Home > News > In the News > On Vandana Shiva’s footsteps : Hands-on Ecofeminism

By Fiorella Carollo – Pressenza, 16 June 2023 | Source

Hayu Dyah is a young Javanese woman and the president of Mantasa, an Indonesian Ngo set in Java. Mantasa’s aim is to tackle women’s and children’s malnutrition which is still widespread in modern Indonesia. Hayu has tested more than 700 wild plants rich in vitamins and nutrients; she tours regularly the villages to show to women how to cook and find these plants at the same time exchanging knowledge and new recipes with them.

On June 5th on World Environment Day, Vandana Shiva together with some representatives of the international movement Diverse Women for Diversity, in a press conference in Rome, launched the Manifesto of Ecofeminism calling for a convergence of women’s power to the power of nature.

Mantasa has been working for more than ten years to create that convergence of powers, the collaboration among women, and between women and nature. Hayu can you tell us how have you been doing that?

Well, Mantasa has been around since 2009 and, as you mentioned earlier, we’ve worked mostly with local and indigenous women in Indonesia to tackle the problem of malnutrition by utilizing wild plants and it’s been a very rich journey for families.

When I was young and I went to the villages I thought that I was going to show them how to use these plants but actually, it was the other way around, I’ve learned a lot from these women about the wisdom and the knowledge and all the nutritious aspects of these edible wild plants. So it’s been a very learning process for me. Now I think it’s more about an exchange of knowledge: my background is on nutrition technology and I can share with them my experience a little bit on nutrition and how to prevent nutrition loss during the processing of edible wild plants, and they also share with me their traditional recipes.

Recently, I’m working with indigenous women in two regions in East Nusa Tenghara on the islands of Ende and Alor. This project is called “Edible wild plants school” It’s a school focusing on how the indigenous women are doing their own research and documentation on the traditional knowledge around them.

The power of knowledge is in the women’s hands in this case, so they don’t have to wait for researchers from outside the community to do the research, but they have to do it by themselves and they are the one who give permission when there’s a researcher from outside. The women want to ask for data or information on cases like biopiracy, it’s happened a lot around the world, and also, they want to reclaim their knowledge about plants because I think women’s role in the food system is not being seen properly, their role is still very invisible.

What I see in the villages in Alor Island and in Ende, is how these women every day go around the neighborhood just to make sure that everyone is fed for the day. They go to the forest and the vegetable garden and when they return from the forest, they don’t go straight home but stop on the way to visit their neighbors or their families and offer anything they want to take from their basket. I think it’s a very important social role and a beautiful relationship between women, nature, neighbors and family.

I’ve learned that Mantasa was selected by the Women’s Earth Alliance in the US and then you’ve been working together with Navdanya and other international bodies. Can you tell us about those collaborations? How they have improved your work?

Well, they really have helped me to focus on my vision, they keep reminding me to align to my work and they also help me to manage my organization and also connect with other networks. I was selected as their fellow in 2021 by the Women’s Earth Alliance and this year we are going to collaborate again, actually, last year we collaborated on a small project called “Indigenous people literacy” we involved young people in the indigenous community inside the village in Ende.

Nowadays, young people have their own problems like they don’t know much about their own culture and a lot of them don’t know how to utilize the wild plants. They don’t know the name of the plants and how to use them in the medicine or as food or as fiber or whatever so it is like frustrating. It’s also a source of frustration for the Elders because they think the youth doesn’t care anymore about their own culture so there’s a gap here between the young generation and the old generation. In the workshop last year we brought them together and we could see how happy the Elders were. That’s the moment we’d been waiting for! The youth came to us and asked about their own culture, about what kind of food there was like 50 years ago, 30 years ago, and so on. This year we are going to continue that project with women at the “Edible wild plants school” with the Women’s Earth Alliance.

Regarding Navdanya, our last collaboration actually I think was in 2017 when we toured Yogyackarta and Bali it was about regenerated agriculture, but I plan to do more work with them to join me in the “Edible wild plants school” because Navdanya has been doing very well on building community seed banks all over India so I want that to be replicated in Indonesia. The “Indigenous people community”, in Indonesia, are the only ones who can hold the seeds, in other words, they are the seed managers. They administer the household, for example, if you go to Alor Island they have dozens of formulae on how to make their seeds stronger in five to ten years. I think it’s amazing, it’s something that we need to dig more from the knowledge of these women.

I remember that when we met in 2015 Mantasa had organized Vandana Shiva’s tour Seeds Freedom and the occasion was that in Java, in Keliki a group of farmers were just been released from jail because they were charged with “the crime” of exchanging seeds and making their own. Since few people knew about that, you wanted to draw attention to what was going on among farmers and seeds (and Monsanto) and you were very lucky that Vandana accepted your invitation to come to Java and Bali. Since then the collaboration has grown between Mantasa and Vandana and after a while Vandana invited you and the farmers to join her in Dehradun at the Earth University. 

Exactly that was a very exciting moment I brought ten people from Indonesia to India and for all of them it was their first time outside Indonesia and they didn’t speak any English! It was challenging translating from English to Indonesian but at the end of the day they work so happily exchanging knowledge with others from other parts of the world.

Vandana Shiva last 5 June in Rome, reminded: “Women are those who have always defended nature starting with the Indian Chipko movement, when in the 1970s Himalayan women hugged trees to prevent them from being cut down by chainsaws. Women and nature are colonized by the same forces which maintain, on the one hand, that nature is dead and, on the other hand, that women are passive, they are objects.

Women understand when the destruction of an ecosystem begins and above all, they understand that there are other ways of producing food that do not kill life on earth. Women are also the first producers, the first economic producers, through the economy of care.

Women and nature join together in a creative system unlike colonization which is a violent system. So the revolution is the convergence of the earth’s power and women. This in a nutshell is ecofeminism”.

This interview is part of the project “Woman Pride” by Donna Reporter

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