Changemakers, a non-profit organization, chose three winners for its collaborative competition Cultivating Innovation: Solutions for Rural Communities. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored the competition. The three winners were SRREOSHI (India), Ag√™ncia Mandalla DHSA (Brazil), and Uganda Rural development and Training Programme. Each winner received $5,000.
SRREOSHI works on women’s land rights in the Indian state of West Bengal. Women are denied access to land in West Bengal so the agency works with local government bodies to “ensure their participation in the work through sustained advocacy efforts.” Their efforts include helping start seed banks, nurseries, and grain golas in order to “ensure sustainability.”
Their efforts have improved the conditions of women and children. As they point out, when women are able to care for their children while cultivating land, the children have a better quality of life. When women have access to land, it ensures their “control over the produce of the land.” Cultivating land also reduces the number of women working for stone-crushers, which is dangerous work.
“Changemakers is a great platform to connect programs from around the world. I was able to connect with so many Ashoka Fellows, discussing my work and thinking through possible collaborations,” said Sikha ROY from SRREOSHI. “I am happy that now I can learn from others as much as others can learn from my experience.”
Created in 2003, Ag√™ncia Mandalla DHSA researches and disseminates alternative agricultural techniques for small farms with limited water resources. Small farms are very important to Brazil as one-third of the population of Brazil is in rural areas. Brazilian family agriculture represents 85.2 percent of total farming properties and accounts for 37.9 percent of gross national agro-cattle production.
Ag√™ncia Mandalla pioneered the Mandalla System which helps small farms become more sustainable and productive. The system divides a cultivated area into nine plots around a water reservoir which supplies irrigation. Small animals are kept in a common area and supply manure, plus chickens plow the soil while feeding from herbs.
“Being recognized among the most innovative solutions for rural communities is a pretty big achievement for us, it has maximized our motivation to keep replicating our work in knowledge and social change,” said Tarcio Handel da Silva, Executive Director of Ag√™ncia Mandalla DHSA.
URDT develops and demonstrates agricultural techniques to farms in the Kibaale district of Uganda. The majority of farmers (98 percent) in the Kibaale district are small scale producers and are bypassed when it comes to government services. URDT teaches the farmers to use alternative energy like biogas. The agency removes garbage and refuse from townships and homes, using them to make manure. As a result of URDT’s help, farmers soil productivity and farm yield have improved.
“The enthusiasm and the participation of the staff, families and friends has been one of the best things that Ashoka has done. Moving from a small group of judges to democratizing the evaluation process has been a great experience,” said Dr. Mwalimu Musheshe, CEO of the URDT.