By Alethea K Lyngdoh and Abhigyan Chakravorty
NESFAS inaugrated the 2021 Indigenous Youth Fellowship Programme on April 6, 2021 at the State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) Nongsder, Umiam. This training programme will be for a period of one month, in three main venues; SIRD, Umsawwar (East Khasi Hills) and Khweng (Ri-Bhoi), to train grassroots youth to work towards reclaiming their autonomous food and livelihoods systems and in the process to defend their Indigenous Food Systems (IFS) and identity.
It may be mentioned here that all government SOPs and safety protocols were followed, and shall be strictly implemented throughout the programme.
While addressing the keynote to the fellows at the inaugural ceremony, Pius Ranee, Executive Director of NESFAS shared, “The aim of the program is not just for you all to learn conventionally, but it’s more like a collaborative effort of pitching ideas and exchange of knowledge amongst you. I hope that after this program, you will have more confidence to impart the ideologies and work for the betterment of your communities. The program is also an important aspect for leadership training and taking forward the learnings to tackle issues within your communities and represent your communities at best.”
This Programme aims to train indigenous youth from Meghalaya within one month to create broader knowledge and skill which will facilitate the creation of a cadre of young leaders with good leadership qualities and entrepreneurship skills which will consequently result in the ability to defend their local food systems. Over and above, the Fellowship Programme will also become part of a larger global initiative of the Indigenous Food Community Alliance (IFCA), to strategise, intensify and join many youth around the world, coming together to defend their age old food systems, identity and culture.
There are 27 young participants in this programme (13 male and 14 female) hailing from East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills. These youth have been identified and selected based on their active participation and commitment in their own respective communities, who are working in enhancing NESFAS project’s goals.
Rijip Mawlong, Fellow from Nongmawlong expressed, “I am elated to be part of this as it is a good opportunity to learn more about traditional farming, chemical-free farming, and the usage of natural fertilizers and to lead and uplift our communities in the best possible way that we can.”
This initiative is supported by the Rural Electrification Corporation Foundation (REC) under their “No One Shall Be Left Behind” Initiative, with State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD), Meghalaya and The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (TIP), Rome as technical partners, and Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE) and Social Service Centre (SSC) as participating partner organisations.
Through this Fellowship Programme, the participants will be learning the various contours behind their food systems such as Gender Equality, Leadership Qualities, Value Addition of Agricultural produce, Agroecology and Landscape Management, Storytelling to name a few.
The Coordinator of the programme, Merrysha Nongrum, shared, “We want to empower youth to have a better understanding on the importance of IFS, biodiversity and intensifying the existing food crops in their respective villages for food security. We also hope to strengthen and build up their skills on leadership qualities. Moreover, we want to bring more committed youth from different communities and build their networking among them through the idea of IFCA platform.”
The Fellowship basically hopes to inculcate a sense of responsibility among the local youth towards their food systems and agricultural produce and spread the word and the knowledge among each other; this program is vital in preventing further vulnerability of food systems and aims at eventually making this movement a global phenomenon with the help of IFCA.