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News Story
17 June 2024
Author: Ebba Ragnartz

Harvesting success from farmers’ wisdom to academia in Southeast Asia

Future Earth Asia Network regional assembly meeting in 2022.

Photo: Future Earth Asia


For the last 25 years, Sangeeta Kharat has worked as the assistant director at an organisation called Srushtidnyan, which is working in environmental education. Srushtidnyan has been a member of the Future Earth Asia Network since 2017. Sangeeta holds a master’s in arts and HRD Management from the University of Mumbai. 


Can you tell us more about the current project that Future Earth Asia Network centre is conducting? 

Future Earth Asia Network works according to three basic principles of ecology, self-reliance, and cooperation and has eleven permanent member organisations (five members in Ladakh, four members in Tamil Nadu, one member in Mumbai and one member in Sri Lanka) and three trial member organisations. Currently, the network is working on a Theory of Change for ecological sustainability and climate-resilient food systems for livelihood security and food sovereignty for an equitable and self-reliant society. The network is conducting awareness campaigns on the importance of sustainable agriculture in schools and local communities in urban areas. In rural areas, the projects are centred around work and research with farmers, self-help groups and knowledge around biodiversity conservation. 

Have Future Earth Asia met any challenges in the implementation of activities? If so, how were these challenges addressed or surpassed?

Due to currency fluctuations, there is a shortage of funds for the network. Because of this, some long-term projects can be hard to execute as planned. Swedish government funding policies and Indian government fund compliance keep changing, making it difficult to work while following all the compliances. To avoid corruption and address these challenges, the organisation carefully follows policies and organisational practices to maintain transparency. 

How has your involvement in joint collaborations and networks, both regionally and internationally, contributed to the success of your work? Additionally, could you describe the specific challenges small-scale farmers and indigenous communities face amidst crises like climate change, food insecurities, and natural disasters?

Collaboration has helped organisations share their skills, knowledge and resources, leading to greater outcomes. Further, this has helped organisations to connect with others in the sector, providing opportunities for growth and development. The Future Earth Asia Network provides a platform for its members to share their experiences, learnings and skills. Member organisations help each other by sharing their expertise and experiences. 

Small-scale farmers are heavily affected by climate change and natural disasters, such as water scarcity and natural calamities. These have resulted in declining biodiversity in local crops and forests, less crop yield and a more complex environment for food production and agriculture, particularly affecting women and youth. This is due to the decrease of nutrition as well as gendered discrimination, making them neglect their health. Young people in rural areas migrate to cities due to limited job opportunities, rooted in the current crises. Our network educates youth on climate- and agriculture-related issues and solutions. Furthermore, we also work with uniting mothers of children in school, teaching them about cultivation and sustainable crops. This has resulted in them coming together at school events, to sell healthy goods, providing the children with valuable knowledge and the mothers an additional income. 

Farmers’ interaction with the network

Photo: Future Earth Asia

How to you ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information translated in joint publications and newsletters, especially when dealing with diverse agricultural issues and agroecological approaches? 

The members of Future Asia Networks are adequately qualified to design research experiments for agricultural issues and have a system of documentation on farmers’ experiments and field testing, examining a group of farmers for 3 years before making it into a publication or information material for wider sharing. The information is reviewed by an editorial committee with subject matter experts, which assess its accuracy and reliability before being published. The members are also trained in documentation and communication, and regularly write articles in reputed magazines. 

Can you provide an example of a successful joint participatory research initiative where scientific validation was given to farmers’ claims on the health and nutritional aspects of indigenous crop varieties? What were the key outcomes?

An example of a successful collaborative research project is the revival of indigenous crops came from the community, specifically the elders. Apart from indigenous crops, female farmers have extensive knowledge of uncultivated food like weeds as greens, food, medicine, fodder for their livestock and as an indicator of soil health. To ensure scientific validation, the Future Earth Asia Network members participated in exposure visits to organisations like the Deccan Development Society, Bhartiy Agro Industries Foundation and Navadhanya. These organisations conduct participatory research with reputable Indian institutes like Food Processing Technologies and the National Institute for Nutrition. We have a database of DNA testing reports of the indigenous seeds in the bank, which includes information on each seed’s characteristics, climate resilience capacity and nutritional values. 

What are the typical themes covered during the joint online workshops and/or conversation circle sessions? Can you discuss the importance of sharing agro-ecological experiences through such platforms?

The network has a regional coordination group for its members, which organises different online capacity-building workshops and field visits. Over the last five years, we have organised online workshops regarding the programmes we are implementing and for administration management. Some of the most important topics are biodynamic agriculture, proposal writing and monitoring, incorporate Sustainable Development Goals into NGO activities, Theory of Change, millets, how to use digital platforms and social media effectively and compliance with Indian government regulations for foreign funds. 

How does the involvement of students from Sweden in minor field studies in Asia and Latin America benefit both the organisation and the students? Could you elaborate on the typical focus areas of these studies? 

Minor field studies in Asia help students from Sweden better understand agricultural and rural issues, and the contextual differences and challenges between countries. Some of the focus areas for minor field studies are: 

  • Revival and management of community forests established by local communities to address deforestation issues.  
  • Mixed and multiple cropping in minimizing the risks of climate change. 
  • Sustainable agriculture alternatives through micro watershed approaches. 
  • Facilitating eco clubs in schools and green volunteers in villages to regain faith in agriculture among youth.  
  • Large-scale migration of young girls to garment industries and feminization of agriculture. 

Unfortunately, the minor field studies have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, as 2023 was the last year we welcomed students to execute these studies. This is due to the Swedish Government’s new strategy planning and lack of funds. Despite this, you can contact Future Earth (Framtidsjorden) regarding the possibilities of research opportunities. 

Looking ahead, what are the key priorities or focus areas for the network in terms of advancing agro-ecological approaches and sustainable agriculture, and how do you plan to address these priorities?

The network’s future priority areas are: first, climate change education and awareness will be a cornerstone of our efforts. Then, by promoting organic and sustainable farming practices, we aim to build farmers’ climate-resilient capacities. 

A significant priority is to promote local food systems by creating strong linkages between farmers and consumers. Our focus will be on ensuring the availability, affordability, and accessibility of nutritious local food.  

We also recognise the crucial role of involving youths in agroecological practices. 

Biodiversity conservation and forest ecology conservation, with a focus on local-specific species and their habitat conservation and protection, will also be key focus areas.  

Strengthening women farmers is another critical priority. By empowering women to practice ecological agriculture, we aim to enhance their livelihood capacities and improve their health status.  

Lastly, our advocacy work will involve close collaboration with central and state governments. By leveraging government schemes, we will help farmers transition to organic cultivation methods.