COVID-19 came and kept us inside even more, and here in Italy, we were the ones in the whole of Europe that saw the worst of COVID. In northern Italy, the last time they saw such an incident was 400 years ago. And suddenly, particularly the rich countries in Europe, were confronted with an issue- do we now pay attention to our health or do we pay attention to our livelihoods. If we continue to lockdown, which is the only way to keep the virus out, we will lockout our livelihoods. Akole from the North East Network (NEN) had highlighted that despite all this, in our area the Indigenous Food System, is a food system that has helped us to sustain. There is a new realization that has come which is an opportunity for us. And it’s up to us then, are we smart enough to draw the lessons of this year and see that there is a way in which we can go forward, which is the new way forward, the new normal and that’s the new normal we will lay. In NESFAS fortunately, this is the message that we have been conveying. NESFAS has confirmed that we were right in saying that our local food systems, our local traditions, our local way of life, our local resources can help, if we create a way and use them, be it a source of our livelihood, building our immunity and a better wellbeing. In some ways when I look back at this past year from the point of view of NESFAS, we have done a number of things, which seems to be correct.
We have a young board now compared to the earlier board; we have a young executive director, and a young team for facilitators. We have focused, for the first time, on impacts and documentation through the articles published. We have a specialist services in finance, people who are qualified in management and in finance. And we have 50% of our senior associates who are women and above all we have community facilitators, who have been decided and agreed upon with the communities. I think these steps that we have taken have led to the sort of progress we aim for. Thank you very much for those works and above all for the communities that developed the trust in you and your staff and in carrying forward the work. We have not been able to do everything that we want to do, but I am sure the foundation has been laid and in the next year and the new normal, we will be able to do much better than what we do.
We would need to ponder upon a few points, and see what are those principles that will open for us a new window into this post normal period. The first message that I think we need to carry for us in 2021 is that natural farming and traditional knowledge will the basis of our new coexistence with other subjects and other systems. In the past, we have said that we will use modern science, modern agriculture, modern methods, and then mix on it traditional knowledge. Today, we are saying that it will be traditional knowledge, it will be the natural-local farming system ‘Ka Rep Tynrai’, that will be the basis on which we will add science and technology and the evolution that has taken place in our knowledge. So I think that is the first principle, as we go forward that will help us to play a leadership role within our communities. But if you do that, then you have to accept one other principle, which has been very much a part of our indigenous life, and that is, that we have a sacred relationship with our land, with ‘Mei-Ramew’ as the Khasis say. Mei-Ramew means we have a relationship, not only with nature, but also with all beings within that nature. We believe that we are one with nature, that all living beings are part of it and we must allow each and every being, whether it’s a worm, a bee, an ant, or us as human beings, that we are all part to make a life and a world which will enrich all of us together. So this whole issue of looking at the whole being of nature and the whole being of the personality is very important
The other message that is important is that, every being and every human being is unique. We need to build on that uniqueness and on that diversity that is very much a part of us. However, if you are to build on the uniqueness of every staff and any member of NESFAS, Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment, NEN and Social Service Centre, it is very important that we also build on the potential of our communities. But to build on the potential, we must learn what our ancestors have learned: to observe nature, to think and to analyse. We need to observe a little bit deeper, so that the potential of the communities, of the people, and of the nature around us is seen. If we don’t see that potential of nature in its form, we will start digging for coalfields, because we think that is the only way of doing this and thereby by extracting those “natural resources”, we will destroy the very foundation of nature and of the whole being that is there. But, as we look at the potential, I think another principle that is extremely important is to develop our knowledge, to develop our skills, whether they’re traditional skills or modern skills and to develop our attitudes, our behaviour towards each other.
One cannot develop, unless and until you learn to read and make that a part of your system. Reading is the foundation of all wisdom, and I want to make this important point particularly clear for our communities because we have a number of young mothers coming up who have got new children, you have to develop the habit of making our children to read because that’s the way in which they will grow and that’s the way you will grow too. If you don’t read, you will have no wisdom coming to you. If you don’t listen to stories from your elders, you will not learn. So take time to read, take time to tell stories to each other, take time to listen to stories, take time to listen to phawar, because that is the foundation of wisdom, that is the way in which we can build. Tribal populations are known for taking reading lightly. Very few of us read books and I think we should enter this year with a new habit of developing our knowledge and ourselves.
And the last point I want to make is: “if you want to really enter a new year with a new spirit, you must know like in acupuncture where are those nodes where there is energy. So each one of us too, has energy within our system. And as indigenous communities, the energy that we have is in our values system”. It’s not the Agroecology that you follow or it’s not the natural farming, it’s not the regenerative agriculture. The important thing is that your farming system and your livelihood is based on principles and values. And what are those values? The values of a matriarchal society, of respect for equality and the caring and sharing for each other, the respect that you will take from the Earth and eat only what you consume and what you require, the respect that others also have an important need. And only then, we will make a difference. We have had a very good start; I think NESFAS, with all its partners, will be able to transform our hope and goal. At the end, we will only be instruments to help and empower communities to self determine their future, to self determine their way and not to depend on any external parties, but to use us as supporters and facilitators for their own future that is best for them.
Thank you and a Happy Christmas – Phrang Roy, Chairman NESFAS