Environment, Women and Political Ecology

- Ancy Eapen

The view of biodiversity produced by dominant institutions such as the World Bank, World Conservation Union, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund, and supported by G-7 countries is based on a particular representation of the “threats to biodiversity” which emphasize loss of habitats, species introduction in alien habitats, and fragmentation due to habitat reduction. It fails to address the underlying causes, rather, it offers a set of prescriptions for the conservation and sustainable use of resources at the international, national and local levels; it suggests appropriate mechanisms for biodiversity management, including scientific research in methods of conservation. It also suggests economic use of biodiversity resources, chiefly through intellectual property rights. This dominant discourse is being actively promoted from a variety of sites and through manifold academic, institutional, managerial, and political practices.

The discourse of biodiversity as resource management is linked to three discourses: conservation science, sustainable development, and benefits sharing, either through intellectual property rights or through other mechanisms. Although there is great variation in the positions taken by national governments in the Third World, it can be said that there is a Third World national perspective that, without questioning the global-centric discourse, seeks to negotiate the terms of biodiversity treaties and strategies.This article looks into the strategy adopted by the Third World countries in acknowledging the logic of diversity as a holistic ecology and a more enlightened science than the bio-imperialism of global-centric perspective that advocates the logic of uniformity. The proposal for bio-democracy that ensues is articulated around a series of requirements that include: local control of natural resources, suspension of mega development projects and of subsidies to diversity-destroying- activities, support for practices based on the logic of diversity; redefinition of productivity and efficiency to reflect this logic; and recognition of the cultural basis of biological diversity.The research throws light on the contribution of women in ecological and biodiversity conservation. It gives insight to the close interaction of women with nature that has been prevalent from olden times and which remained unacknowledged, sometimes ignored by patriarchy.

Keywords: biodiversity, politics of ecology, women and environment.

About the Author: Dr. Ancy Eapen, Dept of English –PG, JGI, Palace Road, Bangalore; has 30 years of teaching literature. She specializes in Ethnic Literature and is interested in Environment, Gender, and Culture Studies, as well as child welfare.

 India has one of the highest rates of economic and population growth of all the developing countries. At the same time it is also a country rich in biodiversity and culture. Consequently it is difficult and yet imperative, to negotiate the delicate balance between development and nature conservation. Unfortunately the focus of policy makers is veering more towards the country’s economic development than to conservation of biodiversity. The idea of biodiversity first emerged in the 1990s with a master narrative of a biological crisis, which was launched at the global level in the 1992 Rio Summit. This narrative gave rise to constructions of particular discourses that hinged on the simple paradigm of threats and possible solutions. The aim was primarily to create a stable network for the movement of objects, resources, knowledge and materials. Within a few years, an entire networks was established that amounted to what Brush (1998) called a tremendous “invasion into the public domain.” However, the biodiversity network has not resulted in a hegemonic construction as it has been happening in other instances of techno-science. Alternative discourses produced by subaltern actors have emerged in the ecological debates and this has thrown up some interesting insights regarding deep ecology and the politics operating in this domain. Natural habitats, species conservation, as well as areas of tribal settlement should be preserved for the natural and ecological well- being of a country where natural resources, biodiversity and indigenous tribes still exist.
The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings: human beings, flora and fauna have been molded by the environment. However, since the advance of science and technology from the nineteenth century, one species, the human being has acquired significant power to control and manipulate the natural environment for selfish interests. In the past quarter century this power has increased to a disturbing magnitude. The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers and sea with lethal and poisonous materials. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 22 April as International Mother Earth’s Day. The Member States acknowledged that the Earth and its ecosystems are [our] common home and expressed their conviction that it is necessary to promote harmony with nature in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generation. In the same year the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Harmony with Nature. Since then the UN Harmony with Nature report comes out every year, as a summary of the steps taken to achieve the objectives of the resolution. On 23 April 2018, the General Assembly in its eighth interactive dialogue discussed “Earth jurisprudence 1in the implementation of sustainable production and consumptive patterns in harmony with nature.”The U.N. secretary general’s report on Harmony with Nature issued in conjunction with the conference, elaborates on the importance of reconnecting with nature as human beings are an inseparable part of nature and destruction upon nature will bring destruction upon human beings themselves.
Separatism is at the root of disharmony with nature and violence against nature and people. As the prominent South African environmentalist Cormack Cullinan points out, apartheid means separateness and humanity has been practicing co-apartheid since a long time. The war against the Earth began with this idea of separateness.
 Robert Boyle, a famous seventeenth century chemist and evangelist of New England wanted to rid the native indigenous people of their ideas about nature. He considered their perception of nature an impediment to the growth of humans over the ‘inferior’ creatures of God. This death-of-nature idea allows a war to be unleashed against the Earth, for the Earth is merely dead matter; there nothing is being killed. Its contemporary seeds were sown when the living Earth was transformed into dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution. Monocultures replaced diversity. “Raw materials” and “dead matter” replaced a vibrant Earth. Terra Nullius (the empty land, ready for occupation regardless of the presence of Indigenous peoples) replaced Terra Madre (Mother Earth).This philosophy goes back to Francis Bacon, called the father of modern science, who said that science and the inventions that result would have the power to conquer and subdue Nature and shake her to her foundations.
 In the 2018 UN General Assembly conference on Harmony with Nature, the Permanent Representative of India highlighted that understanding the interconnectedness of the Earth’s systems had been present among early communities and indigenous groups all over the world. There were local practices to ensure the protection of the environment. However, a scientific outlook and the rapid technological advance had introduced an exploitative attitude of humans towards the environment. In order to restore the ecosystem, legal rights had to be conferred on natural entities.
Philosopher and historian Carolyn Merchant points out that the shift of perspective: from nature as a living, nurturing mother, inert, dead matter to be manipulated, was well suited to the activities that would lead to capitalism.
Today, at a time of multiple crises intensified by globalization, we need to move away from the paradigm of nature as dead matter and move to a deep-ecology paradigm, and for this the best teacher is nature herself. The Earth University teaches Earth Democracy, which is the freedom for all species to evolve within the web of life, and the freedom and responsibility of humans, as members of the Earth family, to recognize, protect, and respect the rights of other species. Earth Democracy is a shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. And since we all depend on the Earth, Earth Democracy translates into human rights: to food and water, to freedom from hunger and thirst. The Earth University is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore, India’s national poet and a Nobel Prize laureate. Tagore had started a learning center at Shantiniketan, in West Bengal, India, as a forest school, both to take inspiration from nature and to create an Indian cultural renaissance. The school became a university in 1921, growing into one of India’s most famous centers of learning. In his essay “Tapovan” (Forest of Purity), Tagore wrote that the Indian civilization had become distinctive in locating its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, and not in the city. Tagore believed that India’s best ideas have come when mankind was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds; the peace of the forest helped the intellectual evolution of man and shaped the culture of Indian society.
It is this unity in diversity which is the basis of both ecological sustainability and democracy. Diversity without unity becomes the source of conflict and contest. Unity without diversity becomes the ground for external control. This is true of both nature and culture. The forest is a unity in its diversity, and we are united with nature through our relationship with the forest. The forest teaches us union and compassion. It also teaches us satiety: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation. No species in a forest appropriates the share of another species. Every species sustains itself in cooperation with others. The conflict between greed and compassion, conquest and cooperation, violence and harmony that Tagore wrote about continues today. And it is the forest that can show us the way beyond this conflict. The current scientific approach to biodiversity is focused less on theorizing and more on assessing the significance of biodiversity loss to ecosystem functioning.
 Anthropologists, geographers, and political ecologists are demonstrating with increasing eloquence that many rural communities in the Third World “construct” nature in strikingly different ways than what is seen in the more modern and western societies. Ethnographic studies unveil a coherent set of practices of thinking about, relating to, and using the biological and these local models do not follow the nature-society dichotomy. Unlike, modern constructions, with their strict separation between biophysical, human, and supernatural worlds, local models in many non-western contexts are often predicated on links of continuity between the three spheres and embedded in social relations that cannot be reduced to modern, capitalist forms. Recent anthropological approaches treat local knowledge as a “practical, situated activity, constituted by a past, but changing, history of practices” (Hobert 1993:17).This means that knowledge works through a body of practices than by relying on a system of shared context-free knowledge. This practice –oriented view of local knowledge has its origins in the theoretical positions taken by Heidegger, Bourdieu, and Giddens. For Ingold(1995, 1996)our knowledge of the world can be described as a process of acquiring skills from the practical engagement with the environment. All these trends signal a broader framework to which discussions of biodiversity conservation and related issues can be referred. This task is yet to be done in many countries across the globe, including India.
 The biodiversity discourse has opened up a network which systematically organizes the production of epistemology and types of power, linking one to the other through concrete strategies and programs, international institutions, botanical gardens, universities and research institutes in first and third worlds, pharmaceutical companies and the great variety of experts located in each of these sites. Sometimes the ‘truths’ arrived at from any one site is resisted by social movements that become themselves the sites of important counter discourses.
 Biodiversity has always existed as a natural process. But threats to biodiversity arise when the rate of extinction exceeds the rate of speciation. The losses in biodiversity are primarily caused by human interactions with the natural resources. In the early phase of civilization, humans remained a part of the ecosystem; but recently, humans have become a factor of the ecosystem and consequently started reshaping the biodiversity in such a way as to make it primarily a human sourced phenomenon. A brief look at some of the ways in which biodiversity has been appropriated by humanity would throw light on the magnitude and gravity of the problem.

Threats to biodiversity
These are the primary ways biodiversity is under threat:

Habitat conversion/ fragmentation/ degradation:
Homogenization of certain species composition leads to a decrease in natural habitat. Fragmentation of habitat and soil degradation also plays a role in the loss of certain species. Nowadays homogenization of specific species is resorted to, in the agricultural sector with the purpose of increasing production. But it has a negative result on biodiversity, as the ecosystem becomes dependent on fewer species, which in turn leads to extinction of some varieties and later on, a loss of traditional knowledge in the cultivation of indigenous species. A good example of habitat conversion was seen when six million hectares of humid forests were lost between 1990 and 1997. Deforestation trends differ between regions and countries. In tropical Asia, for instance 65% of the total forests have been destroyed: Bangladesh coming first with the highest rate of 96%, Sri Lanka with 86% and India coming close to 78%.
 India is a country which is immensely rich in biodiversity with a 7-8% of the recorded species in the world: it stands at the seventh position in the world in mammal species, ninth in birds and fifth in reptiles. Its share of crops is 44% as compared to the world average of 11%. The country has 23.9% of its geographical area under forests and tree covers. Therefore biodiversity in India is important because it provides food from crops, livestock, forestry and fish. Industrial products such as timber, oils, lubricants, food flavours, industrial enzymes, cosmetic perfumes, dyes etc. can be derived from plant species. It is a source of economic wealth.
 Human intervention is one of the chief reasons for ecological imbalance, habitat conversion, and as a result a loss of traditionally available Natural Resources, not to mention the extinction of potentially useful species. Habitat conversion has also lowered food production due to increased costs for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, water management and human health.

Over exploitation:
 Development of a region or a country should address the ecological factor or else it will lead to ‘Ecocide.’ The practice of the global trend of ‘invasive alien species competition’ and ‘predation on Native Species’ has impacted ecosystems. As human beings increase in population, there is a corresponding increase in the exploitation on plant and animal species. Recent surveys have shown the increase in the depletion of large animals from many biological communities and so habitats have become ‘empty.’ In India, elephants and tigers are decreasing in number as result of the profit-motivate activities of human beings. The musk deer that was earlier spread throughout the Himalayan subalpine forests is now confined to a quarter of its former habitat range. This animal is killed for a special gland or musk pod found in the abdominal region of the male. Musk fetches 40,000 to 60,000 US $. About 2000 male deer have to be killed to obtain one kilogram of musk (Joshi and Joshi, 2004). An estimated amount of 1-3 million tonnes of wild meat is harvested annually from the Congo Basin. This is sometimes said to be six times the sustainable rate. Wild meat trade is a large but invisible contributor to the national economies dependent on the resource. Such practices, termed over exploitation of the species leads to spread of diseases from Animals to Humans to Climate Change.
Ramachandra Guha in his book TheUnquietWoods (1989), has explored the radical ecological change in the Himalayan regions during the British rule.Guha (2000) mentions the excessive cutting of banj oak and other broad- leaved trees by the Britishers in the mid-nineteenth century to build railway tracks and sleeper-coach berths. He argues that large scale deforestation, followed by the steady introduction of timber monocultures has brought a dramatic ecological rupture in the Himalayan region. In another book titled, ThisFissuredLand (Gadgil and Guha, 1992), based on a study of the ecology in South Asia, and gives some insights on the history of ecology in this region. The Himalaya region had a predominance of self-sufficient communities such as hunter gatherers, nomads, and subsistence agriculturists. These were ‘ecosystem people’ who crafted a range of subsistence livelihood through the prudent use of natural resources (Gadgil and Guha, 1992:113). “Human history is as a whole, precisely such a patchwork of prudence and profligacy, of sustainable and exhaustive resource use”(3).The colonial-ecological-watershed (CEW) framework of Guha and Gadgil, though written to provide a historical context to the destructive impacts brought by British rule in India, also serve as a pointed critique of the intensification of environment degradation in post independent India. 

Global Warming
This causes ecosystems to shift northward or upward in altitude. Even a one degree change in temperatures corresponds to hundred kilometers change in latitude. The average shift in habitat condition by the year 2100 is estimated to be 140 to 580 kilometers. Higher temperature cause early flowering and this can affect interactions with other species which are dependent on the flowering plants. Climate change is affecting species which have already been impacted by multiple threats such as habitat fragmentation due to colonization, logging, agriculture, mining etc. All these contribute to the further destruction of terrestrial habitats.
 Coral reef mortality has increased and erosion has accelerated due to increasing temperatures. In 1998, 16% of the world’s corals died due to this. To add to this the increase in the levels of carbondioxide in the atmosphere, adversely impacts the coral building process called ‘calcification.’ Scientists estimate calcification to decline significantly in the coming years.
 Sea levels rise due to global warming which will lead to the disappearance of low-lying areas in the world and extinction of island species. In equatorial regions, growth of plants will be disturbed. Many species which are sensitive to rapid climate change will become extinct. Another major impact of global warming will be manifested in temperate regions as it will go greener as a result of increased plant growth. This will follow a resultant decrease in biodiversity and vegetation in the equatorial regions. Global climate change affects the food cycle changes at local and global levels. The present trend of increasing popularity of Asian and Arabic food in temperate countries is an indication of a paradigmatic shift in the food habits of people there. Conversely the trend of Western cuisine by Indians in Cosmopolitan cities will also lead to multiple changes in the cultivation of biodiversity, habitat conversion, and agriculture.

4. Natural Calamities.
 Natural calamities such as floods, cyclones, landslides, earthquakes etc. are also responsible for depletion of biological biodiversity. For instance, during the monsoon of 1998 the entire Kaziranga National Park in Assam was heavily flooded. It resulted in the death of 28 rhinos, between 70 to 80 deer, 8 bears and 3 elephants, besides many plant species that were lost forever.
 The flood in the coastal areas of Kerala in 2018 is said to have claimed the lives of about 1000 people, in addition to major damage to the infrastructure, economy and livestock. India is a country which is vulnerable to floods as it has 45.64 million hectares of flood-prone land out of its total geographical area of 329 million hectares. The total number of lives lost in the last 64 years, due to floods is 107,487.

Energy Resources.
 Development and utilization of various forms of energy resources such as fossil fuel (crude oil, coal, and natural gas), biomass energy, nuclear energy, hydroelectricity and other non-conventional energy sources have direct implications on biodiversity. Development of these energy sources modifies natural habitat and alters the evolutionary process. Development and utilization of fossil fuel accelerates global climatic change and associated disturbances, such as air pollution, and these when combined with the increase of human population will eventually cause severe loss of biodiversity.
 Development of biomass requires vast stretches of land to be under agriculture. This results in conversion of natural landscapes into agricultural land. It also leads to monoculture and destroys the biodiversity of the region. Development of hydroelectricity power necessitates water storage in highlands, due to which large areas under forest and grasslands submerge under water. The Narmada Bachao Andolan led by Medha Patker was precisely about the government’s negligence in the rehabilitation of 3000 villagers whose houses and farms had been submerged in theSardar Sarovar Hydro-electric project.

Resistance as strategy
There have been a number of different forms of resistance by peasants and villagers to protest against environment exploitation. Environmental movements favour sustainable management of natural resources and invites governmental intervention wherever possible to solve the issue. In her article on the subject, Priyanka Sunil has mentioned seven movements in India that were resistance strategies of the local people against environmental issues that would disturb the ecological balance of the territory and cause biodiversity losses.
Bishnoi Movement: It took place in the 1700s in a village named Khejarli, in Marwar region of Rajasthan. The Bishnoi2 villagers in Khejarli and surrounding villages resisted the felling of sacred trees. Amrita Devi, a villager spearheaded the resistance by hugging the tree when the contractors came with workers to cut it down. She encouraged others to do the same. It is believed, that 363 Bishnoi villagers were killed in this protest demonstration. When the King came to know of this, he is said to have rushed to the village and apologized. After that he declared the Bishnoi state as a protected area. The legislation regarding this still exists in the region.
Chipko Movement: It started in the hilly district of Tehri-Garhwal, of Uttarakhand state in the Himalayan region in 1973.This was also a resistance by the locals against deforestation in the region. It was led by Sundarlal Bhaguna, a villager, who set out to educate the villagers about the importance of trees in checking soil erosion, cause rains and to purify the air. The women of Advani village of Tehri-Garhwal tied sacred threads around the tree trunks and hugged it. Hence the protest came to be called ‘Chipko’ movement. The movement gathered momentum in 1978 and the women faced police firings and tortures. The Chief Minister at that time, set up a committee and it reported in favour of the villagers. This movement became a turning-point in the history of eco-development struggles, regionally, nationally and globally.
Save Silent Valley Movement: It happened in 1978. Silent Valley is an evergreen tropical forest in the Palakkad district of Kerala. It came into news when several NGOs opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam across river Kunthipuzha, which runs through Silent Valley. The Planning Commission of India approved the project in February 1973, at a cost of about 25 crores. Following a concerted effort by a number of NGOs and the public criticism concerning the project, in January 1981, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was forced to revise this decision and declare the Silent Valley a protected area. In 1985, Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, inaugurated the Silent Valley National Park.
Jungle Bachao Andolan: The agitation was started in Singhbhum district of Bihar. The tribals of the area, protested against the government’s decision to replace natural forests with the planting of highly-priced teak trees. Later this movement spread to Jharkhand and Orissa.
Appiko Movement: It was a stir by the local people of Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts of Karnataka. It was considered the southern version of the Northern Chipko Movement. The movement was called ‘Appiko Chaluvali.’The mode of protest was the same as in the earlier movement: the locals embraced the trees which were going to be cut down by the forest department contractors. The second phase of the movement focused on afforestation on denuded lands. Later on, the movement focused on the rational use of ecosphere by introducing alternative energy resource to reduce pressure on the forests. The movement became a huge success.
Narmada Bachao Andolan: This was an agitation led by environmentalist and activist Medha Parker to demand rehabilitation to the villagers who had lost their homes and property in the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project. Later on the movement turned its focus to the preservation of the environment and the preservation of the valley.
The role of politics in shaping ecology is greater today than it has been in the past. This is due to the rapid social and technological changes that have impacted the ‘natural environment’ (McKibbens,1989). Political ecology studies power struggles in environment resources, management and conservation. In 2012, Anthony Bebbington published a lecture titles “Underground Political Ecologies” which demanded morefocus on extractive sectors (Bebbington, 2012). Academic works that focus on the interface between politics and environmental degradation has often been labelled ‘political ecology’ (Blaike,1985). It exposes the politics behind dispossession and conservation strategies employed.
The neo-Marxist basis of Third World political ecology explained local environmental conflicts in terms of class relations and surplus extraction linked to global capitalist production (Cliffe, and Hedlund,1979; O’Brien,1985). The state was often typically seen as being little more than an agent of capital, thereby obscuring both the potential autonomy of this actor vis-à-vis capital, and the diversity of bureaucratic interest which the state often encompass.Concerns over the influence of deterministic neo-Marxism on the fields of development led in the late 1980s to a second phase of political ecology, which was drawn on a more eclectic range of theoretical sources. Blaike and Brookefield(1987), Hecht and Cockburn (1989) and Guha (1989) initiated this process with their study on land degradation, the Amazon and India. It was followed by a flood of research along similar lines. All this sought to demonstrate a more complex understanding of how power relations mediate human-environmental interaction than hitherto was the case.
The potential power of grass root actors, such as poor farmers and shifting cultivators in environmental conflicts has been emphasized with reference to the concepts of avoidance behaviour and everyday resistance as part of an attempt to link political ecology to developments in social movements theorizing (Guha, 1989; Peluso,1992). Scholars who focused on household studies (Guyer and Peters,1987; Berry, 1989) as well as ecofeminists, have examined how power relations within the household influence the control of land, natural resources, labour, and capital (Carney,1993; Schroeder,1993). Recent studies upon ‘post structuralism’ and ‘discourse theory’ (Said,1978; Bhabha,1994; Escobar, 1995) show how knowledge and power interrelate so as to mediate political-ecological outcomes (Fairhead and Leach,1995; Peet and Watts,1996).
The Third World is today facing environmental crisis over problems such as tropical deforestation, soil erosion or desertification. These environmental problems cannot be understood in isolation from the political and economic contexts within which they exist. Harvey says that “all ecological projects (and arguments) are simultaneously political-economic projects (and arguments) and vice versa.” The First World states tend to favour the view that many of the environmental problems in the Third World is due to the ‘runaway’ population growth which contributes simultaneously to social poverty and environmental degradation. However, as the perceived link between tropical deforestation and global warming illustrates, the Third World’s problems are now the world’s problems. This situation is being used by the First World to justify the growing interference through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms in Third World social and environment matters (Sachs, 1993; Miller, 1995). In contrast many Third World states emphasize the contribution of the First World States towards these problems.
Third World Political Ecology (1997) by Raymond L. Bryant and Sinead Bailey provides an insight into the research that aims to develop an integrated understanding of the political economy and the environmental change in the Third World. Since the 1980s the political ecology in the Third World is engaging the attention of researchers of environmental studies. New insights have emerged about the ways environment is politicized and how in this ‘political environment’ the roles of various actors: states, multilateral institutions, businesses, environmental non-governmental organizations, poverty –stricken play a part. A good example of this is manifested in the policies and practices of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization).
 The technical organization (FAO) was established by the United Nations in 1945, to promote rational agriculture, forestry, fisheries policies in member states. This was primarily to “develop world agriculture, to enable the world to feed itself” (Sesmon,1991:47). In view of this a series of measures were adopted to ‘modernize’ the agricultural sector, promote the export of cash crops and enhance productivity as well as efficiency. Though the role of the FAO was indirect and revolved around providing technical advice and support to states, and agencies for planning agricultural development, it has been evident that the FAO has always linked itself with colonial states. As a result the FAO worked with the view that the natural resource management strategies of grass root actors throughout the Third World were ‘backward’ and ‘inefficient’ (Richard, 1985).
As in colonial times, ‘progress’ for the FAO meant increased production for the market, as well as modernization in methods of production. In an important policy document first published in 1979 (World Agriculture: Towards 2000), the FAO remained adamant about the modernization of agriculture (Sesmou, 1991). In the late 1980s, the FAO insisted that if Africa did not employ modern agricultural methods, it could seriously affect the sector. In the fisheries sector, meanwhile the emphasis was on increasing the capacity of fishers in order to increase catches through more technologically ‘sophisticated’ fishing vessels (Fairlie,1995). The concern in the forestry sector was largely to promote commercial forest plantations so as to meet the rapidly increasing demand in the world for timber. In each of these cases, the outcome has been to deepen the environmental degradation and the social marginalization of poor grass root actors. The politics in ecology is rampant, leading to fierce conflicts between environmentalists and agriculturists and between state and society. Local traditional knowledge was dismissed by FAO as inferior to ‘modern’ western knowledge systems. This conflict is simultaneously a battle for control over environmental resources and a struggle over ideas concerning the best way to use and manage these resources.

Women and Ecology
 In the 1970s, peasant women from the region in Garhwal Himalaya came out in defense of the forests. The Chipko Movement was one of its kind in educating Indians about biodiversity and biodiversity-based living economies. Shiva boldly states in her book Monocultures of the Mind (1993) that the failure to understand biodiversity and its many functions, is at the root of the impoverishment of nature and culture. Shiva applied the lessons she had learned about diversity in the Himalayan forests to the protection of biodiversity on her farms. At first she started saving seeds from farmers’ fields and then realized that she needed a farm for demonstration and training. Thus Navdanya Farm3 was started in 1994 in the Doon Valley, located in the lower elevation Himalayan region of Uttarakhand Province. The well- known environmentalist who comes from the same region, Vandana Shiva, states that her involvement in contemporary ecology movement began with Chipko Movement which was a non-violent response to the large-scale deforestation that was taking place in the Himalayan region. Logging had led to landslides and floods, which when combined with a scarcity of water, fodder, and fuel made the life of women unbearable; for, since women provided these basic needs, the scarcity meant longer walks for collecting water and firewood, and a heavier burden. The Garhwal women knew that the real value of forests was not the timber from a dead tree, but the springs and streams, food for their cattle, and fuel for their hearths.
The privatization of land for revenue displaced women more critically, eroding their traditional land rights. The expansion of cash crops undermined food production and women were often left with meagre resources to feed and care for their children, the aged and infirm in situations where their men had migrated or were conscripted into forced labour by the colonizers. The displacement of women from the economy destroyed women's productivity both by removing land, water, and forests from their management and control, as well as through ecological destruction of soil, water, and vegetation systems in such a way that nature’s productivity and renewability were impaired. While gender subordination and patriarchy are the oldest of oppressions, they have taken on new and more violent forms through the project of development.
 Women and the Environment was one of the critical areas of concern identified at the Beijing Platform for Actions in 1995. The Conference made linkages between poverty, natural disasters, health problems, unsustainable development and gender inequalities. Today women struggle against global trends, but they are working together to affect change. By establishing domestic and non-governmental organizations, many women have recognized themselves and acknowledged to the world that they have the right to participate in environmental dilemmas; notwithstanding the fact that they have a different relationship with nature than the men: different needs, responsibilities and knowledge about natural resources. Issues such as environmental degradation, pollution, deforestation, and overpopulation impact women in a different way. Women are often the most directly affected by environmental issues, hence they become more concerned about environmental problems. According to United Nations Chronicle there is a link between breast cancer and the pesticide DDT.
 Women’s role in the environment domain has always been significant. However, society has systematically excluded her interactions over the ages. Most of the historical books have been advocating the role of the participation of men in environmental activities and have ignored the participation of women. Consequently the role of women in environmental issues have been hidden from history. However,the twenty first century is witnessing phenomenal changes in the role and activity of women in environmental issues. Ecofeminism, a new discipline that emerged in the 1970s works on the premise that there is a connection between women and environment in terms of vulnerability, exploitation by powerful groups, and the treatment meted out to both. Ecofeminists see ecological degradation and women’s oppression as two sides of the same coin. The proponents of Ecofeminism foster resistance to formations of domination for the sake of human liberation and planetary survival.

Women and Environmental Empowerment
Women form the largest group of the world’s poorest and vulnerable people. They are represented in a disproportionate manner and are often on the front lines of climate change. In developing countries in particular, due to their role as primary providers of food, water, and fuel for their families, women are not only the most affected by climate change but are also a pivotal force for building responses to direct climate impacts. . More importantly, women are frequently the decision makers about household consumption. They represent an increasing share of wealth around the world, yet they are not included or allowed to participate in decision ma0ing roles in climate change bodies at the national and international levels. The fundamental explanation for the lack of gender considerations in climate debates, generally, is the fact that women are poorly represented in planning and decision-making processes thus limiting their capacity to engage in political decisions related to climate change. At the national level the picture is similar. The integration of women is most likely to succeed at the regional and local levels, but even here, it is the exception rather than the rule.
 Generally women’s involvement with nature has been ignored. Most of the historical books have been advocating the role and participation of men in environmental activities; while the contribution made by women on the land and in the household have remained hidden, ignored or undocumented. She is also familiar with the forest from where she gets firewood for the home and fodder for her livestock. Yet society and its policy-makers have strived to exclude her from debates and strategies connected with forestry. Their voices and their wisdom have often been retained only through Oral literature and songs that have been passed on to successive generations.
 The Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems in India noted that in a study of two villages in Tamil Nadu, women have intimate knowledge and understanding of the traditional rice varieties as well as their preparation. This is also the case with vegetables and seeds (Vijaylakshmi, 1998). In Rwanda women produce more than 600 varieties of beans (Howard, 2003).In Bangladesh women always preserve and conserve seeds. In the rural households there is a practice of sharing seeds among sisters, neighbours, and relatives enhance the biodiversity and genetic resources. Consequently, families have a larger variety of food, some of which would even be unavailable in the local market (Akhter, 2001).
 The well-known environmentalist and activist Vandana Shiva upholds women’s knowledge in agriculture especially in the storage and preparation of seed for the sowing. She argues that it involves visual discrimination of the good seeds from the bad ones: a skill and an expertise that comes from experience in agriculture (Shiva,1991). In most places in India it is the women who do the sowing and the reaping. All this requires knowledge of the weather conditions together with traditional skills of agriculture. Although mechanization in agriculture has nowadays limited the involvement of women considerably in the harvesting and winnowing activities, women are still employed for the rest of the processes, including sowing and storing of grain. Since women are naturally nurturers and care-givers in the household, it is only natural that she will take upon herself the responsibility of sustaining the life of her family through the food she grows and cooks. What is labour to the man, is more of a duty and a responsibility for the women. She is happy to be involved in this way as it satisfies her maternal instincts: she is a ‘mother’ a ‘giver’ just like earth. Therefore the role of women in the use of natural resources and biodiversity is significant, because they are nurturers who sustain the livelihood of the family through food. “Even though the rural women are relatively poor and uneducated, they are the chief sustainers of rural microeconomics activities” (Gupta U.C.et.al.856). Women’s knowledge in agriculture, biodiversity, sustainable development, and nature conservation can prove to be invaluable to traditional knowledge and practices of the region.

Women as conservers of biodiversity
 In Pakistan, KHOJ, Research and Publication Centre, documented the traditional cultural practices in two villages. In the reports, it was mentioned that women of the villages use weeds as a source of food for human and animal consumption. Greens like ‘Baathu’ that grew with the wheat in the fields were plucked and cooked in a ‘greens’ preparation that is considered a delicacy. The same plant is also used in Unani and Ayurveda medical treatments for curing stomach ailments. Wild plants are often the main source of food for indigenous communities everywhere in the world. The conservation of this often the domain of the women of the region. For instance, women in Kenya and Bangladesh use biodiversity to conserve food for the rainy season when water logging prevents the availability of fresh food from the fields. Samoan women healers use 100 different plant species for treatments of various maladies. The indigenous women of Madhya Pradesh in India, use a combination of plants as contraceptives (Cox,1995; Cox, 2000; CSE 1982).
 There are a number of women who manage vegetable gardens for their home consumption as well as for income. While the rural women have always cultivated plants in the spaces around their habitation, nowadays the urban woman has taken to it in a big way, partly as a hobby and partly for consumption of good, organic vegetables. There are regions where women cultivate their own gardens that contain high levels of diversity. These are models of sustainable land use (Huvio, 1999).
In a research conducted Soumi Kundu, by a scholar from the Centre for Development Research, Pune, on the status of kitchen gardens, it was discovered that 600 households in Jharkhand had benefited through enriched diets procured from kitchen gardens. An initial survey conducted by Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) showed that females of Gumla district between the age of 16 and 22 suffered from severe anaemia. This was a district that had 71% of tribal households and 65% made their living through cultivation. The farmers here grew pulses, vegetables, and other crops. However, due to their poverty the farmers were forced to sell all their produce for livelihood, while they survived on a watery gruel of rice or any of the pulses they had kept aside. Even such a meal was available only once daily. When natural calamities strike, they do not even have a one-time meal; they are forced to sustain themselves and their families on water. In order to enrich the villagers’ diet kitchen gardens were seen as an option. An NGO named PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development) piloted by Poshan Vari in July 2016, promoted nutrition-based cultivation models in homestead lands. Available spaces near the house were used. Poshan Vari gardens were grown in 47 villages across nine panchayats. About 600 households participated in this venture.4 This NGO provides a rich blend of seeds, local varieties of cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables and these are organically grown by the women. Kitchen Garden model has helped to improve the health of women in Gumla district. It has helped to fix the skewed gender pattern in food consumption prevalent in Gumla and across India.
 A study conducted in Nigeria found that women who cultivate intensive home gardens may grow 18 to 57 plant species, including tubers, legumes, grains, and fruit trees in addition to raising poultry (Huvio,1999). According to Patricia Howard women provide 79% of total vegetable food (Howard, 2003).Howard goes on to say that women’s local knowledge is complex, holistic, innovative, and responds to external and internal change. Women have a multifaceted role: as plant gatherers, home gardeners, herbalists, and seed custodians.

Local knowledge: Holistic and Sustainable
 Rituals and symbolic ceremonies are important elements in Third World countries because poverty and hardship drive human beings to seek comfort and solace in religion. The religion of the communities demand prayer rituals which often use specific flowers/plant/ fruit/ vegetables for the occasion. In many places it is women who cultivate and take care of the supply of such flowers etc. for sacred rituals.
 Women as well as men have kept the observance of religious practices down the ages. Traditional farming communities have a deeper understanding of nature as well as the relationship of mankind with nature. This belief in the oneness of Creation (humans-plants-animals- cosmos) is a deep –seated belief of many rural indigenous communities all over the world. For instance, in India “Negilu Pooja” is conducted in some areas, before the sowing of the seed. There is also a practice where the womenfolk evoke the forces essential for a good crop before the seeds are stored for the next sowing. (Ramprasad,1999). In the Philippines, there are practices and rituals followed by indigenous communities at every stage of the planting of rice and other crops. Such kinds of practices are holistic as it encompasses the spiritual, human and natural world continue to be of major importance for farmers and cultivators both in the rural and urban world. (Haverkort and Heimstra,1999).Western imperialism destroyed the practice of customs and beliefs of indigenous communities in the colonies of Asia, Africa, Latin America and other smaller islands populated by indigenous communities; a lot of their traditional knowledge and cultural practices were lost with the onset of political colonization.
 The holistic concept has been lacking in Western thinking. In fact, during the Middle Ages, in Europe, there existed women healers who used herbs and prayers for healing and they were branded as witches and burned as heretics. Ceremonies and rituals that were part of the rural landscape were also branded as witchcraft.
The spread of Christianity in these non-western countries also contributed in a way to the loss of traditional customs surrounding agriculture ((Hecht,1995)Many of the scientists in the western world looked down upon traditional knowledge as unscientific and without rational basis. Therefore it came to be replaced by mechanized and technologically- advanced methods of agriculture. To equate traditional knowledge as superstition and to condemn the indigenous beliefs and practices of these communities was a fall out of colonization and it has had a far reaching effect upon the present attitude of the people towards the environment. Local paradigms were changed for colonial/western paradigms, industrialization introduced new methods everywhere.
 PAN AP (Pesticide Action Network, Asia and Pacific) has initiated and collaborated with network partners from India (CIKS), Pakistan (KHOJ) and Indonesia to pilot a study on the projection of women’s knowledge in sustainable agriculture. SIBAT from Philippines has also joined in this collaboration. A series of workshops were organized by PAN AP in Penang between 1998and 2000 to discuss the concept and framework for the pilot study, methodology for the data collection, compilation and utilization of the data in the reports. Such initiatives will prove helpful in the future for sustainable agriculture systems. Women farmers with their knowledge systems and innovation have a lot to contribute. Food security and sovereignty, must begin with women farmers and be built on their knowledge and experience. Formal scientific systems have to nurture and work with farmers in complementary, equitable and non-exploitative collaboration in order to take up the challenge of achieving global food security and sovereignty.

 Anthropocene, a distinct intellectual rubric for exploring human challenges and prospects in an already climate changed world, claims to offer new conceptual grounds for radically re-visioning the existing challenges that confront humanity. Instead of the earlier anxieties of an overpopulated planet running out of resources. The Anthropocene warns of a crisis brought on by tipping points from excess GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions, climate chaos from a heated planet and the crossing of critical bio-physical thresholds. The Anthropocene eco-catastrophe, hence, is less about the struggle over resource scarcities, than it is about sustaining conditions for planetary life. The pursuit for development at the cost of ecological imbalances, especially from the 1950s onwards bear striking continuities with colonial environmental legacies in which nature has been transformed into a profitable commodity that earns profits. Instead of taking strategies designed by western environment researchers blindly, countries in Asia, Africa, South Pacific regions would be wise to include local knowledge, and active women participation for future paradigms that will conserve nature in its resources and biodiversity. The UN dialogue on Harmony with Nature (2018) has emphasized the need for production and consumption systems based on principles of reciprocity, returning fertility to the soil and helping to ensure the health of non-human elements of nature. Recent trends show that worldwide here is a growing commitment to protecting nature with the adoption of new legislations that grant rights to natural entities.

“Earth jurisprudence” refers to a philosophy of law and human governance in which humans are only one part of a wider community of beings and the well-being of each member of that community is dependent on the well-being of the Earth as a whole.
The Navdanya Farm under the guidance of Vandana Shiva, conserves and grows 630 varieties of rice, 150 varieties of wheat, and hundreds of other species. Shiva and her team practice and promote a biodiversity-intensive form of farming that produces more food and nutrition per acre proving the fact that the conservation of biodiversity is, therefore, also the answer to the food and nutrition crisis. This pioneering effort in organic farming which started way back in the late 1980’s has shown the way for biodiversity conservation. So far, the team has worked with farmers to set up more than 100 community seed banks across India. They have saved more than 3,000 rice varieties as well as helped farmers make a transition from fossil fuel and chemical-based monocultures to biodiverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil. planet running out of resources,
They were called Bishnoi because they followed the teachings of Guru Maharaj Sambiji who was the founder of the Bishnoi faith in 1485.The religion did not approve of any harm to be done upon trees and animals.
Poshan Vari-A follow up survey conducted by Centre for Development Research, Pune, reported that households in Gumla were able to save 1600 to 3200 rupees in a month with about 60 to 90 hours of labour in their kitchen gardens. In addition to this, kitchen gardens helped to improve the diet of the villagers significantly. Poshan Vari sees women as key participants in growing kitchen gardens.

Akhter, F. ​Seeds in Women's Hands:A symbol of food security and solidarity​.New Delhi: Sage publications, 2001. print.
Bebbington, A.,Carrasco,H.,Peralbo, L.,Ramon,G.,Torres,V.H.,and Truijilli,J. "Fragile Lands, fragile organizations: Indian organizationsand the politics of sustainability in Ecuador." Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 18.​(1993): 179-96. Print.
Berkes, F. (Ed). ​Common Property Resources: Ecology and Community Based Sustainable
Development.​London: Belhaven, 1989. Print.
Bhabha, H.K. ​The Location of Culture​.London: Routledge, 1994. Print.
Blaike, P. ​The Political Economy of Soil Erosion.​London: Longman, 1985. Print.
Blaikie, P. and Brookfield, H. ​Land Degradation and Society​.London: Methuen, 1987. Print.
Byrant, Raymond L. and Sinead Bailey. ​Third World Political Ecology​.London: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Carney, J. "Converting the wetlands, engendering the environment: the intersection of gender
and agrarian change in the Gambia. ." Economic​ Geography 69​(1993): 329-48. Print.
Carson, R. ​Silent Spring​.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962. Print.
Cooper,D.Vellve,R and Hobbelink,H . ​Genetic Resources and Local Food Security​.London:
Intermediate Technology Publications, 1992. print.
Cox, P.A. "Shamin as Scientist: indigenous knowledge systemsin pharmacological research and conservation." Hostettman, K et.al. ​Phytochemistry of plants used in traditional medicine. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995. print.
—. "Will tribal knowledge survive the millennium?" ​Science:287​(2000): 44-45. print.
Fairhead, J and Leach, M. "False forest history, complicit social analysis: rethinking some Western African environmental narration." ​World Development 23​(1995): 1023-35. Print.
Gadgil, Madhav and Guha, Ramachandra. ​This Fissured Land : An Ecological History of India​.
Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993. print.
Ghate, V.S. "Plants in patra-pooja: Notes on their identity and utilization." ​Ethnobotany 10 (1-2)
(1998): 6-15. print.
Guha, Ramachandra. ​The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the
Himalaya.​Berkley, Los Angelos, California: University of California Press, 1989. print.
Guyer, J.L. and Peters, P.E (Eds). "Conceptualizing and household: issues of theory and policy in Africa." ​Development and Change. Special Issue.​(1987). Print.
Halim, A AB, et al. "Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity Conservation in Sabah, Malaysia." International Journal of Social Science and Humanity 2(2)​(2012): 159-163. print.
Haverkort, B and Hiemstra, W. ​Food for Thought: Ancient visions and new experiments of rural people.​Netherlands, Bangalore, London: ETC/Compass, Books for Change and Zed Books, 1999. Print.
Hecht, S.B. ​Agroecology:The Science of Sustainable Agriculture​.London & USA: West View Press and International Technology, 1995. Print.
Hedlund, H. "Contradiction in the periphalization of a pastoral society: the Maasai." ​Review of
African Political Economy 15/16​(1979): 53-62. Print.
Howard, P. "The Major Importance of 'Minor' Resources: Women and Plant Biodiversity." Gatekeepers Series No.112​.London: International Institute for Environmentand Development, 2003. print.
Huvio, T. ​Gender and Local Knowledge​.FAO report. Switzerland: FAO Women in Development Service, 1999. print.
Ingold, T. "Culture and the perception of the environment. ." Croll, E. and Parkin, D (Eds). ​Bush Base, Forest Farm: Culture, Environment and Development.​London: Routledge, 1992. 39-56. Print.
Mckibbens, B. ​The End of Nature​.New York: Viking, 1989. print.
Natarajan, B. ​Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge: Perspectives.​28 June 2012. online. 28 June 2019.
O'Brien, J. "Sowing the seeds of famine: the political economy of food deficits in Sudan."
Review of African Political Economy,33​(1985): 23-32. print.
Peluso, N.L. ​Rich Forests: Poor People: Resource Control and Resistance in Java.​Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992. Print.
Periera, W. ​Tending the Earth: Traditional Sustainable Agriculture in India.​Bombay: Earthcare books, 1993. print.
Pitts, D.C. "Deforestation : Social Dynamics ." (Ed), D.C. Pitt. ​Watersheds and Mountain
Ecosystems.​London: RoutledgePrint, 1989. 132-58.
—. "Environment and access to resources in Africa. ." ​Africa​(1989): 18-40. print. Ramprasad, V. "Women and biodiversity Conversation." COMPAS, October 1999. print.
Said, E.W. ​Orientalism​.Harmondsnorth: Penguin, 1978. Print.
Scott, A. ​Ideology and the New Social Movements.​London: Unwin Hyman, 1990. print.
Scott, J.C. ​The Moral Economy of the Peasant Resistance​.New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976. Print.
Shiva, V and Dankelman,I. "Women and Biological Diversity: Lessons from the Indian
Himalaya." Cooper, R and Hobbelink,H et.al. Growing​ Diversity: Genetic Resources and
Local Food Security.​London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1992. 44-50. print.
Shiva, V. "Monoculturs,Monoplies,Myths and the Masculinisationof Agriculture." ​Women's Knowledge, Biotechnology and International Trade: Fostering a New Dialogue into the Millenium ​.Washington, June 28- july 2. June -July 1998. print.
Sunil, Priyanka. ​7 Major Environmental Movements in India​.june 2019. online.
Vijaylakshmi, K. ​Documentation of Women's Knowledge in Sustainable Agriculture​.India: Pesticide Action Network and the Pacific and Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, 1998. Print.
Watts, M. ​Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria.​Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1983a. Print.

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।