Vanastree facilitates ecologically sensitive livelihoods to help augment women farmers’ incomes, thus bringing a synergy between conservation and enterprise. This aspect of Vanastree’s work has been directed by the women themselves, since they felt the seed conservation movement would have more credibility and power if we could demonstrate that forest home gardens also provided women with some degree of economic independence.
The initiative began in 2003 with the setting up of a wood fired, fuel efficient drier in one of the women’s homes to dry banana. This was done taking a soft loan which was returned over 2 years.
Colours That Talk
The next initiative was to produce vegetable colours for the festival of Holi. This was inspired by the Safe Festival Campaign led by the Pune-Delhi based organistion Kalpavriksh. Beginning with 240 kg of colours in 2004, and a trip to Pune to give her first public speech, Manorama Joshi led the R&D to develop a range of colours working in her kitchen turned lab till late at night. Production went up to 5 tons in 2012. Today, the Holi colours are marketed independently by Manorama Joshi via her cottage industry enterprise, Maitri Home Foods.
Unity in Diversity
The diverse range of over 80 products developed by the Vanastree collective includes cultivated and wild produce, and value added products. These are available at our annual Malnad Mela in Sirsi and Bengaluru and select retail stores. The unique feature of this initiative is that everything is produced in the gardens or individual kitchens of the women themselves and made in small quantities to preserve quality and diversity of taste. We have chosen not to standardize recipes, and try our best to meet directly with the users and consumers so our products have a face and address. A small range of products is sold through retail stores year round. Traditional varieties of open pollinated vegetable and flower seeds remain our most important ambassadors and foot (soil) soldiers of our modest crusade.
Our livelihood programme is now an independent, community-owned and self-managed entity. Vanastree continues to provide non-fiscal support to this initiative which operates out of a small space in Sirsi—where the collective women can bring in seeds and produce, meet each other and help with storage and packing. There are about 60 seed savers and producers who work to bring in speciality goods. Marketing and other logistics remain a challenge to keep this initiative afloat and viable.