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Science Meets Traditional Wisdom on the Road to Self Sufficiency in Ladakh's Cold Desert

Year round sustainable growing in Ladakh's cold desert for health & prosperity.

Photo of Kanika Khanna
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Sunkalp Energy Pvt Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (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.

Our Vision has percolated through the following interactions: Dr. Dorje Angchok, Scientist- Agri Extension, Defence High Altitude Research Center, Ladakh ---|--- Mr. Moses Kunzang, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh --|-- Mr. Tashi Tsetan, Chief Agriculture Officer, Ladakh --|-- Mr. Deen Khan, Deputy Commissioner, Ladakh --|-- Various Ladakhi farmers, restaurant and hotel owners.

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

  • Under 1 year

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

New Delhi

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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

Ladakh, a Union Territory in North India, is a high altitude cold desert covering an area of 59,000 sq km.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

In the winter of January 2012, our team made an arduous journey in Ladakh, at 11,000 ft over sea level, over the frozen Zanskar river, locally known as the Chadar trail. We covered the 100 km long distance on foot over the span of 7 days, camping during the nights on the sheet of ice. Temperatures frequently fell below negative 30C. The landscape was captivatingly beautiful but sparse and unforgiving. 

We ate meals of instant noodles and tea with powdered milk, using ice water melted over our portable stove. The Chadar trail is the traditional route between Zanskar village and Leh city for hardy Ladakhis sherpas during the long harsh winters. It gave us an intimate insight into the lives of the Ladakhi people. During the trip we met some young parents taking their children along this same route for education or to buy foods from the city of Leh. We forged lifelong connections and friendships which bring us back repeatedly each year.

Stanzin, born and brought up in Ladakh, went to Chandigarh for his engineering studies. He is now back in Ladakh and runs a prominent distributorship for insulation technologies and plumbing materials. Stanzin's wife, Diskit runs a restaurant in Leh which reinvents local Ladakhi dishes and is popular among tourists.

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.

Locals live simple lives; Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus co-exist peacefully.

Ladkhis enjoy broths (thukpa) and meaty dumplings with liquid fat. They drink immunity boosting salted butter tea which gives them energy and is best enjoyed in the freezing winters. Dras, The Gateway to Ladakh is the second coldest inhabited place on Earth.

Ladakh gets 300 days of clear sunshine. They say that it is possible to get frost bite and sunburn at the same time here, if you are sitting sheltered under a ledge in the winter sun.

During summers the landscape which is dotted with Buddhist monasteries, is glorious with fields of tiny flowers.

During winters, the water plumbing freezes through and taps need to be locked shut to avoid damage to the pipes. Once temperatures dip, there is an annual migration of the affluent urban population and much of the migrant labor away from Ladakh’s hardships.

The urban population of Leh district increased from 24% in 2011 to 34% in 2020. Even though city dwellers have access to modern amenities, they still use traditional Ladakhi toilets and wood burning stoves (Bukharis) to warm their homes.

Almost 70% of Ladakh’s working population is involved in agriculture, but it contributes to less than estimated 10 % of its GDP.

Close knit villages come together for weddings, births or deaths. Even the rich spend very little on their large weddings as each community member contributes something- a food item, clothes or furniture- for the special occasion.

Cooperatives play an critical role in the area’s economy. This is as a result of active voluntary participation of the people, liberal financial assistance and the administration’s engagement.

Glacier melt water is mineral rich and fruits and vegetables grow abundantly in small home gardens during the warm months from May to September. The area is naturally organic- agriculture is without any pesticides whatsoever as people follow Buddhist practices. Apricots and apples from Ladakhi gardens are dried in the summer sun to be stored and enjoyed in winters.

However, as the soil is full of rocks and precipitation is low, the region is barren and for 7 months a year there is no vegetation due to harsh winters. At these times, locals eat stored root vegetables and meats. Due to a lack of access to vegetables women suffer from folic acid deficiency and anemia. As the roads are snowed in, the local council air freights in small quantities of vegetables which sell at exorbitant prices.

As it shares borders with Pakistan and China, Ladakh is strategically important for national security and over 100,000 soldiers are posted across the region.

300,000 tourists- more than the entire local population- descend upon the region in summer. Hotels import many exotic fresh foods to satisfy their demands. Pressure is placed on the already meager resources such as water.

Ladakh has recently been declared a Union Territory hence the region is bracing itself for development, incoming investment, industry, even more tourism and greater pressure on the fragile ecosystem. There is threat to the culture of self-reliance, sustainable habits and traditions of the locals.

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.

The only two roads by which Ladakh is accessible are closed annually for 7 months with heavy winter snowfall. Internal distances are large and the population is scattered.

Challenges 2020:


-Water scarcity, ground table is getting depleted. In tourist areas there is risk of leaching from underground septic tanks into the water table which is also the source for drinking water

-Infertile Soil

-Frozen water lines from Nov- Mar


-Diet devoid of fruits and vegetables for majority of the year and low in variety

-Per University of Kashmir’s research, Vitamin & Iron intake is only 389 ug/ day, about 1/2 the national average- due to “low agricultural productivity” and “scarcity of fruits and vegetables”. 23% of population suffers from anemia, 20% from scurvy and another 20% from night-blindness. (Dar and Rather)


-Remote & isolated: High transport costs make it harder to turn to the faraway major markets to compensate for the drawbacks of the domestic market's small size

-Food is expensive in winters as it has to be air freighted. Vegetables sell at 5X the national average rate, yet people wait in long queues for rationed portions. Availability is uncertain- when we were shooting the video for this competition this winter, we had to wait a whole week for a shipment of vegetables to arrive. Stored foods are exhausted by Jan

-Majority of the urban population migrates to the plains in search of greener pastures and reliable food in the harsh winters. Many buy permanent houses elsewhere- there are even settlements referred to as Ladakh Colony in other states. The seasonal migration results in an economic drain of Ladakh and worsens the position of the marginalized

-Some women self-help groups harvest the valuable seabuckthorn but due to lack of processing facilities are unable to get the right price for it


-As the area opens up politically, there is suspicion of outsiders

-Agriculture is for subsistence, women who primarily do it are marginalized


-Greenhouses increase the growing season only by 1-2 months as night temperatures are still subzero in them

-Research is ongoing with technologies like solar & geothermal to increase the growing period but costs remain high

- Electricity is available in Leh but 70% Ladakhis live in hamlets where power is unavailable as distances make grid erection difficult


-With Union Territory (UT) status governance has shifted from a local council which knows the region intimately, to far away Delhi


Ladakh’s population will double and tourism triple by 2050 exacerbating stress on environment. Waste generation by tourism and ground water contamination may become untenable.

The 2010 Ladakh flash floods proved that cities suffer the greatest damage. As urbanization continues Ladakh will become less resilient to climate change. Leh’s high population density will result in faster spread of diseases, erosion of culture and sustainable habits (eg: dry toilets). This will also accelerate winter migration, further increasing the economic drain.

UT status means new central governments may result in unstable policy and poor implementation

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

Given its physical distance and seasonal isolation from major markets, Ladakh must turn inwards for self-sufficiency. At the same time, it must use its strengths of abundant land, sunshine and rich bio-diversity to tap into external markets and economies of scale. This is the only way to spur domestic competition and innovation.

In Ladakhi Future Energy (LIFE) Farms we envision stretching the boundaries of existing technologies- use Ladakh’s abundant sunshine through passive solar or energy from geothermal technologies and hybridize these with active renewable energy and grid power to sustainably keep the temperature in LIFE Farms between 15- 25 C yearlong.

LIFE farms will use traditional Ladakhi wisdom of rammed Earth insulation. Hydroponics and precision agriculture will be used to tackle infertile soil and water scarcity. Manure processed in modern units from Ladakhi toilet waste will ensure supply of organic nutrients.

LIFE Farms will grow a wide range of vegetables and some fruits cheaply year round. Operating expenses will be minimal owing to reliance on renewable resources. With the availability of locally-grown fresh vegetables, Ladakhis will supplement their diets and eliminate deficiencies.

LIFE Farms will leverage digital technology- training via mixed reality to bridge farmers’ skill gap, sensors to gage plant health and media parameters, automation and intelligent algorithms to predict demand & supply. This ensures Ladakh leap-frogs to a zero waste economy that does more with less.

Grants and government funds subsidize the first farms, after which competition, innovation and economies of scale make LIFE Farms economical.

As LIFE Farms multiply, they generate a plethora of jobs for managers, engineers and agronomists for the increasing number of educated Ladakhi youth.

Our vision capitalizes on the rich Ladakhi culture of co-operatives by leasing out LIFE Farms to Ladakhi farmers to own and operate. This model will make farms affordable; ensure that the locals’ livelihoods are benefited directly and is designed to garner trust of Ladakhis.

We estimate that an energy efficient greenhouse shall be at least 150 sqm. Farms can be built modularly- a one acre LIFE farm with 25 greenhouses shall feed 2500-3000 people. Decentralized deployment of modular LIFE farms across hamlets will benefit the scattered population. The hyper-local yearlong availability of food and job opportunities will stem the migration of people from rural areas.

There is an unsubscribed policy of the local administration to promote food parks. LIFE Farms will generate excess organic produce during summer months, attracting professional food processing units. These will further process endemic produce, enabling Ladakhis to get the right price for seabuckthorn and apricot based foods.

The new government is looking for opportunities to use Ladakhi land for sustainable means and are open to supporting such projects. The time is ripe for implementing this vision.

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.

Our vision is to leverage a mix of science such as hydroponics & precision farming; mature technology such as solar & geothermal energy; combined with traditional wisdom in passive solar architecture, earth insulation and human waste composting, to economically & 10X more sustain-ably grow produce yearlong in Ladakh’s cold desert. Including during the long harsh winters with sub -30C temperatures.

Yearlong growing with increased productivity will make Ladakh self-reliant while preserving the ecosystem, even as the population doubles and tourism explodes. Ladakhis will have easy access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables even in winters, diversifying their diets, and women no longer suffer from deficiencies.

Bustling tourism economy is balanced by a new genre of eco-tourism which showcases Ladakh's naturally organic produce and tantalizing local cuisine as food delightfully moves straight from farm to table instead of being air freighted in. Eco-resorts promote traditional dry toilets where human waste turns to manure creating a cheap and reliable supply of organic fertilizer for our LIFE farms.

Bumper summer harvests attract investment into food processing units which also preserve and export antioxidant rich endemic produce such as seabuckthorn and apricots. Ladakhi chefs showcase these foods globally through re-mastered traditional recipes.

Cooperatives manage LIFE farms and sell directly to the Indian army as well as foreign armies stationed nearby across the border, improving trade and cooperation.

Digitization enables remote extension and open data democratizes market access.

Policy makers get the whole region certified as organic and implement programs to promote food parks and hence entrepreneurship.

Educated youth find high value jobs locally thanks to the new food system. Ladakhis not just survive, but thrive as they leverage their land's abundant sunshine and rich bio diversity to generate jobs and propagate their culture through food.

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

Dawa & Diskit, 2045

“Hurry up, I’m getting late!” said Dawa as he knocked and stood freezing outside the door of the Ladakhi toilet in his courtyard. “I’m coming!” said his wife, Diskit, as she finished up and quickly dumped a shovel of earth into the toilet, the way it’s always been done. The municipal van would be there at the end of the month to collect the organic manure from their toilet.

Dawa had returned to Ladakh last year with a degree in energy & technology. He had secured a great job as a manager at the cooperative run Leh LIFE Farm. At the farm, the wind whistled outside, it’s negative 25C. Dawa examined yesterday’s 3D temperature heat map, “We barely needed to turn on the heaters, the sun did all the magic”, he said as he examined the concentrated solar dish. Dawa took off his jacket as he stepped inside the greenhouse, the thick walls made with local mud were excellent insulation. “We will have a bumper tomato crop again this year”, he whispered to himself, smiling.

Dawa put on his VR glasses, which synthesized an infra-red scan’s data and coded each row of vegetables based on their health and maturity. "That row looks ready, let's harvest it today", he instructed one of the supervisors.

Next, he switched the glasses view to see next quarter's predicted demand. Based on historical data and demand keyed in by some restaurants, their algorithm fairly accurately recommended how much of which crop needed to be planted. This ensured that there would be no demand mismatch in the summers.

Dawa felt excited that digital technologies along with data now increasingly ensured that there was almost no wastage in produce.

At home in the evening, he beamed at Diskit who had just returned from her job at the processing unit, “How was your day?”

“We got another order for our organic apricot seabuckthorn jam from Europe”, she happily reported. They sat down to a wholesome meal of thukpa and fresh sabzi (vegetables). Dawa was excited, they were planning a baby soon- the Doctor had said that Diskit was in the pink of health.

“Tomorrow at the Farm we are getting visitors from Delhi”, said Dawa, “they want to learn how we have used technology sustainably to make Ladakh self-sufficient for fruits and vegetables while crops are failing across the plains due to climate change.”

“I read that the water table has stabilized as most of the homes have replaced insulated pipe plumbing with the traditional Ladakhi sewage system.” said Diskit, “and all the farmers have adopted drip irrigation”. She was relieved there would no longer be sewage waste leaching from septic tanks into the groundwater that they used for drinking. It was important that their future kids would get access to pristine drinking water.

“Oh did you know!” Diskit exclaimed as she banged the dinner table with excitement, “the Nubra Women’s Group deposited 600 tons of natural seabuckthorn at our processing plant this year! Imagine the handsome revenue each woman would have drawn!” “The cold chain that our company set up has really changed their lives, so easy to pluck and deposit the harvested berries”. Diskit had come from a humble family. Her mother had worked hard each September, while Diskit was growing up, to collect seabuckthorn, but most of the harvest would get damaged as it had to be processed the same day. “Mom would be proud of us”, said Dawa as he planted a kiss on his wife’s cheek and brought out dessert.

“Mmmmmm, you’re a magician”, Diskit mumbled as she dug into the apricot pie her husband had made. Dawa chuckled in response, the local apricot preserve added most of the flavor.

“How’s Tashi’s restaurant doing?” Dawa asked Diskit about her cousin. “Oh excellent”, she responded as they snuggled into bed, “the tourists love her farm to table menu.

“So how many tons of tomato will your farm send our processing unit this summer? Dawa….Dawa….” she asked but got no response, her husband was already fast asleep.

The next day at the Farm, Dawa escorted the delegation from New Delhi. “25 years ago, when we became a Union Territory, the local council did two good things. Firstly, they got the whole Ladakh region certified as organic. Secondly, they set up as a public private partnership, a large scale hydroponic-solar farm using locally developed know-how, to grow staple vegetables such as tomato, year round. A grant from the Rockerfeller foundation was key to this farm. And finally, the government's policy for setting up food processing units started getting subscription as this farm was slated to produce excess during the summers. These were the stepping stones to attract abundance to Ladakh’s cold desert. At the same time the Farm made a commitment to procure organic fertilizer made from local Ladakhi toilets, instigating a collection system and supply chain for it.”, Dawa said as he proudly showed off the flourishing greens.

“We use one twentieth of the water as compared to regular agriculture. 100% of our energy needs are served by solar passive and active technology. It was the simple idea to use conventional wisdom and stretching the boundaries of existing technologies. Now not only do Ladakhis have access to locally grown vegetables year round but we also export a large amount of excess produce in the summers” he continued.

“The initial grant and subsequent government subsidy ensured that the technology could be tried and tested and technology risks mitigated. The increasingly fast uptake ensured economies of scale came into play and private capital got mobilized.” he explained. “Once the model was demonstrated to work successfully, more and more investors and entrepreneurs converted large tracts of infertile land into Ladakhi greenhouse farms distributed across the region. Farmers cooperatives leased out these farms to operate. Our union territory status ensured that the investors could easily access credit.”

“There were other intended consequences too”, he continued. “The processing units that came up because of our farms, could then process the locally growing species such as apricots and seabuckthorn too. The unit created a bigger demand for the raw fruits, which improved the livelihoods of small farmers and self-help groups.”

“Soon, produce from Ladakhi greenhouse farms started getting sold to nearby villages in Pakistan and China. This increased trade resulted in improved collaboration and hence also contributed to peace. Food security in the region contributed positively to National security.”

“Infact”, Dawa continued, “our governments are jointly setting up a platform to transparently share data regarding farm level produce availability, productivity and even best practices”. “This crowd sourced repository will help our friends across the border set up their own farms too. It will eliminate data asymmetry; empower every small farmer and ensure that supply chains stay as simple as possible. Every farmer gets the lion’s share of returns from what they harvest.” Dawa wrapped up to a round of applause.

The next day, Dawa and Diskit travelled to her parental village of Changpa to participate in a wedding celebration. “There’s my lovely daughter and son-in-law!” Diskit’s mother Jigmet exclaimed happily as she ran out to greet them.

“How have you been mummy?” mother and daughter slipped into excited conversation. “Oh life is good darling. When I was younger, winters were hard because we had to go out to graze all our cattle even on the coldest of days. Ever since Changa LIFE farm has come up we don’t have to rely as much on our livestock, we’ve slowly reduced their numbers this year and things are much simpler!”

“Where’s daddy?”

“He’s at Namje’s house helping with the wedding preparations. I’m so glad that he’s hale at hearty even at this age. None of that gout nonsense like your grandfather. Your daddy eats his greens!”

“Here mom, we’ve got you a present”, said Dawa as he handed Jigmet a pair of glasses who looked at him quizzically.

“Put them on!”

She put on the glasses and lo and behold, a menu floated in front of her. “Mummy, this has all the latest recipes, they update automatically based on the vegetables available at your closest farm. See that thukpa recipe with spinach, let’s try it tomorrow!”

Jigmet loved cooking, she was excited to indulge her loving husband who she had won over again and again with her kitchen skills.

“Daddy!” Diskit squealed as she saw her father walk in and ran to give him a hug.

“Come now, let’s have supper” Jigment coaxed everyone to move their chatter to the dinner table. They sat down to a full spread.

“So how’s work going?” Diskit’s asked her brother Dorje who was an Extension Scientist with the High Altitude Research Lab. “Excellent! We are building content which can be delivered through mixed reality to train farmers in the remotest of villages. This will let farmers practically understand the latest techniques without travelling far.”

“I have an idea for a module which will let farmers identify plant diseases and give real time solutions” Dawa added. “Let’s work on it together brother”.

Jigmet looked on at her family chatting, this was her dream come true. She had always believed in the magic of family and had prayed that they would not have to migrate away from this beautiful close knit village. She and her husband knew that health was happiness and was glad that technology had brought them all even closer. She was glad that life had turned out this way.


Note: We at Sunkalp Energy, have already received buy in and a commitment to provide land for the Ladakhi Greenhouse Farm of the future from the local Ladakhi Council. We have exchanged ideas with research institutes, for eg. at DIHAR, we spent time with Dr, Dorje, an extension expert. We have also engaged with rural land-owners who are extremely excited by the potential of this vision, so much so, one said he would donate his family land to such a cause.

Come, explore our System's Map:

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Instagram

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

We started with a wish list of Ladakh food system stakeholders to ideate with and were able to meet many of them before the Covid lockdown.

At a conference we ran into the Secretary of India’s Ministry of Food Processing (MoFPI) who eagerly involved us in their Ladakh plan. She introduced us to Amit from Invest India who suggested policy interventions.

We heavily relied on the signals and trends worksheet to thread the inputs from various stakeholders into an actionable plan.

During lockdown, we validated our direction through phone conversations with stakeholders such as Stanzin’s uncle, Skarma from Karu Food Cooperative. Everyone we spoke to further connected us to someone else.

Through online research we identified more of the key players in Ladakh’s food system and multiple phone conversations turned our initial plan into a collective resolve.

We realized, “The best journeys in life are the ones that answer questions that at the beginning you never ever thought to ask." -Anon

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

1. Prakash Bhalekar, CEO Quadsun. Expertise in CST, insulation, CFD, helped with technical design of LIFE Farms.

2. Ministry of Food Processing, GoI - Policy

- Smt. Pushpa Subrahmanyam, Secretary

- Ms. Reema Prakash, Jt. Secretary

- Invest India, GoI- Amit Manohar, Ladakh POC for Ministry

MoFPI provided 6-7 total hours but helped shaped our vision by providing perspective and connections.

3. Milan Sharma, CEO Intellolabs Milan from Intellolabs generously shared his expertise on digital or e-mandis. In person we spoke for 1 hour but had several phone exchanges and he is preparing a white paper for the idea.

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

We engaged with the following. Contacts were obtained via personal network or social media & conversations were interview/ discussion of min. 1 hr.

-Prateek Sadhu, chef & restaurateur from former state of J&K and Ladakh. He forced us to think beyond apricots & seabuckthorn- of treasures like buckwheat & yak cheese, 36 yo

-Tsezin Angmo, celebrated female entrepreneur & owner of Jade House eco-resort. We had a long phone call and chat follow ups, 29 yo

-We spoke with Stanzin’s uncle, Skarma from Karu Village Food Cooperative, 55-60 yo

-Neha Upadhyay, Guna Organics, donates solar dryers for apricot processing to Ladakhi Villagers and sells their products across India, giving a rich livelihood to many, 35 yo

-Wangyail Kalon, alfa-alfa farmer, has been experimenting with greenhouses and trying to get subsidy for mylar & polycarbonate, 50-55 yo

-Young entrepreneur Jordan, co-founder of Ladakh Basket and Naropa Fellow. An engineer who went on to specialize in Buddhist studies, 29 yo

-Alex Jensen, Local Futures, has published Ladakh’s Eco-Map. Over zoom Alex told us how he guides foreign tourists through cultural experiences such as Barley harvesting in remote Ladakhi villages, 35-40 yo

-Kunzes Dolma is pursuing her PhD in Food & Energy Security at the UN University, Reykjavik, Iceland. She has worked with Ladakh Renewable Energy Department and is specializing in geothermal energy, 35 yo

-Dr. Deldan Namgyal, Asst. Professor, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology, has been regularly vetting our technology paper, 40 yo

-Raghu Mohan, Blockchain consultant, 30 yo

-Tashi Tsetan, Chief Agriculture Officer, Hill Development Council-Leh, we met in November and had a phone call post that. Planned to meet in person in April but couldn't due to lockdown. 45-50 yo.

-Arpit Srivastava, MAINCOR Rohrsysteme GmbH, underfloor heating contractor in Ladakh 30-35 yo

Attended World Bank conference; Webinars- Prof Arun Sundarajan, Chef Vikas Khanna, Dr. Vuyisich, Viome

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

  • Through conversations and online research over the past few months, we iteratively identified a list of almost 50 signals and trends.
  • We categorized these into the 5 themes- Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture and Policy.
  • We further used this list to envision possibilities for Ladakh in 2050.
  • Once a possibility emerged, we sought out stakeholders from the relevant field to discuss them with.
  • We then went back to research for more signals/trends in support of that possibility and to aid in it's refinement.

Please refer to Signals and Trends worksheet at the link below. The second tab “Database” is a list of all the signals and trends that we drew on. In the first tab “Dashboard”, you can browse the signals and trends, grouped by the Possibility for 2050 that they are pointing towards. Click on the Yellow arrow in the top left corner of the sheet to browse. Kindly permit script to run.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Hi! We could tell you about a day in the life of Dawa or Pema in 2050. But why don't you find out what it's like directly from them!

Use the wormhole at this link to connect to 2050.

The link will open facebook messenger (please log in if not already done so)

Type "Hi Pema" to talk to Pema

Type "Hi Dawa" to talk to Dawa.

Pssst: Since our connection with 2050 is a bit sketchy, make sure to use the suggested prompts for best replies. (Okay yes, it's just a chat bot in training. But you get the drift :) )

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

“Our mise en place doesn’t start in the kitchen, it starts on the farms, in nature.”- Roberta Sudbrack

  • LIFE Farms

As per research conducted by GERES, agricultural fields in many Ladakhi villages have been left fallow due to unavailability of irrigation water, while simultaneously there is an increase in flooding in 2004, 2005 in Leh(1). This trend coupled with population increase and migration of Ladakhis from rural to urban areas will exacerbate the pressure on natural resources.

LIFE Farms which run on drip irrigation or hydroponics will ensure efficiency in water consumption. Their modular nature will allow remote villages to grow their own produce ensuring food security in the time of isolation due to weather or disaster. Sunkalp Energy has worked with Quadsun to prepare an execution ready design for Ladakh’s first LIFE Farms.

With modernization there is rampant construction underway in Ladakh. We propose capturing the top soil from such sites and using them in the soil boxes for LIFE farms.

  • Crap Cooperative

Dry Ladakhi Toilets not only preserve water, but provide rich manure for organic farming(34) and also prevent waste from leaching into the ground water. Further, the organic matter from human waste will increase the soil’s ability in LIFE Farms to retain more water and make crops resilient to climate change. As per estimates, in order to make Ladakh’s growing population self-sufficient by 2050, the area under cultivation needs to be increased 7 fold to more than 70,000 ha. This is a tall order given that most of Ladakhi soil is rocky sandy to sandy loam in texture with poor water holding capacity.

Villagers in Ladakh already use refuse from their toilets for their fields but city dwellers are finding it difficult to discard their dry toilet waste. Some are turning towards water hungry western toilets. At the other end of the spectrum, as the “villages are becoming lonely” and fewer young people to graze cattle, there is a shortage of animal waste. For a region that is hungry to be certified as organic, poop is becoming a precious commodity.

A proper system for assigning value to the waste and for collection and distribution will not only preserve the culture of dry toilets, it will also supply 15-20% of the dry manure required by Ladakhi agriculture in 2050(link below)- thereby supporting the organic mission.

Research in the high-altitude region of Ladakh has focus on the adaptive significance of Ladakhi social institutions given a natural environment characterized by numerous challenges(46). We envision that cooperatives will be the ideal vehicle to manage manure redistribution, managing more than 200,000 tones by 2050.

We are putting you in charge of the crap cooperative in 2050. Use the yellow arrows to see your impact:

  • Logistics and Countering Migration

Indian logistics Unicorn, Delhivery, which recently started operations in Ladakh this February(2), has also been in the news as it seeks approval from the government to start its drone delivery activities(3). Drones in a mountainous terrain such as Ladakh, will enable food deliveries to the remotest villages, even when all routes are snowed in. This will also allow Ladakhis to send excess harvested produce to collection centers and processing units.

Hyper local availability of food including fruits and vegetables through local production and drone deliveries will counter the trend of urban migration and mitigate the pressure on city resources.

  • Bioplastics

India produces more than 26,000 tons of plastic waste daily(5) which clogs up landfills and contaminates groundwater. Unhindered tourism in Ladakh has given rise to India’s largest landfill, Diskit Stal near Leh which is filled with plastics and is endangering Ladakh’s eco heritage(4). The toxins leaching into the ground water, Leh’s only source of drinking water, are a health hazard. As part of our vision, Ladakh’s native buckwheat can be revived and starch rich buckwheat can be used for manufacturing bio-plastics(52) serving as food and packaging combined. The Ladakhi food system of 2050 can truly take leadership on sustainability with edible food packaging.

  • Resilience

 Ladakh is one of the few places in India which still does not have even a dairy processing unit. The policy move to set up common infrastructure for better storage of raw produce and processed foods will ensure the region is buffered against impending environmental vagaries. We recommend replacing water intensive imported crops like rice with drought resistant ones like quinoa(56,57).

Further, by creating more diverse employment opportunities in the food system, by building a strong community through shorter producer-consumer links (48), we will be able to activate two uniquely human characteristics of reciprocity and empathy, hence providing social buffering.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

“It would be a sad waste of opportunity to eat badly” – Anna Thomas

  • Access and Affordability

Consumption of Vitamin A & Iron in Ladakh are only 65% of the national average(10). Consumption of calcium in Leh district is barley 2/3rd of ICMR’s recommendation. These diet deficiencies result in wide spread instances of anemia, night blindness, beri-beri, scurvy, rickets, pellagra, infant & child mortality.

LIFE farms will give Ladakhis access to fresh fruits and vegetables year round, addressing Iron and vitamin deficiency in Ladakhi diet.

However, merely providing access to fruits and vegetables is not enough as in addition to a lack of access, Ladakhis suffer from a lack of awareness and their food preferences are changing on account of external influences and modernization(9,12).

  • Awareness

For instance, inexpensive barley has been a traditional ladakhi staple. The protein and energy content in barley is 11.5% and 3360 kcal/kg compared to 5% and 1750 kcal/kg in rice (Gopalan et al. 1985). In spite of this, according to Dev et al. (2004), in rural India the consumption of the so-called superior cereals, rice and wheat, has increased due to an aspiration to mimic rich states such as Punjab.(12)

In the future, while food security may be addressed with a “mix of locally produced and imported food grain, but the ratio between the two quantities will depend on the new and probably irreversible, food preferences.” (12)

Using a combination of nudges and by instilling pride in local cuisine and produce(11) we can ensure that Ladakhis re-inculcate healthy eating habits while also preferring foods which preserve the local ecology and promote the local economy.

  • Pride in Local Produce

We will be able to tap into rich cultural influences that already exist in Ladakh such as Buddhist philosophy which encourages thoughtfulness in consumption. Additionally, a pride in local produce will instigate place appropriate consumption, this we can do through Donley- the community operated marketing program, discussed in detail in the Culture section.

  • Ladakhi produce chemotyping project

Many fruits and grains such as seabuckthorn, which are endemic to Ladakh are potent functional foods(53). However, in the words of the Indian prime minister Modi, “Instead of presenting our traditional principles with evidence based research, we just ignore them and consider them inferior. India's young generation will now have to take up this challenge. Just as the world has happily accepted Yoga, the world will surely also accept our ages old Ayurvedic principles.”

We are up to this challenge, sir.

Taking inspiration from MIT’s OpenAg project, we envision collating an open database of endemic Ladakhi fruits and herbs. Using chemotyping, we may be able to establish linkages between the constituents of Ladakhi plants and their impact on health(21,22).

Every Indian has grown up with a generous dose of grandma’s home remedies. We have been drinking turmeric latte to counter inflammation generations before it appeared on cafe menus.

Unfortunately, traditional ecological knowledge, common sense and the Ladakhi practice of Amchi medicine which relies on natural herbs have been denigrated to the status of blind faith and quackery.

We are confident that a scientific understanding of the benefits of foods through chemotyping will inspire the re-acceptance of local, fresh, nutrient rich produce into Ladakhi diet. This database can over time also be used to generate personalized diet and recipe recommendations to let Ladakhis eat well.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

“The most fundamental requirement for survival is food. Hence, how and where food is grown is foundational to an economics for community." —Herman Daly

Congratulations! You, along with most of the world, just survived the past few months like Ladakhis do each winter- in lockdown. Your favorite cereal brand was probably out of stock at the supermarket or supply chain disruptions meant that you had fewer fruit choices.

Now you can probably imagine the havoc created by natural lockdowns each year in Ladakh- which relies primarily on imports in winters. Can you feel the pain of a mother who stood in line for half a day to get a kilo of rationed tomatoes just to find that they ran out before her turn? Or maybe you can imagine the plight of a villager who traveled to Leh city to get a delivery of vegetables but had to wait for three days as weather didn’t allow cargo planes to land.

Ladakh has a strong public distribution system which attempts to provide food security. However, the focus solely on security means that imported grains are distributed at deep subsidies, making domestic production and innovation unattractive. With Ladakh’s import dependence ratio ranging between 60%-70% (9), business as usual just doesn’t make sense for its economy. There is an urgent need for food self-reliance.

Growing food yearlong in Ladakhi LIFE farms coupled with processing units will generate jobs for engineers, technicians, agronomists and digital extension experts. Farmers will also find their place in the economy again.

“For every hectare of farmland, women put in 3485 hours, compared to 1200 hours put in by men and 1000 hours by a pair of cattle” Neha rattled off statistics about Indian agriculture. Traditional harvesting and processing is done mostly by the women but they are low value jobs. With the advent of e-Mandi and access to international markets, these activities will attract higher earnings, automatically elevating women’s stature.

The Donley program, by enabling the uptake of simple innovations such as those shared by Neha, “solar powered butter churner or dryer, will eliminate the drudgery of agricultural labour”.

High quality seeds can be produced within a year in Ladakh, as compared to over two years in other places. “However, for popularizing these, we need seed certification, investments, packaging and marketing support,” said Tsetan. Donley will be the ideal vehicle for such activities.

“There are fewer young people in villages to graze livestock which is causing an active reduction in cattle herd numbers. This in turn is causing a dearth in farm waste which makes organic farming challenging as farmers turn to chemical fertilizers to bridge the gap.” Alex shared. But Indians have long been known for jugaad. “Some youngsters have started a company that cleans dry toilets in Leh city and truck the manure to sell in nearby villages.” Stanzin said.

The Crap Cooperative will derive nutritional and economic value from human and kitchen waste. Members will clean toilets in urban areas and sell the extracted manure to LIFE farms.

New opportunities will be created for scientists and innovators in the development of edible packaging.

The e-Mandi will generate jobs for data scientists, product managers and engineers.

Distribution of locally grown food will promote entrepreneurship in food logistics and 2050 jobs will require robotics skills. Donley will require marketers, creative minds, blockchain experts, eco-tourism entrepreneurs.

50% of Ladakh’s GDP comes from tourism(54) but it has taken a pandemic to show us that an economy cannot rely so heavily on one sector. Re-diversification into agriculture will strengthen Ladakh’s economy.

“Every year I go back, the villages get lonelier” said Alex, referring to the urgency of rural-urban migration in Ladakh. By generating high value and skill jobs in the land based economy, this trend can be arrested.

Of greater concern is the annual economic drain of Ladakh, as many who can, seasonally migrate to other towns. In Tsezin’s words, “people have done the math, the cost of living in Ladakh in the winters is so high, it’s cheaper to just move somewhere else”. Once the local economy, specially the winter economy, is reinvigorated with the new Food System, there will be rewarding work to be done locally itself. There will be reason to stay back and invest in the region.

Finally we can build an entire economy and food culture around seabuckthorn. From sunscreen to adaptogenic appetizers, many seabuckthorn products have been patented (45). The berry’s wine has higher phenolic content than grape wine (44) along with other health benefits. In 2050 vintage seabuckthorn wine (sbine) will compete with chianti on the menus of premium restaurants. Vineyard tours in Ladakh may mean walking through fields of orange berries rather than purple ones. The berry, when locally processed, has revenue potential upwards of 50 mn USD by 2030 (45), easily surpassing tourism as the largest industry.

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity.” Foer

A traditional Ladakhi kitchen is typically the largest room and also serves as the drawing room with polished brass utensils decorating the walls. Here you will be seated at low, ornately carved, brightly painted wooden tables around the traditional cooking stove- thap- ornamented with brass and even semi-precious stones.

“Don-le, don-le!” your host will urge you as they fill your cup for the nth time and offer you their best walnuts and dried apricots. The kitchen is the epitome of Ladakhi hospitality and the phrase don-le is loaded with generosity.

Ladakhi culture is an outcome of ingenious adaptation to a difficult environment and is characterized by a deep respect for nature. Ladakhi toilets conserve water but also give nutrient rich manure as a byproduct. Compacted earth insulated homes are energy efficient in extreme winters. Traditional foods include fast growing grains like barley and buckwheat which can be rotated in the short growing season and thrive with less water.

Traditions such as primogeniture inheritance and involving at least one family member in monastic life have ensured that household farms has remained productive in size(9). Synergistic dependence on livestock for farming ensures organic produce.

Buddhists who comprise about half of Ladakhis, practice the 5 contemplations before eating- “What food is this?’, “Where does it come from?”, “Why am I eating it?”, “When should I eat it to benefit from it?”, “How should I eat it?”- Thoughtful in the most essential practice of nourishment.

Kadha, a Ayurvedic brew of herbs and spices, is an excellent home remedy for winter coughs. Khambir- Ladakhi bread fermented with buttermilk- is proven to have functional properties and low gluten content.

In the past, surplus cereals were accumulated as buffer stock in a granaries system inside the most influential monasteries (Handa 2004) emphasizing the importance of religio-cultural institutions and community.

In every sense, Ladakhi culture is not ornamental, it is absolutely indispensable for thriving in the region’s harsh climate.

However urbanization is threatening and eroding this rich culture which until now, had been preserved for generations.

Exposure to global market is affecting food habits and preferences. The area under traditionally dominant crops- wild wheat, buckwheat & barley- has reduced from 80% in 2000 to barely 50% in 2013(16) on account of subsidized rice replacing them as the staple. As the traditional cereals which used to provide residue which would serve as fodder, fall out of favor, the area under fodder cultivation has increased from 8% to a 25%.

Tourism is also impacting Ladakhi perception of their own traditions. As I have seen, otherwise eager hosts, Ladakhis will hesitate to invite you home during winters when the western bathroom is out of order due to frozen water lines and the dry toilet is the only option. Some may be too shy to serve you homely mok-mok which is otherwise bursting with flavor. A wide gap exists between Ladakhi understanding of tourists’ needs (processed foreign foods and western toilets) and what tourists really want when they visit this vibrant land.

Erosion of traditional knowledge and culture is an attack on the very concept of Ladakhi identity and the harmonious relationship with nature.

As the adage goes- sometimes, in order to take two steps forward, we have to take one step back. Reviving, preserving and glorifying the richness of Ladakhi culture is imperative to the food shed’s self-reliance and even survival. This is what we envision with Donley- a community operated marketing program. Donley, the brand, will stand for everything that is pure, that is traditional, everything that is Ladakhi. Donley will instill a sense of pride in Ladakhi culture.

A Donley certification will be available to:

  • Restaurants serving slow food prepared thoughtfully with traditional techniques
  • Produce with Ladakhi provenance established via blockchain hashes
  • Farms using manure from dry toilets
  • Supply chains following fair trade
  • Amchi medicine practitioners

Donley will promote food innovation:

  • Seabuckthorn & Buckwheat based functional foods
  • Buckwheat bio-plastic
  • Finance entrepreneurs to showcase products across country
  • Fellowships for agro-preneurs
  • Protect Designation of Origin and Geographical Indication of local produce & cuisine

Tourists, but more so Ladakhis will buy certified produce and experiences, empowered by discovery platforms which will nudge them to make conscious choices.

Donley will organize food festivals, commission celebrity chefs to reinvent Ladakhi food and celebrate local entrepreneurs such as Ladakh Basket . Donley will learn from and surpass what Amul (Taste of India), Go Texan and Paperboat (Drinks & Memories) have achieved.

Donley will be a movement, a Ladakhi offering which will re-enforce Ladakhi culture and re-invigorate the local market.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

All signals and trends point towards powerful technologies whose development is inevitable. Our vision is built on these beliefs about technology:

- It’s use will reinforce rather than replace human effort, creativity & knowledge

- Support community and eliminate physical and metaphorical distances between people

- Technology capital is an investment rather than burden.

- Can promote sustainability while minimizing waste and entropy

Ladakh’s Food System will benefit from technology as follows:

1. Ladakhi Future Energy (LIFE) Farms

Actively heated and insulated greenhouses powered by renewable energy, these employ passive solar design, active vacuum insulation, advanced materials and compacted earth. They are designed to be modular for decentralized production in the remotest villages.

Concentrated solar thermal dishes will supply heat and PV panels will provide electricity without the need to lay expensive power infrastructure. As per attached specifications of LIFE Farms, our CFD simulations demonstrate that the system will work during the coldest days. These have been vetted by Dr Deldan from SKAUST.

2. Basics

As per Sham Cooperative, solar drying units process apricots faster and more hygienically resulting in 50 – 80% higher price realization (17). Innovations such as Guna Organics’ solar butter churner can improve the quality of Ladakhi women’s lives. Increased adoption of these will result in economies of scale. Cold chains are completely alien to Ladakh which doesn’t even have a single dairy processing unit. We envision that cost and energy efficient cold storage and transportation within Ladakh will be a reality before 2050.

3. Enhanced Dry toilets

will be more efficient and widely acceptable with

- passive heating for faster composting

- urine diversion & collection

- odor elimination

- western seating option

4. VR / MR for Extension

Ladakh’s terrain & distributed population make agricultural extension a challenge. By 2050 virtual and mixed reality will let experts reach the remotest villages to transfer best practices.

5. e-mandi

Current agri supply chains are characterized by inefficiency, bureaucracy, subjectivity, wastage and demand supply gaps. “Indian farmers realize only 25% of the retail price of their produce” shared Milan, “much of which is rejected on the basis of subjective physical attributes.”

Digitizing farmer’s markets will not only bring consumers closer to producers, but also eliminate subjectivity in decision making and reduce waste. e-mandis will introduce trust, transparency and enable the smallest of farmers to make their produce available to anyone, anywhere. The Indian government has executed some demonstration e-mandis with promising signs.

6. AI and Computer Vision

IntelloLabs has demonstrated that produce quality can become objective using technology and has increased the value realization for its partner farmers from 27% to 40%. AI coupled with computed vision can also aid farmers in detecting early signs of disease or optimal times to harvest.

7. Cloud based open databases

Sustainable organic agriculture is characterized by tribal knowledge which is transferred for generations within families. In a society, where birth no longer defines occupation, much of this knowledge is getting lost. We envision that LIFE Farm will be powered by open source “growth recipes” which capture this empirical knowledge and can be uploaded, downloaded and tuned by farmers. Open databases will also be useful for collaborative demand planning by growers.

8. Blockchain based provenance of produce

Ladakhi food can be effectively branded with trust and goodness only if we can establish source. We envision that blockchain for provenance will be widely accepted by 2050. 

9. Tokenization of agricultural assets

To solve for investment needed for technology adoption we envision that Ladakhi assets will be tokenized into smaller shares using blockchain making investments into LIFE Farms and processing units easy.

10. Drone food delivery

Nyerak village (3680m) is accessible only by trekking a frozen river and the Indian Army’s outpost at 5,753m on Siachen glacier is out of reach. Drones can give a new meaning to accessibility in this harsh landscape and we foresee their widespread adoption well before 2050. Villages will also collaboratively own drones with enhanced batteries to fetch essential supplies. We are counting on a dramatic improvement of storage technology for long range transport.

11. In-situ construction by 3D printing(55)

Availability of conventional construction materials, machinery and labor in remote villages will always be a challenge. 3D printing will be used to construct LIFE Farms across Ladakh using locally available materials. The technology will be tuned to use Ladakhi soil and will eliminate environmental impact of extracting and transporting cement and river sand.

12. Buckwheat Bio- Plastics

 We look forward to commercialization.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Policy considerations for Ladakh can be made by recognizing the difference between food security and self-sufficiency. Food security identifies imports, international specialization, comparative advantage and food aid as sources of supply, all of which become impossible for majority of the year here due to geographical constraints. Self-sufficiency requires control over food supply and reliance on own production. All policies should be made to drive self-sufficiency in order to fulfill our vision for Ladakh.

Ladakh’s food system has been unintentionally damaged by the well-meaning but food-security facing public distribution system (PDS) as subsidized rice is increasingly replacing locally grown barley as the staple summer diet (Dame & Nüsser 2011). This discourages farmers to intensify their local grain production(9) and subsidized food has destroyed the local market(12).

As lockdowns disrupt global supply chains, the Covid-19 pandemic is a rude wake up call for localization. Ladakh’s current import dependence ratio (IDR) of 60-70% needs to be brought to 0 by 2050. We propose the self-sufficiency ratio (SSR), as defined by FAO as a litmus test for designing food policy and directing investments in Ladakh.

We propose the following Policy interventions:

1. Common infrastructure for food processing

This should be developed in designated food parks as suggested by Amit from MoFPI. Facilities like cold storage, testing labs, effluent treatment plant, packaging, power & water supply will boost entrepreneurship in this sector.

2. Revamping the PDS

Subsidies should be diverted away from rations to local food production and related infrastructure. PDS shops should be made available for distribution and sale of fresh vegetables & fruits along with the locally procured barley.

3. Ease of Disbursement

75% subsidy for Food Processing Units already exists in policy. Its disbursement should be made simple &electronic. Soft loans through public and cooperative banks will also be a welcome sign.

4. Technology Policy

New economies are moving towards trust systems established by platforms such as Airbnb which rely on community ratings. Such platforms put small entrepreneurs on the same playing field as large organizations. Regulation by government agencies are no longer required to build trust to support markets. New regulations must be designed so that they do not place insurmountable restrictions on micro-entrepreneurs(48).

Further Ladakh’s technology policy should be enabling in nature so as to accelerate adoption. A framework for data sharing, placing public good over the individual, will leverage trust(49), voluntary data sharing, open databases and enable tech to succeed.

5. Logistics

This is one domain where policy can have the largest impact. Due to remoteness and low trade volumes, Ladakh is not attractive to logistics companies, whose slim margins require volumes for survival. “Our biggest challenge is that we are able to ship products to other parts of India only twice a week and that too through the unreliable postal system. Many times glass bottles have been broken in transit too” shared Jordan from Ladakh Basket. The same sentiment was echoed by Tsezin who had tried to send a jam shipment to Europe.

Government policy should allow for construction of tunnels for year-round transit. Any bottlenecks for licensing and other restrictions should also be removed for logistics.

6. Policy support for Donley

Contribution to initial corpus of funds

7. Continued support for community maintained irrigation networks which have performed well

8. Modified Organic Policy

Several policy initiatives announced by Leh to promote organic development are testimony to the region’s strong desire to go fully organic. Ladakh’s recent union territory status may be just the shot in the arm needed to convert desire to reality.

The Mission Organic Development document (35) has good recommendations to make Ladakh Organic certified by 2025. Section 3.4 in it calls for “phased reduction in supply of chemical fertilizers and pesticides” by removing subsidies, rescinding licenses and banning transportation of fertilizers (35). We suggest these amendments:

  • re-enforce system for regular collection and distribution of waste from dry Ladakhi toilets
  • design and market a more modern version of Ladakhi toilets
  • taxation on food import once domestic production stabilizes
  • promote more suitable, draught-efficient, high value crops like quinoa(57) after careful system analysis

Finally, policy needs to be seen through the lens of their culture. Most Ladakhis, especially those living in villages, follow some principles to the T. Anyone or anything that even hints at any one of the three sins of greed, foolishness and hatred are not accepted into the society. The success of any intervention will depend on the champion and intention behind it, hence policy should allow for community and cooperatives to flourish.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

Culture and diet are intertwined and influence each other, especially in Ladakhi society which fortunately hasn’t yet divorced itself from its heritage.

Technology uptake will have undeniable impacts on the economy and even the environment.

Following examples illustrate how a change in any one of the themes will set up chain reactions that influence the others:

  • Setting up of Food Processing Units will create jobs for managers and machine operators. These jobs may attract migrant workers from other states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who will demand toilets with plumbing as opposed to dry Ladakhi toilets, further degrading the water situation. They will also demand rice which has been their staple as opposed to wheat, buckwheat and barley. Here, the Donley marketing program will come to the rescue improving the quality perception of Ladakhi practices and diets.

  • Food processing technology may influence Ladakhi diet. For eg. availability of processed jams in Leh’s shops will increase the acceptance of processed foods in diets. On entering a store, the Donley app would suggest one of the jams manufactured with traditional practices using solar powered drying units. The Donley app in-turn is made possible due to policy support from the Hill council.

  • Technologies such as LIFE farms, a key part of our food system, will be expensive to start with. Here policy will be required to enable subsidies and investments into such technologies that empower food self-sufficiency rather than security. For example the Government’s current policy of 75% subsidy for any food processing set up in Ladakh, if administered properly, shall empower local cooperatives which form the backbone of Ladakhi economic culture.

  • With yearlong availability of fruits and vegetables, Ladakhi diets will become richer & more nourishing. Demand for new foods will require proper packaging and logistics not just locally but with rest of the country so that export of surplus is possible. Companies such as Amazon and Delhivery, which currently only deliver to Ladakh, will see the requirement of shipping within and from Ladakh and invest in drones.

  • Adverse environmental impact of the increasing quantum of plastics will drive technological innovation and commercial viability of bio plastics. Excess starch from endemically grown buckwheat will be used to create edible packaging for Ladakhi produce. Kerosene and diesel will be replaced by solar power as the fuel of choice. All of these will be empowered by thoughtful and proactive policy implementation under the Donley program.

  • Ladakhis are traditionally averse to construction jobs. The geography also makes it difficult and expensive to bring in construction materials. Thus, in order to construct LIFE Farms and food processing units in 2050, innovation in 3D printed construction will be a tremendous enabler.

Please refer to the impact and trade-offs grid to see the system through our eyes:

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

“Don’t instill greed in people” Tsezin Angmo chided me and reminded me of the three Buddhist sins. I had just finished describing to her how food processing could dramatically increase the value Ladakhi farmers’ produce.

“The bed and breakfast I stay at in Leh used to serve fresh homemade Apricot jam till a couple years ago, now they serve branded jam sachets. All this because they think that these will meet the hygiene requirements of tourists better. I miss the fresh jam”, lamented Neha.

“I believe there is a middle path”, Neha assured me as she told me about her innovation with a renewable energy powered home appliance. Such technology will ensure that Yak milk can be churned and preserved the way it has been for generations, while eliminating the drudgery associated with it.

Tradeoff 1

We are promoting policies that will enable local food processing to increase the value that can be derived by farmers, however, we are trusting the Donley program to ensure that only middle path technologies are supported which don’t harm the environment and propagate traditional cooking techniques.

“We mostly sell dry fruits, teas and spices through our platform”, said Stanzin Jordan from the Ladakh Basket, “because most Ladakhi jams are preservative free. We want to experiment on how to increase the shelf life of products without losing authenticity”.

Tradeoff 2

We recognize that popularization and export of Ladakhi food is critical for re-igniting pride in the produce and cuisine, for its economic viability and very survival. Traditional food preferences are better for the palette as well as the planet. However, there will be some use of preservatives to increase the shelf life of such food articles. We hope that research work around natural and edible preservatives will be accelerated.

Tradeoff 3

Multiple technologies that we are relying on such as LIFE Farms and drones may be too expensive initially and unaffordable by local Ladakhis. Thus these will require subsidies and investments by external agencies. If not managed properly, the possibly capitalistic intentions of the investors can affect the direction in which the food system goes. We are hoping that the Ladakhi common sense will inspire these investments.

Tradeoff 4

Traditionally Ladakhis are very environmentally conscious and packaging hasn’t meant plastics ever before. For example, Ladakhi butter is packaged in goat skin for transportation and sale in Leh.

As local food production and related commerce multiplies, the packaging waste associated with these may become a real threat to contend with. We recognize this and hope that edible and biodegradable bio plastics become a commercial reality. The vision of buckwheat based bioplastic and its production within the region will ensure that Ladakhis are self-reliant in every aspect of the food system.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

Milestone 1: Install two demo LIFE Farms, April 2021

Budget: USD 55,000

Trailblazers: Sunkalp Energy, Quadsun Solar, SKAUST and DIHAR

Blueprint: Simulations, techno-commercial plan and BOM attached. These were developed and peer-reviewed as part of this refinement process.


  • Demonstrate the feasibility and performance of LIFE Farms for yearlong growing of F&V. Dr. Deldan has offered to host the first LIFE Farm at the SKAUST campus.
  • Attract more entrepreneurs and investors
  • Establish ownership and finance models for future LIFE Farms

Milestone 2: Inauguration of the Donley agro marketing program, August 2021 

Program will be launched via a series of grand events throughout the year. Multiple high profile individuals and stakeholders will be invited to tune and ratify the manifesto

Budget: TBD

Trailblazers: Tsezin Angmo, Neha Upadhyay, Stanzin Jordan,

Blueprint: Manifesto


  • Buzz and PR around local produce and its importance
  • Buy-in from important people from Ladakhi community

Milestone 3: Set-up of state of the art common food processing infrastructure in Leh food park, 2022 to 2023

Budget: TBD

Trailblazers: Ministry of Food Processing, GoI



  • Common food processing facilities such as drying and packaging available to all Ladakhis on time sharing basis
  • Improved hygiene and shelf life of Ladakhi food products
  • High value for Ladakhi produce attracts more Ladakhi food-preneurs
  • Entrepreneurs will start investing in this space

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

By 2030, at least 50% of the 179 villages should be able to produce their own food year round. Thus, within the next 10 years we envision mobilizing the required supply chains, actors or entrepreneurs investments, so that at least 90 villages have LIFE Farms installed.

The Donley program needs to be active and productive for the entire next decade so as to re-enforce the good Ladakhi habits and preferences. It should incubate:

- start-ups or businesses that design and manufacture low-cost renewable energy powered agro-appliances.

- An innovative food product design company focusing on endemic produce which maybe commercializes some of DIHAR’s patented functional foods will be part of Donley’s portfolio.

- A tech company that will use data and nudges to improve consumption of healthy, local food and produce are on the cards by 2030.

An efficient logistics network, cold chain and model e-mandi are extremely important for our vision’s fruition.

Finally, a model Seabuckthorn winery and the Ladakhi Produce Chemotyping Project are on our wish list for the next decade.

We have detailed out the projects and identified people & organizations who will be champions for the next decade, at this link-

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

We believe that there is nothing more inspiring than seeing a living breathing success. That is why, if awarded the prize, we will use it to set up the first LIFE Farms in Ladakh. Conversations over the past few months have helped us get buy-in on the technology as well as garner eager partners, such as SKAUST, who want to work with us to make these a reality.

However, a great many more steps need to be taken to get to 2050. Given that agri-tech is one of the key focus areas for venture capital and private equity funds in India, this is an opportune time to get maximum momentum towards Ladakh 2050.

We believe that with the demo farms we will be able to display completely new paradigm for Indian agriculture. Some of the prize funds will be used for generating PR and buzz around what we believe is a powerful idea. We are confident that will be able to raise more funds that can be used to materialize further aspects of our vision including the e-mandi, Ladakh Chemotyping Project and commercialization of buckwheat based bio-plastic.

Finally, we will use some of the prize monies as initial seed for Donley and start its implementation with key members of Ladakhi community

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

Ladakhis have thrived in one of the harshest environments on Earth for generations. They have done so sustainably and been self-reliant till only a few decades ago. They have created a throbbing, pulsating culture in a barren, arid land. If Ladakhis can do it, every other society should be able to.

When we are able to demonstrate yearlong growing in Ladakh, when we reclaim self-reliance, it will be testament to the sheer will of humanity. We would have demonstrated that when human empathy and relationships become the force behind technology, the world can really be beautiful.

Our bodies are the food we eat and the food we eat will define the world we create. When we do this in harmony with nature, then the Universe will be our oyster and maybe that road to Mars will be the shorter one.

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

Distinct places & organizations (nodes), have dendrites that transmit, modify & interpret signals. We have used integrated circuit like connectors to emphasize bi-direction.

Just as the most activated neural connections are ones that strengthen- it is imp to activate every connection in our Food Circuit with commercial, cultural & tech transactions. Traditional nodes like dry toilets thrive by close connection with modern ones like LIFE Farms

Come explore:

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Team (4)

stanzin's profile
stanzin gyalson

Role added on team:

"Chief Ladakh Officer Stanzin is a prominent Ladakhi entrepreneur with Trans Ladakh Home Solutions. He regularly endeavors to embrace renewable energy technologies in his various construction projects. He has recently partnered with Delhivery to bring logistics services to Ladakh. Stanzin is an engineer from Punjab University and alum of the prominent Sainik School, Ladakh"

Kanika's profile
Rahul's profile
Rahul Vats

Role added on team:

"Chief Storytelling Officer Rahul Vats is co-founder at Vizard Apps and NexGear (a wearables company). He has substantial experience in operations and customer experience at ReGlobe, an end of life e-waste management company.He has a degree in Chemical Engineers from Punjab University. Rahul has multiple creative pursuits include music and videography."

Preet's profile
Preet Sanghvi

Role added on team:

"Chief Produce-Promotion Officer Preet Sanghvi has recently completed her Masters in Gastronomy: World Food Cultures and Mobility from the University of Gastronomic Sciences – Pollenzo. She is a co- founder at Gourmet Tales Co. an F&B Management company. She has previously managed FMCG brands for Henkel Dubai and has keen interest in food product design."

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Attachments (6)

Full Refined Vision_Ladakh 2050.pdf

Dawa and Diskit, a young couple that lives and works in Leh in 2050. This is a simple story about how they lead their lives closely entwined with the food system and driven by values.

Donley- A Manifesto.pdf

Manifesto for Ladakh's Community operated Marketing Program


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Photo of Blake Kirtley

Hi Kanika! Amazing! This is a very valuable idea, considering the Ladakh region experiences a freezing cold desert climate with harsh barren winters for at least 7 months out of the year! Plus, taking into consideration that the region is at a geographical disadvantage being situated directly between the Himalayas. I could not imagine living with access to fresh produce, and these people desperately need it! The people of Ladakh's health depends on it, and I commend you all for developing an idea for a solution to the severe problem that this area faces.
I agree that the use of solar energy and insulation techniques are absolutely vital to establishing a sufficient fresh produce production in the Ladakh region. With these technologies and an effort by the global, it is surely possible to fix this major problem.
I believe a major difficulty will be transporting the necessary infrastructure to build these envisioned produce manufacturing facilities. Everything will have to be imported by air freight and the harsh winter weather could potentially delay this process. It is also necessary to establish a trusting relationship with the Ladakhi people and their culture. All who wish to help in the area should work hard to familiarize themselves with the people, language, and customs of Ladakh. It may be a difficult feat, but definitely possible!
Before seeing this submission, I had never heard of the Ladakh region of Northern India, but now I want to join in the help for access to fresh produce for these people. If many work together on this life-changing project, we can do it!
The biggest challenge is for sure the local's suspicion of outsiders, so guides and translators will likely be necessary in communicating with the people of Ladakh. I feel the second biggest challenge will be funding and production costs. How can we better incentivize donors to contribute to this very important mission? Another, is the major issue of water scarcity and freezing water lines- this will likely be a very expensive roadblock to your goal, but I have a great deal of faith there are solutions. It will just take time, money, and most of all effort! I think it would be an excellent idea to use the Ladakh region's tourism industry to our advantage in attaining this goal.
You explain that the majority of the urban Ladakh population migrates to the plains in search of greener pastures and reliable food in the harsh winters. Should this aspect be paid further attention to in regard to your ideas? I feel this nomadic aspect of Ladakhi life could put the economy of Ladakh in great jeopardy and could potentially pose some problems to this master plan. But overall, these ideas for helping the food scarcity issue in the region are absolutely great! I wish you very the best!

Here is a link to a concept sketch I created for your Ladakh food system vision submission:

Photo of Kanika Khanna

Hi Blake Kirtley ,

Firstly I want to say how grateful I am that you have put in so much effort in reading our submission and drawing out so many relevant points. The illustration is also really touching! I am so glad you can visualize Ladakh like this, sending my gratitude for that!

You have highlighted three important points that we are working on in the refinement phase-
1. difficulty will be transporting the necessary infrastructure: We have included a in-situ construction process and the LIFE Farms are made of rammed Earth available in Ladakh

2. freezing water lines: We have spoken to our collaborators and are paying attention to the thermal fluid. We are also heating the water used for irrigation

3. funding and production costs: If we can execute demo units from the Rockefeller fund then we have buy in from Invest India and Indian Govt, may will be willing to subsidize future units. We also have an interesting plan for tokenizing assets to invite investments into Ladakh.

Please connect with me at
I look forward to talking more with you!

Photo of Kanika Khanna

Hi Itika Gupta it was really cool to see this comment. I noticed similar comments on other visions along with sketches. I was curious if their was some IDEO activity behind this.


Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Kanika Khanna thanks for bringing that up. We just discovered that a Business School in Colombia used the Food System Vision Prize submissions as case studies of entrepreneurship.
They just shared their learnings with teams at the end of the exercise.

Photo of Kanika Khanna

That's so cool Itika Gupta ! Thanks for sharing!

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