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Photography, Indigenous Communities, and a Climate-resilient future by Aniket Gawade

Photography, Indigenous Communities, and a Climate-resilient future by Aniket Gawade




I come from an Engineering background and have worked as a software engineer for 3 years. Photography was just a hobby for me during my college days but gradually it turned into a serious engagement. Photography for me is always about telling stories and so I was allured by the idea of documenting human interest stories and environmental issues. Something that would help convey a message. That's when I thought of working on my first ever self-funded project with a curiosity to understand the life of the people working amidst the huge garbage dumps and their reasons behind doing such tough jobs.





Photo Caption: A kid playing with his kite amidst the burning garbage in Mumbai by Aniket Gawade



Fortunately, I got laid off in 2017 and that's when I decided to take up photography as a profession. I didn't know that in this journey Photography would take me to the beautiful world of indigenous people. In 2019, I coincidentally got introduced to the Kondh adivasis of Odisha in eastern India. To be frank, adivasis are considered to be backward by the mainstream world and even I had the same thoughts as I come from a background of a metropolitan city of Mumbai.


Traveling and learning from mentors and ace photographers helped me develop an empathetic attitude, which is key in capturing compelling stories. I spent almost a year with the Kondhs with this same attitude, understanding their perspective, listening to their stories, and learning about their wonderful culture. It was great to learn that they are so deeply connected to their land and forests, their collective way of living, their sustainable agricultural practices but more than that I was very much impressed by the way they thank mother nature for all the things that she provides. For me, it was an eye-opener. I suddenly felt it should be a basic human practice to thank nature as our existence depends on her which most of us fail to realize.


Coming from an engineering background, I was very far from agriculture but my experience with the Kondhs introduced me to mixed cropping, something I had never heard of. It was only then I understood that one small piece of land can help you get your complete nutritious meal. The Kondhs have been practicing mixed cropping for generations and more importantly, it has been proved to be climate-resilient.


The benefit of mixed cropping is that even in extreme weather events, one can get something out of the field. Some crops work well in drought, others in floods. Compare this with mono-cropping, which won’t even yield enough to eat in severe drought.


Nothing goes to waste in mixed cropping. Even a failed crop acts as mulch and manure for the others. Pulses fix nitrogen while millets fix phosphorus. Tall plants like maize support the vines which in turn don’t let it fall on windy days.


Multiple crops also help deal with pests and diseases, which are increasing with the changing weather. On the boundary, the Kondhs sow Mustard, Jatropha, and other oil seeds which repel or impede the progress of insects towards the inner field which has millets, paddy, and other grains interspersed with seasonal vegetables.


Photo Caption: Finger millet and foxtail millet as a part of mixed cropping by Aniket Gawade




Photo Caption: The mixed seeds before sowing by Aniket Gawade



Despite being miles away, I was amazed to find that even the Khasi Tribe of Meghalaya in North East India practiced the same sustainable mixed cropping technique.


The recent untimely rains in India had caused a lot of destruction, especially of agriculture. Even the increase in cyclonic activities in western India has adverse effects on agriculture. The effects were worse because of the mono-cropping being practiced since the inception of the Green Revolution in India.


The farmers are left with nothing but debt after the loss in agriculture due to extreme weather conditions.


The time that I have spent learning and unlearning with the Kondhs and Khasis has changed my perspective on food. The way we are facing an agrarian crisis, either due to extreme weather events or excessive use of chemical fertilizers,


we already have the solution with us - the indigenous people.



India has the largest number of the indigenous population in the world, around 104 million or 8.6% of the national population. With the devastating pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, it's time we realize the importance and make use of the vast inherited knowledge these indigenous communities have before they are completely pushed into the mainstream world by the big corporations or are forced to migrate to cities by illegally grabbing their lands.


While I continue to work with these falsely considered "backward" or "uncivilized" communities, they are our only hope to fight against the climate crisis as they are the best guardians of nature.









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About the Author


Aniket Gawade is an engineer turned Photographer based in Mumbai whose work predominantly focuses on documenting Environmental issues and the effects of Climate Change on Indigenous Communities.



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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.