Drought is real now. People perceive it. Farmers experience it. Even governments realize the problem.
From 20-22nd January 2017
Seed and harvest festivals have come back to Kerala in the last one decade as part of the organic farming –sustainable agriculture movement in the state. The slow death of agri-culture that was happening in Kerala in the 1980s and 1990s resulted in sidelining traditional wisdom and loss of livelihoods especially in food production. The two festivals of Kerala, Onam and Vishu, both were traditionally harvest festivals. Now these have also become market oriented commercial events where people buy everything instead of producing from their own land or in their own homes. And the younger generation does not see the connection between these festivals and agriculture and food production.
In the last 10 years this scenario has changed. Many groups and organizations joined the rice festivals, brinjal festivals and seed festivals and seed caravans which became a rallying point for not only farmers but also students, social and environmental activists, SHGs, local self governments, cultural groups and citizens at large.
The harvest festival at Arangottukara, a small village in Thrissur district was initiated by a theatre-art group called Patasala, which began organizing people around environment, agriculture and food safety issues some 10 years back. They joined the campaign to keep Bt Brinjal out of our farms and plates and also the 20 state Kisan Swaraj Yathra. They used these events and campaigns to further raise awareness about biodiversity in their locality . Their organic farming initiative motivated them to form the Krishi patasala( meaning farm school). This is a collective of farmers, mostly women farmers who are into organic production, value addition and marketing. They have been organizing the harvest festival in the last 4-5 years. This is a 2-3 days festival where the days and nights are packed with cultural performances, harvesting and winnowing of paddy, seminars and discussions on different aspects of society , women , children , environment and sustainability.
This year due to the drought there was virtually nothing to harvest. So the team decided to still conduct the festival and made climate change the focal theme. Drought is real now. People perceive it. Farmers experience it. Even governments realize the problem. In this village many farmers could not start even cultivation this season. The Krishi patasala collective began cultivation and for the first time in a decade they had to irrigate the crop to save at least part of their crop. Fortunately they have a good water source.
This year, ten children of this collective started rice biodiversity conservation with 10 different varieties of rice. Each child took charge of one variety. Before the festival began this team of children walked around their village and documented all the water resources and their history. They made a video of this and it was screened during the second day of the festival . Jayakumar ( founder of Thanal) and I interacted with them on the issue of climate change and its impact on agriculture . On the same day there was another session on climate change which was anchored by me with panelists including Suchithra( journalist and activist), Jayakumar( Thanal), Bindu( District Soil Conservation officer) and few practioners also joined. At the end of the discussion everyone strongly felt the need to start some local action urgently to address the issue of water.
As usual there was exhibition of seeds, agriculture produce, crafts ,paintings , seminar and discussion, drama , songs , video , etc during this 3 day event . Thanal’s stall had different varieties of paddy seeds which attracted attention of not only farmers, but children , panchayath members, writers etc. On the second day morning all the participants came together to repair a pond in this village. In the previous years the second day morning is reserved for paddy harvest. The organizers wanted to bring the message home the message that there will be no food to harvest unless we begin harvesting water first. These festivals are not just celebrations, but also an opportunity to make people think and take home a new message. On the third day morning people harvested some paddy (the very little that survived the drought) and enjoyed the music along with harvest.
All the three days people were served with organic food, produced locally. Simple, pure food. That is another unique feature of this event. Sreeja, Narayanan , Bappu, Savithri, Ashitha, Bindu, Sashi, ….many more names, who bring us all together every year to this beautiful event. A group of people who are part of this collective, seeking sustainable , secure ways of lives and livelihoods and spaces for creative thinking and action
Thanal and Save Our Rice campaign has been part of this festival since 2008 and introduced various ideas and messages on bio intensive farming, food and nutritional security, seed diversity, women in farming, youth in farming etc.