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Creating a Regenerative and Nourishing Rice Food System

A Rice Food System with Certainty, Diversity, Identity, Prosperity, Vitality, and Sustainability

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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Center for Indian Knowledge Systems

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

1. Sempulam Sustainable Solutions ( - Social Enterprise (under 50 employees) - is a 5-year old company involved in providing support services for sustainable agriculture through marketing linkages for farmers groups and consulting services for other stakeholders. 2. SEEDS Sustainable Agriculture Producer Company Ltd. (SAPCL), a 4-year old Tiruvannamalai-based Farmer Producer Company (a PC is a specific Indian legal form of the collective enterprise model); SEEDS promoted by CIKS has over 1500 shareholders with a share capital of INR 3 mn (approx. USD 43,000). They work in 33 villages. SEEDS has made encouraging progress towards the producer-end system the collaborators envision here. 3. University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technologies at Bengaluru, ( is an institution devoted to trans-disciplinary research and interventions broadly in the area of health care, including food and nutrition.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Chennai, Tamil Nadu state

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Tiruvannamalai District, Tamil Nadu State

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

CIKS has been working in Tiruvannamalai district for over 20 years. CIKS’ work in Tiruvannamalai includes:

1. Providing training for farmers groups on sustainable agriculture, demonstration of organic cultivation on test plots, supply of quality seeds of traditional rice varieties (TRVs), promoting seed production, and creating market linkages.

2. Researching organic cultivation, characterisation of agronomic properties, and studies on nutritional and therapeutic properties of traditional rice varieties.

3. Promoting six Farmer Producer Organisations registered under the Indian Companies Act as "Producer Companies" (PC) - a specific purpose form in which only primary producers can be shareholders. CIKS provides comprehensive support to these PCs - technical, legal compliances, business design and planning, access to finance, creating markets, and operations. The six PCs, spread over 99 villages, have a total of 11,531 shareholders (48% female). While the majority are small/marginal farmers, some are landless farmers or large farmers. As per the definition in India, marginal farmers cultivate up to one hectare of land and small farmers between 1 and 2 hectares of land. The paid-up share capital of these six PCs is 15.68 million INR. The PCs provide a range of services to their members – technical training, sourcing quality seeds, inputs for cultivation, aggregation of output to facilitate marketing, and access to credit.

4. Publishing a large number of educational and training materials on various aspects of sustainable agriculture in Tamil and English - a complete list is provided in Attachment 3

 5. Efforts in the Jawadhu hills region, a block with 100% tribal population. The area is special as 75% is under forests and more than 75% of cultivated land is under millets. The area also has specific traditional rice varieties.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The district is located in the North Eastern part of Tamil Nadu state (the district headquarter is about 195 kms from Chennai metropolis). As per the 2011 census, the district had a population about 2.46 million persons with a sex ratio of 994 females for every 1000 males (national average: 929). However, the district’s average literacy level was only 66% (national average: 72.99%). The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India has named this district one of the 250 most backward districts (among the 640 districts of the country); based on this, it is one of the six districts in Tamil Nadu state currently receiving funds from the "Backward Regions Grant Fund" (BRGF) program of the Government of India.

The district has a total area of about 6,200 sq. kms., organised into about 1062 revenue villages. The predominant soil type is red soil. The average annual rainfall is 1040 mm. There are no perennial rivers in the district; tanks and wells are the major sources of irrigation. The district has about 2000 traditional irrigation structures (Eris) and 18 reservoirs and small dams.

Agriculture is the main occupation of the district. Major crops are paddy, sugarcane, and groundnut. Paddy accounts for 52% of the cultivated area. It is cultivated in three crop seasons - the major season Samba (August-November) and two smaller seasons - Navarai (December-March) and Kar (April-July). The significant cultivation of rice has led to the operation of several rice mills across the districts. For example, the taluk of Arani has around 278 rice mills while a modern rice mill near Cheyyar is the biggest in terms of capacity. Some areas have rice mills specialising in particular varieties. For example, the Kalambur region has 20 rice mills and it is known for processing a variety of rice called Kalambur Ponni rice.

The district has 18 regulated agri markets through which farmers sell their agri produce.

Besides various temples and other pilgrimage spots, the district also has various locations of great scenic beauty and importance from the point of view of heritage tourism such as Jawadhu hills, these are part of the Eastern Ghats mountain range; the population here in a block of about 200 hamlets is entirely tribal. There is evidence of new stone age structures in this area, which is now home to the "Vainu Bappu Observatory," the largest optical telescope in Asia.

Tiruvannamalai has several temples, famous and venerated since ancient times, such as Annamalaiyar Temple in the district headquarters of Tiruvannamalai which celebrates the annual Karthigai Deepam festival spread over a 10-day period attended by about one million pilgrims. There is a famous Jain Temple in Tirumalai with an 18-feet statue of the 23rd Jain Theerthankar. The Mamamdur Cave Temple in the Mamamdur village hill is one of the biggest cave temples in the State. There are also cave temples in Seeyamangalam. There are also a large number of fairs and festivals in the district.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

It is well known that traditionally rice has played very important roles in cultures across the planet. In recent years however, there has been a change in the public perception and attitude. Significant changes observed in the rice food system are:

  • Decline in Diversity: Far fewer varieties are cultivated and used.
  • Changes in Practices and Processes: how rice is cultivated, processed, and cooked today is very different from how it was done earlier.
  • Experts Against Rice: Allopathic physicians, nutritionists, and dietitians opine that rice is quite unsuited as the major cereal for a large section of our population (diabetics and at-risk individuals). Consequently, they advise going easy on the rice or skipping it altogether.

What changed in India’s rice food system?

From the 1960s, the imperative to meet India’s food needs resulted in the promotion of high yielding varieties that required intensive use of (subsidised) chemicals inputs. Over time, this made rice cultivation more dependent on external inputs and also increased the risks.

Challenges in 2020:

Challenges that India’s rice food system faces today include:

  • Decline of soil fertility
  • Resistance of pests to chemicals
  • Decline of yields
  • Pollution of land, water, and air
  • Decreased availability of water for cultivation
  • More frequent and extreme climate events affecting cultivation – drought, decreased rainfall, changed patterns of rains, more concentrated precipitation, and flooding
  • Loss of diversity
  • Processing that diminishes nutrition value
  • Modern views gaining ground over traditional wisdom, primarily due to lack of conversations and research. In India, the public’s choices of food are still derived from the Āyurvedic worldview and traditional wisdom. The characterisation, description, and perspectives of rice found in the texts of Āyurveda different greatly from the understanding and views of modern medicine and nutrition. In fact, traditional concepts such as ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ food are not only not investigated but also dismissed as having no basis or superstition.

Challenges in 2050:

Stakeholders in the rice food system are addressing these challenges through development of new strains to replace current varieties, policies, promotion of bio-inputs, and the creation of market segments where niche rice varieties and differently processed rice fetch a premium from the health-conscious consumers willing to spend. With heavy investments, solutions will emerge and come with a (hefty) price.

As India’s population grows, the stress on water and soil will increase. Growing consciousness will see diet composition changing further and the market also responding with healthier options – both rice and other foods. Extreme weather events due to climate change are likely to be more frequent and more pronounced, making the development of solutions a race against time. In short, the system will have to keep evolving to work. Will it be regenerative and nourishing is a moot point?

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

In line with the vision to realize a regenerative and nourishing rice food system, CIKS’ work has covered the following:

1. Conserved (140 traditional rice varieties conserved), characterised, and documented of traditional rice varieties in Tamilnadu.

2. Completed preliminary studies on nutritional properties of 50 traditional rice varieties.

3. Initiated documentation and appreciation of properties of rice varieties based on traditional parameters.

4. CIKS runs a crowd funding campaign at - Namma Nellu is a Tamil term meaning ‘Our Rice’. The campaign raised support to conserve and scale up cultivation of traditional rice varieties; the support has helped cover over 400 hectares during the Aug-Dec 2019 crop season.

The shared objective of CIKS and collaborators is to play a lead role in catalysing certainty, diversity, identity, prosperity, vitality, and sustainability, in the following ways:

Soil fertility – Promote methods to nurture the soil using natural products and organic inputs. Set up units for production of compost, vermicompost, neem seed cake, and produce seeds of sun hemp and other species to fix soil nitrogen. Practices will also include crop rotation, crop diversification, and greater varietal diversity. Cattle population will be enhanced with an integrated approach to optimize other items of value (cattle dung, urine, and other products), in addition to milk yield.

Water resources – More efficient use of water for rice cultivation with the use of SRI (system of rice intensification). Diversification of varieties to include those that require less water. Harvest water to increase availability and utilize water better.

Viability – Make agriculture remunerative through market linkages that offer better prices, collectivization through FPOs for better bargaining power, and value addition for better returns. Farmers dependent solely on the Government procurement system and local traders are vulnerable. Their position will be improved through services delivered by member-oriented collectives.

Climate change adaptation – Traditional rice varieties offer a basket of choices resistant to pests, diseases, flood, and drought. The challenge of seed availability will be met by organising local systems for seed production. Risks due to climate change can be anticipated to some extent through weather forecast services and managed to some extent through insurance cover.

Technology development: CIKS and collaborators will work to develop suitable technologies needed at different stages such as storage, milling, and food packaging. 

Nutritional and therapeutic properties – Comprehensive study of nutritional properties of traditional rice varieties will be taken to establish their benefits in consumers’ minds.

Market development: Sempulam already helps the PCs go online and do e-commerce with Amazon and Flipkart (now, a Walmart business) to sell Traditional Rice Varieties.  

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The regenerative and nourishing rice food system in Tiruvannamalai will look like this in 2050.

It will start with seeds that farmers can be assured are the authentic traditional rice varieties of assured quality.

With the right seed going into the land, farmers will then use organic farming practices, relying on bio-inputs that are high quality and affordable. Farmer worry about steadily increasing input costs will come down.

Water needs will be reduced due to the introduction of less thirsty varieties. Water needs will be met through cost-effective micro solutions implemented by expert farmers in the household, village, and cluster-level systems. Water availability may go up and down but the crop will still do fine because the variety is such. Initiatives to increase water availability will also be taken up.

Crop protection needs will be reduced because the varieties are sturdier.

Farmers will nurture their traditional paddy variety crops every step of the way, realizing the full potential, with full vitality.

Farmers will harvest the paddy crops in rewarding manner and look at a field that’s cleared with its regenerative capacity intact. Thirty years ago, every crop cycle used to leave the field depleted.

A win-win equation with traders who will buy a wider range of traditional varieties and deliver the right goods to millers awaiting the produce.

Millers will use well-established technology that would have mechanised healthy processing methods to retain the goodness.

Value addition will transform the different varieties of processed rice into a range of healthy, value-added products contributing to the diet and cultural identity of the households and societies.

Packaging will be eco-friendly.

 A wide range of rice varieties and rice-based products will find their way to consumers who would have transformed their food habits to confidently consume them, knowing they are respecting, maintaining, and sustaining vitality.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?


From a civilizational and long term perspective, food systems and agriculture are a part of the culture of the people and basic choices need to be based on an understanding of factors such as:

  • What is the conception of the relationship of human beings to each other?
  • What is the conception of the relationship of human beings to plants and animals around them? and
  • What is the conception of the relationship of human beings to natural phenomena and forces of nature?

For the last century or more, agriculture in most parts of the world has progressed in an industrial framework where progress and efficiency are measured in a modern industrial manner - extrapolating experiences from the world of physics and engineering. This is a significant departure from the traditional world view in which agriculture is to take care of food and nutritional requirements, paying attention to ensure that harmony and balance is retained between humans, animals, and natural phenomena. While the industrial model of agriculture has played a role at a stage of development where food production had to be steeply increased to catch up with increased population, it is now clear that this has also led to saturation and the plateauing of growth. This approach has also resulted in serious imbalances that have led to pollution of water, soil, and the natural world with severe consequences. There is a widespread recognition for the need to achieve and maintain growth in a sustainable manner and in this effort traditional knowledge, wisdom and practices which are rooted in the civilization of the people; which is culture and ecosystem specific have a key role to play. Such an approach has to reflect the Cosmovision of the people.


A prosperous and sustainable rice food system, building on diversity and traditional knowledge and rooted in the Cosmovision of the people.

The six themes that count in a Food System are: Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy.

In 2050, stakeholders will ask these questions and answer in the affirmative:

Is growing, processing, reaching rice and rice-based products to households, consuming, and disposing sustainable or green all the way? Yes, an integrated food system built over 30 years around traditional rice varieties has made it so. Emissions are lower than before. Production is less polluting and greener to that extent, less resource intensive, more regenerative, and significantly more sustainable. The product basket will be, on the whole, less processed and hence greener. The foods are cultivated to satisfy local palates and hence, will move around in local economies, thus ensuring that the food mile factor is significantly healthier.

Is there certainty in planning production? Yes, traditional rice varieties have proven themselves in the last 30 years, as they have done before. I can choose a variety depending on the duration that will be certain, depending on its resistance to pest, disease, drought, flood, and salinity. Attachment 4 is a folder with a set of photographs giving illustrations of such varieties with a brief description of each that have become our preferred varieties.

Is the food on our plates healthier and tastier? Yes, an integrated food system built over 30 years around traditional rice varieties has made it so. The right cultivation practices and processing technologies have optimized the vitality and taste quotient of our staple food rice and a range of value-added products made from the traditional rice varieties. The food on our plate is no longer a villain. It is our ally. It nourishes. It has a lower glycemic index. It is rich in all the micronutrients (potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus) we need to feel vital and function well. Attachment 5 provides details about these values.

Is the rice food system viable for all? Yes, a well-designed integrated food system, built over 30 years, around traditional rice varieties has made it so. The win-win for stakeholders – from farmer to retailer – ensures a value chain that works well for everyone. Farmers, traders, and processors still see a healthy future in this rice food system that has taken shape in the last 30 years.

One may pose the question of why a farmer would indeed cultivate traditional varieties? To address this question, we have to take a holistic look considering not only the yields but also the cost of cultivation as well as income from all sources including grain and straw. Such a holistic assessment leaves us with the conviction that it makes good economic sense for the farmer to cultivate traditional varieties. This has been explained in detail taking an example of a particular traditional variety and comparing it with a widely used modern variety

Is it ‘our’ food? Is it an integral part of our way of life? Is it our culture? Yes, a well-designed integrated food system built over 30 years around traditional rice varieties has made it so. It has built on centuries of practice or the way it was, brought it back, made it work for our times and enhanced it, thus strengthening the roots and culture of one of the oldest thriving civilizations of the world. This food is us.

Is it powered by technology that works for humans? Yes, a well-designed integrated food system built over 30 years around traditional rice varieties has made it so. It leverages technologies designed for people and the planet – from cultivation to processing to packaging to disposing to recycling.

With universal Internet access and connectivity and the IoT, we see the possibility of deploying and using such technologies in many ways.  A few illustrations are given below. 

A. “Smart” technologies and devices for the early diagnosis of diseases and pest attacks in the rice crop coupled with the use of precision agriculture approaches and drones for the quick and efficient execution of solutions. In 2020, CIKS is already in a partnership with the Department of Computer Science in the Rajalakshmi College of Engineering, Chennai to explore the application of AI (Artificial Intelligence) with respect to various aspects of agriculture, particularly the rice crop. CIKS has been identified as a technical resource institution in a proposal entitled “Monitoring Rice Fields for timely detection of the presence of disease in rice crop using Aerial imaging and high-resolution image processing”. The proposal has been submitted to the Department of Bio-Technology (DBT) of the Government of India under the scheme for “Promoting academic research conversion to enterprise”.

B. Use of modern data processing technologies and devices to create MIS (Management Information Systems) for farmer producer companies. There is a range of applications possible including data collection, data management, aggregation of information from member farmers, access to technical information from experts on various aspects including agronomy and weather forecast, marketing intelligence, estimates and projection of crop yields and various other such purposes. These technologies open the possibilities of collecting and managing such information in “Real Time”. We have already made a beginning in this area by setting up a basic MIS system. 

C. Technology has already proved itself crucial in the following ways: 

i. Vacuum packing for the enhancement of shelf life of agricultural produce – this has already commenced with the use of such technologies to package and market traditional rice varieties.

ii. Enhancement of shelf life of produce by using freeze-drying technologies – these present an enormous opportunity in the Indian context where we do not have assured and uninterrupted power supply for cold storage structures.  Freeze drying technologies present an interesting alternate technology where power is required only at one point initially after which the freeze-dry products can be stored for long under ambient temperatures conditions.

4. Marketing of produce through E-commerce is increasing in importance and we have already made a start by linking up FPOs to e-commerce portals through a social enterprise Sempulam Sustainable Solutions (a partner in our consortium). 

Is it informed by policy that integrates the other five themes and defines an enabling framework? Yes, a well-designed policy framework is in place. It has an intergenerational view of the rice food system and the five themes. It is a set of policies that enhance environmental, nutritional, economic, cultural and technological horizons, for a sustained better future for the people and the planet.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Through colleagues involved in activities with farmers groups

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Hi @CIKS  Welcome to the Food Vision Prize community! For the last hours before the deadline, make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision. Here is the link to the pocket guide: Look forward to seeing your submission finalised by 31st January, 5:00 pm EST :)