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Janani: A Profitable & Regenerative Foodsystem for All

Regenerative agroecology nourishing farmers, companies, consumers, & the planet.

Photo of Usha Devi Venkatachalam
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Krishi Janani PBC

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

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

Not applicable

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.krishijanani.org/

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Rural Kangayam, Tiruppur District, Tamil Nadu

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

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

Tamil Nadu state in India

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

In many ways, Tamil Nadu is an innovative state in India. From mid-day meal scheme for all government school students to transgender rights, Tamil Nadu has been blazing a trail that other states of India follow on later. If there is a state which can experiment with, identify, and spur widespread adoption of a solution to global climate crisis, it will be this state.

This is not the only reason why Tamil Nadu has been selected. It is the operational home for Janani, a farmers’ network for profitable and regenerative agroecology. Prototyping since 2016, the network has grown to 10,000 farmers. We have deep data on farmers, their landholding, assets, and cropping patterns. We have built trust within the farming communities in three districts. A recent peer-2-peer marketplace mobile app has seen hundreds of farmers posting their “to buy” or “to sell” ads, complete with photos and geolocation. As an aggregation platform, the buying groups have helped farmers save approximately INR 450, which is 1.5% of their average agricultural expenditure. 2020 brings an exciting new phase. Janani is poised for growth, taking the concept of a ground-up review, reimagining, and renewal of the entire food systems, from the soil up. 

In addition, Tamil Nadu is also the state where I was born and brought up. Hailing from a multi-generational farming family, I have also had a ringside view of both the farming crisis as well as the pioneering work done by many farmers to restore the soil to its natural health and fertility. As a technologist, I have 15+ years of experience in harnessing technology to advance social justice, equitable access, & inclusive international development. I have implemented solutions & conducted capacity building training in over 20 countries. All that expertise and learning can now serve my own community. 

It is a combination of all three factors above that gave us the audacity to dream of creating a food system where everyone and everything can flourish.

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.

This is turmeric region. January – April is the high season for harvesting turmeric. If you had to travel blindfolded through Tamil Nadu, you can pick out the turmeric growing region based on the fragrance that hangs in the air alone.

One of the best varieties of turmeric, with high curcumin content, is native to the Erode region of Tamil Nadu. World Trade Organization has given Erode Turmeric its own Geographical Indicator (GI) to denote that “a given quality, reputation or characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographic origin.” Turmeric is a miracle crop with innumerable benefits such as anti-inflammation, antioxidant, and immune booster. Research studies are looking into turmeric as an active ingredient in cures for everything from Alzheimer’s to depression, heart diseases, and cancer.

Turmeric is an essential part of Indian food, so much so that it may be difficult to find a pantry without this spice in India. Does this mean that those who consume this copiously are the healthiest people on the planet? That question brings forward the many ugly aspects of today’s agricultural practices.

Food had been seasonal and local until economic liberalization brought a lot of unsustainable changes to the way food is grown, stored, and consumed. Farmers switched from hardy millets to water-guzzling rice. Specialty foods that have hundreds if not thousands of food miles behind them took the place of local food. As water tables started receding deeper into the earth, a whole army of heavy earth drillers sprang up, digging even deeper in search of water.

Thanks to rampant use of fertilizers and pesticides, soil is losing its vitality. Crops and harvests are no longer abundant. Farmers apply even more chemicals in a futile race to increase the yield. Food harvested from this barren soil is also leeching out its essential nutritional values.

Extensive extraction is finally beginning to take its toll. Today, Erode city is vying to be the cancer capital of the state. Thanks to indiscriminate use of pesticides, farming families are the first group to face this and other health crises. Obesity is on the rise. So are heart and neurological diseases.

 If we are what we eat, we are truly eating our way to extinction.

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

130000

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

82500000

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

Current Challenges (2020)

For their recommended dose of Vitamin A, our grandparents would have eaten one orange. Today, if we need that same recommended dose, we will need to consume eight oranges. Why? Food is losing its nutritive value thanks to soil depletion.

Of 3.2 million agricultural households in Tamil Nadu, 80% are small farmers. Severe economic crisis among farming communities is resulting in increasing rates of suicides in Tamil Nadu and India. Farmers in Tamil Nadu (and India) are dependent on external sources for all farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers. Debt has unfortunately become the norm in farming communities, triggered mainly by high input costs, low output prices, no organic price premiums, crop failures and frequent liquidity crisis.

Widespread extractive agricultural methods are depleting our planet. It is estimated that soil fertility in Tamil Nadu has reduced by half in 30 years. Indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, mono-cropping, poor water management, soil erosion, etc. have taken a toll on the organic content in the soil. For example, take turmeric which is supposed to boost immunity and imbue anti-inflammatory properties. With the current chemically intensive farming, storage, and processing, it is losing its vitality and essence. Another grave challenge is acute water crisis due to deficient rainfall, long periods of drought, and mismanagement of water sources.

The Government of India also realizes the criticality of the situation and has introduced a number of schemes to promote farmer welfare, organic farming, water resource management, and soil health management. The real gap is in their implementation on the ground.

Future Challenges (2050)

The water crisis, if left unchecked will lead to insurmountable issues in the future. Already existing inter-state conflicts on rivers and water bodies such as the Cauvery issue are turning the states into a war zone.

Climate change can be directly traced to soil depletion. Soil is the foundation on which our and all other beings’ life rests. If the soil is poor, growth and nutrition stagnates. If the soil is poor, agricultural communities suffer. If agricultural communities are poor, the entire food system suffers innumerable challenges at every point.

Global warming and climate crisis will lead to unprecedented damage. Increasing temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and uncontrollable bouts of extreme weather will further exacerbate environmental and agricultural crisis in the state and the country as a whole. For example, in 2017 Tamil Nadu experienced an acute drought. Before it could recover, it faced the wrath of a terrible cyclone causing extensive damage to agricultural lands and the environment.

The problems are humongous. All hands on the deck as of two days ago is the only way to address, mitigate or prevent them is the need of the hour.

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

Our vision is for a world of regenerative agroecology that nourishes farmers, companies, consumers, & the planet. This is the only way for the world to survive the climate catastrophe that is looming ominously before us. Regenerative agroecology is a revolution happening in agriculture with great potential to mitigate the climate crisis through sequestering carbon into the soil, making the soil healthier and richer in the long term.

Farmers hold the key to mitigating the climate crisis by adopting regenerative methods. But they need incentives to make the change. At the same time, global demand for organic food is dramatically increasing due to explosive growth in the health and wellness sector.

Our solution is two-fold:

-- Janani Grow App - An ecosystem that supports small farmers in converting to regenerative agriculture

-- Janani Market Platform - A demand-based, curated, marketplace for global vendors and retailers who want to source high-margin organic produce

The challenges are global in scope but our glocal approach, to address these issues, is to work with individual elements that make this global community and ecosystem – individual farmers, distinctive agro-ecologies, unique farming communities, soil and water.

Our focus is on building the resilience and regeneration capacities of soil so it is healthy, alive, rich in organic matter and teeming with microorganisms and nematodes. Soil and its regenerative super power is a blessing to humanity. If there is anything that can save us from the disaster that humanity is facing in the form of food shortages, rising populations and climate change, it is the soil. Those who hold the key to that incredible resource are the farmers in developing countries such as India where small land holding means that many million hands can drastically change the carbon equation for the better in a few short years. This decentralized approach has the potential to be the most efficient, low-cost, and low-tech way to address climate change. Soil can save us, but only if we let it do so.

A healthy soil is the first step towards achieving a ‘profitable regenerative agriculture’, which is Janani’s mission and goal for the farming community. In essence, a self-renewing, closed loop system that is self-sufficient and caters to seasonal consumer demand. Our goal is to inspire farmers to make the change to organic, by demonstrating possibilities and positive results, while empowering them with the knowledge, tools and also by co-creating an enabling environment to help them transition.

Small farmers are at the forefront of the global challenges of today – food insecurity, poverty, water crisis, and climate change. If technology can enable them to fight these calamities, it will ensure the health and well-being of every one of us and the planet.

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.

It is 2050. Tamil Nadu’s eight agro climatic zones have become hotbeds of innovation. Soil in each of these zones is flourishing with beneficial biological activity. Community-owned and managed water resources ensure that everyone gets an equitable supply while also contributing equally to its well-being. Climate crisis seems to be slowly reducing in intensity. While there is still a lot of work to do, everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that the world is not jumping from one crisis to another, fighting one fire after another.

Farmers have become stewards of natural resources, actively protecting soil, water, flora, and fauna within their communities. Janani’s distributed ledger technology gives them the power to grow, harvest, and distribute with complete transparency and traceability through the value chain. Retailers and manufacturers are accessing the data and harvests from farmers, applying their own environmental, sustainability, gender, and human rights screens to the mix. In collaboration with their competitors, they publish their own data to the distributed ledger, opening themselves up to kudos and criticism from anyone in the world. Consumers have become custodians, not just of the provenance of their own food chain, but also of the welfare of the farmers who grow their food, rural ecosystems that process and deliver the finished products, and nature that provides all of them the platform to survive. Tamil Nadu government provides a citizen dashboard for regenerative agroecology where anyone can view the various activities within the agro climatic zones and how each is contributing to the well-being of producers, consumers, and the planet.

Tamil Nadu, its farmers, companies, government, and consumers have become role models for other countries, especially those in the Global South. Various replications and adaptations of the model are already in progress in various parts of the world.

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

Janani is an agritech social enterprise that enables profitable and regenerative agroecology in Tamil Nadu. There is a growing agrarian/environmental crisis on the one hand and an exploding organic market on the other. Janani connects those two seemingly contradictory trends in an offline+online marketplace that:

-- Assists farmers in converting to regenerative practices and finding high-value organic markets for their produce in Janani Grow mobile app (while also)

-- Facilitating retailers, specialty manufacturers, and startups find traceable, certified, and verified organic supply sourced from hundreds of small growers through Janani Market platform.

Technology offers vast opportunities to enable networks of far-flung communities, facilitate collaborations, nurture community-based commerce, and create glocalized business models. Through our multi-sided marketplace with Janani Grow and Janani Market, we aspire to promote the regenerative agriculture sector across all of Tamil Nadu and eventually India. Our vision for 2050 in Tamil Nadu is a thriving, regenerative soil and food production ecosystem mirroring ecological principles.

Janani Grow creates a nurturing ecosystem through building an enabling environment for regenerative agroecology in farming communities. It supports regenerative farmers through an interdependent network of ancillary industries. Janani Market provides a curated marketplace for global vendors and retailers, specializing in high-margin organic produce. Janani Market also creates exclusive partnerships for Value Added Products contracts with unique food startups and retailers.

Janani App

We have built a technology platform that is based on aggregating farmer purchases. There is an enormous amount of purchasing power buried in rural areas. However, agricultural input purchases or consumption expenses in farm households are relatively small and numerous. And, the ‘customers’ are dispersed over a large, sparsely connected area. Moreover, the basic needs of a technology platform including email addresses, online payments mechanisms, delivery services, etc., virtually do not exist in rural areas. All this makes aggregation a huge challenge.

Janani’s innovative approach has found a way forward by sending out text messages in the local language, connecting through a local language mobile app, establishing women-owned distribution centers for purchases and payments, partnerships with local vendors to provide attractive discounts, and setting up distribution hubs for last-mile delivery of products. As we take on each challenge we realize that the potential of scaling this will create a huge social impact in the future.

Farmers who register with Janani can buy organic seeds and other inputs from our distributor network or from the app itself. The app will also support the farmer in learning and practicing regenerative agroecology techniques. We are also working on enrolling and hand-holding farmers and farmer groups to apply for and acquire Organic Certification (discussed later in this section).

Dirtying Our Hands - Nourishing the Soil & People

Regenerative agroecology is the application of ecological principles to agriculture systems and practices. This revolution in agriculture has the potential to mitigate the climate crisis by sequestering carbon into the soil, making the soil healthier in the long term. Healthy soils have three main components: minerals that come from eroded rocks below or nearby, organic matter which is the remains and wastes of plants and animals, and microorganisms that live in the soil. All of these are vital for supporting plant growth, soil life, and decomposition. Unhealthy soils can be rejuvenated by adding lots of organic matter to turn it into a healthy soil teeming with life. Organic matter will create the cool, moist, and conducive environments needed to attract microorganisms and help them thrive.

To demonstrate this in action and to prove the profitability and viability of smallholder regenerative agriculture we have set up Janani Demo Farms. Our experiments include soil tests, polyculture, cover crop, no-till practices, water rejuvenation and agroforestry without chemical input (fertilizer or pesticide). Based on the results of testing the soil after one year we observed that the soil was becoming healthy and could nurture plant and microbial life on its own. Even more importantly, we could confirm a massive increase in organic carbon being sequestered into the soil. The more carbon we are able to get back into the soil, the better are our prospects to reduce the impact of climate change. The results have turned out to be very promising and only strengthened our resolve to make regenerative agriculture a reality for the farming community.

PGS-India Organic Certification

The Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS) - India is a peer reviewed quality assurance system initiated by the Government of India to particularly help small and marginal farmers acquire organic certification. A wallet-friendly scheme, it provides an opportunity for small farmers to form local groups and take accountability and ownership through a peer verification process based on principles of transparency, trust and a shared vision among the groups. One of the challenges of Government schemes is their reach and implementation to local farmers. As part of Janani Grow, we are aiming to educate and create an enabling environment for local farmers to access and avail PGS certification for their produce. We are partnering with Keystone Foundation, the PGS Regional Council in south India to enable this for farmers in the region.

The Janani Ecosystem

Farmers enroll through a registration process with Janani. Their organic produce is processed and sorted by related entities identified by us. Similarly identified vendors will support the packaging and branding with ‘Organic certified’ and ‘Verified by Janani’ labels. Our logistics and shipping partners will enable the transport of the products to our value-aligned startups, retailers, and manufacturers. This circular economy with the entire value and supply chain will be traceable by the customer.

The Janani Difference

To summarize, in keeping with our vision, our strategies will work towards addressing challenges to create a Place that is:

- Ecologically sound through regenerative agroecology practices

- Farmer-led approaches to build a network that stems from the grassroots, and doing away with traditional top-down, retailer/manufacturer-led approaches

- Technology and data platform that is value-based and built on community relationships woven into the DNA of the network

- Farmer-Consumer Dual approach which creates reciprocal incentives to shift ecosystem dynamics where farmers are able to solve their problems and also tap into the growing organic sector at the consumer level

Wellbeing of People and the Planet

Regenerative Agriculture is:

- Our love story. It is the expression of our gratitude to the soil and water that has fed and nourished all of us.

- Our moral obligation. It is our thoughts, words, and actions for the well-being of all. It is the spiritual solution for the responsibility that nature has placed on us.

- Our economic imperative. It is the evolution of consumerism and capitalism into circular economies that could regenerate society from its very roots.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

Attachments (1)

Janani Investor Pitch Short.pdf

Janani Investor Pitch Deck

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Spam
Photo of Archiebold Manasseh
Team

Nice project!

Spam
Photo of Usha Devi Venkatachalam
Team

Thank you! :)