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Public discourse on diverse food and farming systems: Perspectives from small and marginal farmers

To sensitize consumers and policy makers on agro-ecological farming practices and diverse food systems using effective communication tools

Photo of Karthik Gunasekar
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Participatory Guarantee System Organic Council

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

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

Consumer Research, Education, Action, Training and Empowerment (CREATE) is involved in various consumer welfare and consumer protection activities, as well as agrarian issues and farmer welfare matters. CREATE strongly believes in building up a strong consumer and farmer movement to ensure quality life for all in the country. CREATE is the co-organisers of the Save Our Rice Campaign which is an attempts to sustain diversity in rice (paddy) varieties by creating linkages between different sectors, building alternative models for sustainable ecological paddy cultivation, developing capacities to address issues related to rice, and developing a platform of people to preserve the diversity of food. PGSOC and CREATE have signed an MOU to collaborate with each other for consumer outreach programme. CREATE will also provide the Save Our Rice campaign platform to execute the implementation plans of the project.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 10+ years

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


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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


What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Participatory Guarantee System Organic Council (PGSOC) is a Pan-Indian society of grassroots organisations working in rural areas. The member organisation of the society have decades of experience in working with small, marginal and women farmers and spread across multiple agro-ecological zones of India. PGSOC is working with 8000 farmers facilitated by 17 grassroots organisations situated across the landscape of the country. PGS Organic Council has a unique experience of around 14 years in managing the PGS Organic label which is a community label. The label is shared on the basis of participative verification of compliance to agro-ecological farming standards. The products of these farmers who are certified with Participatory Guarantee System by PGSOC has a decent presence in the marketplace across India. PGSOC is well networked with various organisations, informal networks and individuals in India working on similar lines through years of engagement and relationship building with them. PGSOC is well acquainted with diverse set of farmers, consumers and policy makers of India and have developed good understanding with them.

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.

India is a vast and diverse country in South-east Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area and the second-most populous country in the world. India is bounded by the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the southwest, and the Bay of Bengal on the southeast. India has multiple geographical terrains including mountains, plateaus, plains, deserts and a huge coastline. India is home to wide range of biodiverse species of plants and animals and contains four of the world's 34 biodiversity hotspots. India has 7 major rivers along with hundreds of smaller rivers and tributaries.

  • India is a secular federal republic governed in a democratic parliamentary system. It is a pluralistic, multilingual and multi-ethnic society with multiple religious affiliations. There are 28 states and 9 Union territories in India, with 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects in various regions. The cultural and ethnic diversity is the core of the nation integrity.
  • According to World Bank report, 44% of India's total workforce was employed in agriculture in 2018. India has 20 agro-ecological zones with plethora of farming practices and crops being cultivated by the farmer. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate, culture, ethnic groups, and occupations, Indian cuisines vary substantially from each other, using locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruit. Indian cuisine consists of a wide variety of regional and traditional cuisines.

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.

  • Alienation of consumers from producers: In India, the voices of the small, marginal, and women farmers working with constrained resources and struggling in the whole process of farming and reaching the market are unheard of in the public discourses of food. These vulnerable communities following agro-ecological practices generally add higher marginal value in resource conservation such as soil, biodiversity, water etc. and are an integral part of food sovereignty. However, these stories of resilience, conservation and endurance is lost in the process of aggregation of produce by agencies and the commodity specific communications in the market.
  • Lost connection with food system: Decisions of food production and consumption have been traditionally influenced by social and cultural aspects but chemical input based farming practices shifted the system to orient itself to market or demand based decisions. The consumers have lost their connection to food and food production systems. The advent of chemical input based farming system has destroyed the community knowledge bank of diverse and nutritious food systems. This has resulted in deterioration of health of the consumers and large scale malnutrition, creating imbalance in accessibility of safe food for all.
  • Unfair market systems: Demand driven value chains and linear institutional business models of such farmer communities are ultimately made to compete in the larger food market which has a multitude of players. So, there is a pressing need for effective discourse of food and food value system done through appropriate mediums and innovative communications focused on enterprises of such vulnerable communities, highlighting their contribution in the food business.  Commodity based value chains fail to create behavior changes in both producing and consuming communities to shift dietary practices to a more nutritious one.
  • Agrarian crisis: According to NABARD’s All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey, the average income of an agricultural household was only Rs 8931/month in 2016-17. The increased input cost due to higher utilization of chemical fertilizers and pesticides coupled with low price of agricultural produce due to non-accessibility of markets to farmers has catalyzed the agrarian crisis in India. The absence of an enabling environment as policy and infrastructure support for such family farmers’ has further aggrieved the issue lead to farmer distress and suicides.
  • Environmental and climate changes: The chemical input based farming system has greater environmental impact due to degradation of land, reduction of biodiversity and leaching of these chemical into water bodies and ground water. The impact of environmental changes and climate can disrupt both supply and demand substantially. With incidences of such vulnerabilities being more frequent in the last few years like the unprecedented flooding in multiple states in India have a huge impact on the communities at large. There is a need for designing and implementing flexible and resilient value system with diverse food production systems integrated to intertwine food security, availability and accessibility at all times.

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

The vision addresses the challenges with the following 3 broad intervention strategies:

  • Promotion and Consumer awareness: The effective public discourse of safe food value systems will lead to increased awareness and sensitization about safe food and the role of small and marginal farmers. Nutrition education with appropriate messaging will be the stepping stones for behavioural changes in food consumption patterns of consumers.  Consumers will be able to relate to the importance of production systems and understand better about fair price, short supply chains, seasonality of food and nutritious food. The knowledge transfer of nutrition-preserving food preparation recipes and food storage will complement the consumers to sustain their behaviourial change. Specific programs to stimulate consumption of safe food among the producer consumers will enable empowerment of women and behavior changes in the small farm households.
  • Labeling, Trade retailing and marketing: The small, marginal and women farmers and their community based enterprises will thrive once vertical, horizontal and local market linkages are provided. The dual marketing strategy will enable these farmers and their enterprises to attract consumers of all demographic profiles. The increase in sales will increase their incomes and thus reduce their distress. The standards and labeling systems developed from small holder perspective by including the social, economic and environmental value systems will ensure market and fair price to the farmers. The demand generated by consumers sensitised in the promotion and awareness campaign will also be channelized to these farming communities by creation of market access. 
  • Creating enabling environment: The voices of these vulnerable communities will be collectively presented in a political and bureaucratic language to the policy makers, creating a paradigm shift to an inclusive bottom up approach of policy making. The interest among farmers to change from chemical input based farming to agroecological farming created by the above mentioned interventions will be capitalized further by providing policy and infrastructure support.  The partnership developed between local government and community will enable overcoming market constraints. Advocacy for women participation and leadership will empower the women and pave ways for gender mainstreaming.

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.

  • Livelihood improvement of small, marginal, women and poor farming communities: Market access, fair prices and improved sales will influence the lives of these vulnerable communities in a positive way. The small scale community based enterprises developed by these communities will thrive with their recognition in the market through the PGSOC label and become self-sustaining. The reduced input cost by following agro-ecological farming practices will add to the family income of these communities. The self-consumption of healthy food cultivated by themselves will improve the health and wellness quotient of these communities.
  • Change in food consumption patterns: The effective communication of food and food value system and interaction with the farming communities will increase the awareness about food cultivation, health and nutritious values of food, fair pricing, short supply chain and plights of the farmers among rural, semi-urban and urban consumers. This awareness and access to healthy food through various channels will change the consumption pattern of consumers. The understanding gap between producer and consumer will reduce and synergies will be created.
  • Revival of biodiversity and ecological benefits: The shifting of more and more farming communities to agroecological practices which will be mandated to avail the benefit of the recognition of PGSOC label will bring back the local biodiversity of the rural areas. The elimination of chemical inputs and adoption of sustainable farming practices will derive multiple ecological benefits.
  • New public discourses for an enabling environment: Shift in consumption patterns by creating a demand for safe food is a powerful tool to impact policy intervention in fiscal regulations. Such changes could result in regulators implementing “Polluter pays” principles within food systems. Such powerful discourses from communities can potentially mainstream agro ecology based production systems.

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

The vision is granulated into 3 broad intervention strategies and various activities are designed for each intervention.

a)Promotion and Consumer awareness:

•Develop effective communication campaigns

- Develop food and nutrition education and nutrition messaging highlighting the need for a diverse food system

- Carry out social behaviour change communication campaigns using multiple communication tools and platforms

- Undertake social media marketing campaigns

•Address acceptance issues

- Set up taste-testing activities and food diversity festivals

- re-designing the certification system to be more human centric and community based guarantee system and generating better understanding among consumers

- Communications to address seasonal availabilities of food

•Promote hygienic and nutritious food preparation

- Carry out cooking classes and recipe development

- Demonstrate nutrient-preserving and safe food storage and preparation at household level

- Introduce measures and practices to reduce food waste

b)Labeling, Trade retailing and marketing:

•Improve smallholders’ access to markets:

- Strengthen vertical linkages: diversify smallholders’ customer base

- Strengthen horizontal linkages: capacity-building and creation of producer organizations to assimilate produce, reduce transaction costs

- Provide market and price information

•Improve access to local and informal markets where low-income consumers traditionally purchase food

- Develop local and informal markets, incorporating the constraints and opportunities these markets offer in potential upgrading strategies

- Undertake dual marketing strategy: combination of reaching traditional and modern market outlets to improve financial sustainability while reaching low-income consumers

•Enable product differentiation as USP

- Promote trust based certification and labelling from small holder perspective to include indigenous food systems and promote local household consumptions

- Establish mechanisms that control, verify and signal nutritional quality

•Innovate in the marketplace and retailing

- Capacity build communities for packaging and labelling to improve affordability and nutrition awareness

•Promote Value Chain coordination

- Promote multi-stakeholder platforms: identification of food safety -relevant issues along the Value Chain, mapping of incentives, roles and contributions of each Value Chain actor, engagement in joint problem solving, policy dialogue

c)Enabling Environment:

•Advocate for policies to promote agro-ecological agricultural practices that preserve the natural and social capital of small and marginal farmers.

•Develop local government and community partnerships to overcome market constraints and reduce dependence on private sector investment in value chains of small and marginal farmers.

•Advocate for changes in regulations to support women groups, reservations for women’s participation and leadership

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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Photo of Jun Suto

Hi Karthik Gunasekar I see you are a very deep thinker!! Inspire me for your beautiful life in 2050.

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