Resisting climate change and demanding action: Nissa leads the agroecology  revolution in West Java

Nissa Saadah Wargadipura lives with her husband and three children in the beautiful village of Sukagalih, West Java. She is a climate-change activist and her passion for agroecology has guided her ground-breaking work across the farming industry.

“I am really concerned about how people perceive their villages. I believe that the village should be the centre of their economics, if they really work hard with these pieces of land, they won’t have to leave and head to the city for work,” Nissa explained.

“You see, capitalised food production and consumption have caused our farmers to depend on genetically modified seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilisers. Consequently, agricultural production costs are higher than product sales. This is why so many farmers have been forced to leave farming and have turned to construction work instead.”

Nissa believes that genetically modified organisms have forced local farmers into an uneven playing field. The market demands high-yield crops that require pesticides and fertilisers from the same companies. The crops that they produce are then sold at a low price to middle men who are in control of the market. This is one of the reasons why farming is becoming more and more unattractive for young people, who now prefer to urbanize and leave their villages behind.

As more young people flee, farming areas such as rice fields are being transformed into factories and housing compounds by the minute. Once pristine mountains are now scarred by deforestation and mining. Nissa feels that the deterioration of their land leads to the deterioration of the human condition.

Eager to resist this decline, Nissa set out to work with young people to offer them an alternative option. In partnership with her husband, she established the Ath-Tariq Islamic Boarding School, and ecology-based pesantren.

Nissa, who has received an Agroecology and Organic Food System scholarship from Dr. Vandana Shiva at Earth University Navdanya India, uses her knowledge and skillset to teach at the school. She invites people to abandon the use of pesticides and advocates using natural solutions to pest control such as mice and snakes to balance the food chain.

“Our farmers are trapped in a cycle of capitalism in food production, distribution and consumption. Agroecology is an alternative farming practice to improve the family economy and can help us to determine the food crises as one of the impacts of climate change” Nissa continues.

The pesantren’s vision is to promote food sovereignty through organic and eco-friendly farming. On their 800 square meters, the santri (Muslim seminarians) can cultivate their diverse farming activities and are able to meet their daily food consumption, producing enough to feed thirty people. Nissa believes activities like this are essential to fight climate change; “Food sovereignty is the way of us to adapting economic crisis and climate change, of whom women and children are the most effected.”

Entering almost a decade, this pesantren has produced to 1,400 alumni and some have gone on to open their own pesantren. The school’s aim is to instil organic knowledge for the whole community to benefit.

Nissa has since won the Most Influential Woman award in West Java in 2019 and won the national equivalent in 2015. Her passion to fight for farmers’ rights to build their sovereignty and resist climate change is infectious. Her cross-cultural work with other faith-based organisations mean it is easy to see why Nissa has become a symbol of love in her community.