The Malnad Home Garden and Seed Exchange Collective, Sirsi was a spin-off of a Kalpavriksh Conservation Education (CE) project funded by FES, and came into being in 2001 with the NBSAP Biodiversity Mela in Sirsi. While the project itself looked at the sort of CE inputs that would work in the ecologically and culturally very unique Malnad region of Karnataka’s Western Ghats, the seed collective initiative began as a non-formal way of learning and involving women as vital sources of information and teaching right from their homes.
Although the project soon wrapped up, nonetheless, the project coordinator and KV member, Sunita Rao, who had in the meanwhile settled on her own forest farm near the town of Sirsi in the Malnad region, was able to continue the seed collective initiative with the help and involvement of the local community.
The seed collective has three main dimensions to its work
- Research, documentation, publications
- Training, conservation education, outreach, networking
- Ecologically sensitive livelihoods
In 2008, the collective registered as a trust and was called Vanastree (“women of the forest”).
Conservation Education is an important component with internships (18 interns to date from 2004), camps, workshops and other programmes. The collective members play an active role in these programmes and have become comfortable in their roles as facilitators for ecological learning and living. Home-stays are an important component of this and many participants have said that be it 5 days or 12 weeks, the Malnad experience has been life changing for them. Increasingly, Huthina Betta, where Sunita stays, has become a base for educational programmes, and functions as a sort of Agro-ecology and Experiential Living Outpost. It has great potential to become a place where more KV members involved in CE can have programmes or come in as resource persons.
Some of the publications/reports that have come out of the collective are
- Deforestation in Uttara Kannada District, Karnataka, India – A Preliminary Report. Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon. April 2006
- Nelli – A Collection of Favourite Amla Indian Gooseberry Recipes from the Malnad and other Regions of India (CD in English and printed booklet in Kannada, Rs 50/- each) 2010/2011
- Oryza – Heirloom Rice Recipes from the Malnad (Kannada with English synopsis). 2011
- Banana Bonanza – Malnad Dishes with Local Varieties of Banana (Kannada with English synopsis). 2011
- Malnad Forest Garden Resource Centre – A Green-print. 2011
- Malnad Home Gardeners’ Handbook (in progress – Kannada and English)
- Gardens of growth: Combining conservation and enterprise in the malnad region of the Western Ghats. (forthcoming).
Presently, trainings are being conducted to help the local community handle its own sustainable enterprise and livelihood programme. About 50 women gardeners and seed savers are bringing in produce and value added products, while office staff are learning about accounts, book keeping, tracking stocks etc, while keeping in mind that ecology of the species is of prime importance over its economics no matter how lucrative. This is an interesting experiment and we have to see how it pans out. The products are sold at the Malnad Melas in Bangalore and also through select outlets in Goa and Bangalore.
Due to the work being largely field and community oriented, with almost no office staff, there has been no work done on policy matters or detailed research on small scale food production systems. Also no publications in peer reviewed journals or in magazines and journals. There still remains a lot to be done, and participation is sought.