The NESFAS Team and partners SSC (Social Service Centre) and SURE (Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment) came together to share updates, ideas, local solutions and knowledge at three-day retreat joined in by international friends who were touring the North East. 

Indigenous Peoples Meghalaya
The North-East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) hosted a three-day work retreat titled ‘Briefing and Exchange of Ideas Sessions’ from Monday (May 27 to May 29) at SILOAM Facilitation Centre in Umsaw Khwan (Ri Bhoi). The gathering became opportune to share similar findings across indigenous communities in Indonesia, Mexico and Meghalaya where the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (TIP) has alliances.

The purpose of the retreat was to learn more about the basic concepts for sustaining indigenous food systems and well-being. The 29 participants also took the opportunity to form a bond with the two fellows, Noofri Yani from Indonesia and Edgar Osvaldo from Mexico, who were touring Meghalaya as a part of their International exposure trips.  Meets with them became avenues to understand similarities and indigenous lessons that their food systems and cultural heritage provide for agrobiodiversity propagation.

NESFAS latest fieldwork to develop the Dietary Diversity Score (DDS) across its network of villages for better understanding the state of nutrition was reviewed. This was supplemented by a key orientation by Dr. Carl O Rangad, NESFAS Board Member, who broke the stereotypical notion of young team members that soil is not dirt. He said, “We walk on it, we build our houses on it but we don’t really give in and think about how important this membrane, that is looking after our earth, is,”. He stressed on the importance of conserving the soil which is being eroded away to Bangladesh at an alarming rate. “Taking the soil for granted can lead to many problems unknowingly,” he added. This was followed by key aspects of participatory mapping, ABD ( Agrobiodiversity) Findings, challenges, mistakes that could be detrimental,  campaigns to promote health and nutrition in the villages. All oriented to the thought “Protect your environment, protect your diet”.

Dr. Kevin Gallagher, one of the founding authors in Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations on Farmer Field School and Ethnobotanist Lukas Pawera, who were also touring Meghalaya dropped in to meet the NESFAS team. They had visited a few partner communities of NESFAS to see the indigenous heritage. Before leaving Shillong, Gallagher dropped in at the retreat to share with the NESFAS team the various avenues that they could explore for insect management, a species which can be used to balance the equation on the field and not as pests. He spoke about the importance of ‘digital green’, a movement which uplifts farmers from poverty by making use of technology.

The participants also engaged in several ice-breaking activities which were mostly focused on the works and campaigns of NESFAS. Two members from the Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment and Social Service Centre also took part in the program, respectively. Rathindra Roy, a mentor for NESFAS, who was principally responsible for facilitating the three-day program, spoke about the importance of narratives. He said, “Indigenous people’s stories are always marginalized in mainstream media. Therefore, there is a need to change the narrative so that the right story is being focused and the right message is being sent out to the mass.”He was joined by Ajay Nayak to work with the team to understand the possibility of “Changing the Indigenous Narrative” to a positive world view on their contribution to biodiversity.

Lukas Pawera reviewed the work of the NESFAS team on the DDS and addressed the indigenous food system of the Minangkabau indigenous group from West Sumatra,  Indonesia. Yani who comes from the same community, on the other hand, spoke about the matriarchal and cultural system of the same indigenous group. Dr. Bhogtoram Mawroh a Sr. Associate at NESFAS along with Pawera gave a presentation on the mapping of micronutrient-rich species.

S F Lyngdoh, chief operating officer, Meghalaya State Rural Livelihoods Society (MSRLS), The Nodal Agency of government of Meghalaya for Implementing National Rural Livelihoods Mission joined the panel on Livelihoods initiatives of NESFAS and said, “It is important for us to focus on below the poverty line group using the self-help group approach which is found to be a successful method from our experiences to develop entrepreneurship.”

This becomes opportune and in line with taking forward the Shillong Declaration of the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 where global connections were set up by NESFAS. The retreat also allowed NESFAS to share internally the relationships with the communities, government, its partners, alliances and other like-minded individuals for better future performance. Phrang Roy, Chairman, NESFAS and Co-ordinator, Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty (TIP) said, “It has been a wonderful sharing of ideas between the fellows from Indonesia, Mexico and friends from Mongolia and the Czech Republic. The Agroecology Learning Circles of NESFAS demonstrated to our visitors the communities’ traditional knowledge of pest management, the community seed banks in the Khasi Hills and the School Gardens in the Garo Hills giving confidence to our communities.”

The retreat concluded with the team discussing management systems for better performance, discipline and decorums which are the basis of the society.
NESFAS is thankful and extends its gratitude to the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority for their generous support sponsorship for this retreat and also the REC Foundation for the larger “No one shall be left behind the initiative,” which is driving many of the initiatives at NESFAS.



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