WIMN’s Voices: A Group Blog on Women, Media, AND…

Women, media and food

ajosephs Icon Posted by Ammu Joseph

June 19th, 2008

The ongoing global food crisis which, according to some analysts, could spiral into the worst disaster of the 21st Century, has already caused riots in several countries and spread panic in others as food prices approach a 30-year high in real terms. The world’s worst food crisis since the 1970s is believed to have already pushed an additional 100 million people into hunger worldwide. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) - which recently hosted a World Food Summit in an effort to figure out how to tackle the emergency - estimates that 815 million people around the world currently face chronic hunger and undernourishment.

In the midst of all the gloom, made worse by a pointless international blame game and self-seeking disagreements about who should do what to prevent the grim situation from getting worse, come some encouraging news and views from an unusual group of rural women film-makers in India.

Exactly a month ago today this group of women - most of them poor, non-literate and dalit (from communities traditionally placed below the bottom rung of the pernicious caste ladder) - made an international debut with a multimedia publication titled Affirming Life and Diversity: Rural Images and Voices on Food Sovereignty in South India.

The publication, co-authored by the DDS Community Media Trust, P.V. Satheesh of the Deccan Development Society and Michel Pimbert of the International Institute for Environment and Development, was globally launched in Bonn on 19 May, during the 9th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Affirming Life and Diversity consists of both text and a collection of 12 video films on diverse issues of development made by the peasant women film-makers of the DDS Community Media Trust (CMT). It has since been released in several Indian cities, including Delhi and, most recently, Bangalore. The Network of Women in Media, India, has been associated with the five-city launch in four places.

The CMT is a rural women’s media collective formed in 2001 by farming women trained to use radio and video for the benefit of their communities. It all began with a radio station set up in 1999 in response to the demand for a radio of their own from poor, dalit, non-literate women who felt the need for a medium of communication that would enable them to share information and ideas with other members of their rural communities. The women belonged to women’s sanghams (collectives) in villages in and around Pastapur in the backward and arid Medak district in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The group now includes about 20 women who undertake media work along with their traditional occupations.

The Trust was created to produce alternative media that can be accessed and controlled by local communities, especially those that have historically suffered exclusion, and to take the images and voices of rural women to the larger world outside. CMT members have engaged with their own communities in debates over food and seed sovereignty, as well as control over natural resources, markets and media. The Trust has also established solidarity networks with local communities in other parts of India, the South Asian region and several other countries across the world.

Over the past seven years the group has made over 75 films on a variety of issues, including agriculture, healthcare, biodiversity and local cultural traditions – though, interestingly and surprisingly, none on directly gender-related matters (except for a five-minute one on “Single women and their struggles”). The most well-known of their films are three focusing on the controversial issue of Bt Cotton, made between 2003 and 2006. The first two have been translated into English, French, Spanish, Swahili, Thai and Bahasa Indonesia and are being used by environmental groups in different parts of the world. The third film on the subject, “A Disaster in Search of Success,” documenting farmers’ experiences with and reactions to Bt Cotton, was shot in South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Mali and India.

In 2006 the CMT women won a prestigious national award for the Best Educational Video Film. In a nationwide competition, which drew 246 entries that were judged by a jury comprising eminent filmmakers and educationists, they also received an award for the Best Programme of the Year and a citation for the Best Programme on Environment and Development.

Now that India has at long last acknowledged the importance of community media and passed legislation to enable groups like theirs to get licenses for community radio, the CMT women may soon be able to begin broadcasting instead of “narrowcasting,” as they have been doing for nearly a decade.

“Affirming Life and Diversity” has particular relevance and resonance in the context of the global food crisis because it explores how – and under what conditions – diverse, localized food systems can be sustained in the 21st Century. According to representatives of farmer organizations, civil society groups and the scientific community, as well as development scholars, who attended the National Consultation on Millets in the first week of June, millets (traditional coarse grains that could lead to food sovereignty for many poor rural communities) may well be able to help rescue India – and possibly other parts of the world – from the related ongoing global crises in agriculture and food, ecology and climate, and energy.

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