balance. Mahua trees, once bountiful in the area, now yield less each year, invasive species now encroach upon the land, altering the biodiversity the community has long preserved. The contamination from mining activities has tainted the waterways, intensifying conflicts between wildlife and the remaining community members. All of this showcases the disrupted harmony of the Gond Adivasi community with the nature which has happened because of being uprooted from their ancestral land.

This upheaval has disproportionately impacted women, who bear the brunt of securing water and firewood while nurturing their families under these strained conditions. Women in the community are custodians of traditional Indigenous and ecological knowledge. They have a deep understanding of the medicinal properties of various plants, the identification and use of wild vegetables, the intricacies of water conservation, and an innate ability to read and respond to weather patterns, all intertwined with the agricultural practices that are attuned to these natural cycles. This invaluable knowledge, passed down through generations, is at risk of being lost. The forced separation of these Indigenous communities from their ancestral lands threatens to sever the chain of knowledge transmission, jeopardizing their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies for future generations. This scenario underscores a grim reality of how environmental conservation efforts can overlook the very people who have been protectors and nurturers of these lands for generations, and therefore being false climate solutions.

Gender-just climate solution

In response to this crisis, the women of Umravan have turned to an innovative solution of restoring their backyards and the small patches of land they still have access to, as vibrant kitchen gardens. These gardens are more than just patches of cultivation; they are a reflection of the hope and resilience of the women from the Gond Adivasi community. As the vegetables start to grow, the women are striving to nurture the crops that hold the promise of food security and sustainability for their community, who are being denied access to the lands and forests they have forever considered home. To maintain these kitchen gardens, they also implemented the solution of solar powered motors to draw waters from the communal well directly into these kitchen gardens. Today, they don’t only use the surplus to sell and earn an income, but also use this very kitchen garden to provide the much needed nutritious food to the people who were uprooted and forced to live with tuberculosis and silicosis. They do this while continuing their advocacy efforts with the authorities for their land entitlements and encourage them to move away from false solutions and toward solutions on which the symbiotic Indigenous relationship with nature and forest continues to thrive.

Call to Action from the community

We want to highlight the need for climate finance that supports our 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 prioritize action that directly benefits local communities and women.

– Dhaatri, a resource centre for women and children

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 recognize and support Indigenous solutions like the kitchen gardens of Umravan and for decentralized alternate energy solutions, while promoting community conserved practices of ecosystem protection as against creating fortresses of conservation that prevent community access. This calls for a redirection of resources towards solutions spearheaded by local communities, especially women, girls, trans, intersex, and non-binary people, and uphold their rights to land and a healthy environment.

Who’s supporting this gender-just climate solution?

Dhaatri – A resource centre for women and children, has been actively working with the Gond Adivasi community in Panna since 2015. Their primary focus has been on amplifying the voices of Adivasi women and supporting them in asserting their forest rights and claiming their rightful entitlements. The organization collaborates closely with women and local communities to demonstrate effective approaches for restoring livelihoods, forests, knowledge practices, and promoting food security and renewables for gender justice. Through field workshops and knowledge exchanges, Dhaatri works towards equipping women with essential skills, an understanding of laws and procedures, and strategies to effectively address the challenges they face. Dhaatri is supported by Both ENDS, Alliance Member of the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action. 

This is one story out of many from the The Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) network where women, girls, trans, intersex, and non-binary people from local and Indigenous communities are at the forefront of fighting for climate and environmental justice against false climate solutions. The time is now to resource the transformative climate solutions led by women, girls, inter, non-binary and trans people and stop investment in false climate solutions. Commit your support to uphold human rights and invest in women’s leadership in gender-just climate solutions!

GAGGA will be present at CSW68 between March 11 to March 22, 2024. For collaboration opportunities and to learn more, please contact Noemi Grütter, GAGGA Co-Coordinator, Responsible for Advocacy and Collaborations: n.grutter@fondocentroamericano.org. For additional insights around this article and Dhaatri – A Resource Centre for Women and Children’s work and to connect directly, reach out to Saraswat Mandarapu, Media Coordinator, at saraswat@dhaatri.org.

This story and GAGGA’s CSW68 actions are supported by Global Affairs Canada and The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Their contribution has been instrumental in GAGGA’s efforts to highlight critical issues and voices at CSW68.