Home Resources NGO Profiles Vanastree

Vanastree

Vanastree

Vanastree works towards promoting forest garden diversity and food security through the conservation of traditional seeds in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats of south India.

Women are the driving force of Vanastree, a small collective in Malnad protecting and conserving local seeds. Photo Courtesy: Vanastree

Dedicated to promoting forest garden diversity and food security through the conservation of traditional seeds is a small collective in the Malnad region of the Western Ghats of south India.

Vanastree, meaning ‘women of the forest’ in Kannada, since it was founded in 2001, has grown from one person and one village to about 150 persons in 15 villages located within a radius of 40 km. around Sirsi today. Driven by women, the collective provides a platform for women gardeners, engages children and youth in experiential learning programmes, documentation, and supports a livelihood initiative for its members through the sales of value-added products from their home gardens, fields and forest.

A region where the age-old culture and practice of forest home gardens (FHGs) still survives – with over 300 species found in some gardens – Malnad is a great repository of plant diversity that provides food security and access to nutrition. While seed exchange was a common practice in the region, it was not until the women came together as seed groups that they realised the value and far reaching potential of their food garden skills. To endorse and preserve this practice in its place of origin is one of Vanastree’s objectives.

Outside Malnad, the collective provides learning modules, seeds, and products to areas with deficits (especially drylands) through partner agencies. It is engaged in a long-term outreach project in Chamarajanagar, a drought-prone, under-developed district in Karnataka, in collaboration with Punarchith, a local trust working on an alternative, integrated learning programme for rural youth.

Vanastree’s work has become a vehicle for quiet but effective social change. Women are empowered to be part of a fraternity of like-minded people by forming small seed groups, meeting at gatherings, attending training programmes and going on study trips. Intrinsically linked with women’s lives, seeds have bestowed upon them the power to realise themselves and to firmly assert their critical role in the social and ecological health of Malnad. ”Never in my life have I had this feeling of being treated as an equal, and being respected. I wish I had been part of Vanastree earlier,” says Lakshmi Siddi, a member with the collective.

The collective provides a platform to women gardeners, supports a livelihood initiative for them and conducts regular team building exercises for members. Photo Courtesy: Vanastree

Vanastree maintains a modest seed collection in Sirsi town. Rather than focusing on creating a central seed bank facility, the collective believes that the entire region lends itself to being a landscape-level seed storehouse. “Seeds have no caste, creed or religion – they are universal and secular. Vanastree nurtures this sentiment strongly in its work with various communities,” says Manorama Joshi, a seed leader with the collective.

Strong advocates of seed sovereignty and having a universal open source seed system, Vanastree provides the right inputs and energies to rural communities to maintain seed diversity and varietal purity as they have been doing for centuries. While the collective’s thrust on conservation is balanced by carefully-planned livelihoods, it also ensures that a synergy is maintained between its research, documentation, education and training programmes.

While the traditional gifting and exchange of seeds remains the root of Vanastree’s work, other activities are giving new direction to the collective’s vision. Since 2001, a festival organised each year brings together growers and producers in the region. In 2008, the women began selling seeds and other products at these festivals, which are now known as Malnad Melas.

Land and Lens, a project started in 2017, aims to train rural women and youth in using professional-level cameras, encouraging them to reveal their land, lives, and inherent creativity and providing venues to share their work. The project is turning out to be a critical asset to document and protect the fragile social and ecological balance of the region.

The collective’s livelihood programme, Vanya, is now an independent venture. Going forward, Vanastree hopes to keep its seed bank going and see how best the idea can be replicated by other agencies in their own contexts. Protecting and conserving local seeds remains the soul of their work. Sanctuary readers, who wish to support Vanastree, may write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The collective provides a platform to women gardeners, supports a livelihood initiative for them and conducts regular team building exercises for members. Photo Courtesy: Vanastree 

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVIII No. 8, August 2018.

 
 
 

Subscribe to our Magazines

Subscribe Now!
 
Please Login to comment