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Integrated and data driven farming for a sustainable Food System

Aspire to advance Marathwada’s food system to be smarter, sustainable, efficient and inclusive to positively benefit all stakeholders.

Photo of Mateen Abdul
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Grassroots Energy Incorporation

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.

There are three organizations in the application: 1. Grassroots Energy Incorporation (social impact firm, for profit) 2. Foundation for Environmental Monitoring (non-profit) 3. Ashti Ventures Private Limited (social impact firm, for profit) The three applicants bring a holistic perspective of the food system and is in sync with the challenges and opportunities. Grassroots Energy has been developing enriched organic inputs for three years serving few thousand farmers improving their yields. Foundation for Environmental Monitoring has a mobile based solution to diagnose and analyse soil and water on the farm. Ashti Ventures Private Limited operates with brand name Bharath Rath, working with farmers in Marathwada region for 2 years now, specifically focusing on output market linkages for farmers practicing sustainable farming methods including organic farming.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.grassrootsenergy.co http://ffem.io/ https://www.bharatrath.com/

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

  • 1-3 years

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

Bangalore, India

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

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

Marathwada, a cluster of 8 districts in Maharastra, India with 64,590 km2.

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Founders of Bharatrath belong to Marathwada region in Maharashtra (Beed district). For the past 2 years, Bharatrath team has been working closely with farmers in the Marathwada and Western Maharashtra region in their mission to – empower farmers by connecting them directly to consumers. Grassroots Energy has been studying the location with an objective to serve with fortified seeds and enriched organic fertilizers to make a positive impact on the small and marginal farmers. Marathwada is a classic example in the global context of what happens when wrong farming decisions, policy and lack of interventions and its impact on the large scale. What is most striking about the agriculture sector in this region is that despite being in the richest state of India, Marathwada is among the poorest regions in India (and globally). Most of the population is dependent on agriculture, we decided to take a look into the problems of farmers. And quickly realized how inefficient the system is, with many structural issues. Marathwada is the region comprising the eight districts of (divisional headquarters) Jalna, Aurangabad, Parbhani, Hingoli, Nanded, Latur, Osmanabad and Beed. Marathwada accounts for 16.84% of the Maharashtra’s population and is home to nearly 30% of the state's Below Poverty Line families. Its per capita GDP is $150, a good 40 per cent below the state's per capita and contributes just 8% of the state's industrial output. Its literacy rate is the lowest in the state (51.23%, Census 2001). All eight districts figure in the list of the 100 poorest districts in the country. (Source: http://www.empowerpoor.org/backgrounder.asp?report=19) Our teams view is that with a clear vision, right policy, specific technology and sustainable interventions and collaborative effort, Marathwada can be revived to serve large sections of the farming community.

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

The term Marathwada means the house of Marathi people, that is land occupied by the Marathi-speaking population. It’s the eastern part of Maharashtra, second largest state in India. Marathwada is having a mix of religions and religious monuments, some of which are the point of attraction for the national and foreign tourists. The famous monuments in Marathwada are; Ajanta-Ellora caves, Shaktipeeth like Renuka Devi in Mahur, Tuljabhavani in Tuljapur and Jogeshwari in Ambajogai. Aurangabad, a "Tourism Capital of Maharashtra" is developed and fast developing cities of Marathwada. Marathi and Urdu are the main languages spoken in this city. Silk and cotton textile production is one of the well-developed industries in Aurangabad. Himroo textile is a locally developed product with the blend of cotton with fine silk. Nanded was formerly known as Nanditat, Kandhar fort gives evidence that king Sogadev was having his capital in Kandhar. Nanded is situated on the bank of river Godavari & it is one of the historical cities in Marathwada. Nanded is well known for education centre, with increasing presence of institutions. Latur is the 3rd developed city and a major of sugarcane, edible oils, soyabean & mango production centre. Kesar mango is developed in Latur which is also exported to many countries. Latur is also known as ‘Sugar Belt of India’, as in this region there are over eleven large sugar factories. Parbhani is also known as historic place as Shirdi Sai Baba, a popular saint was born there. Economy of the city is dependent on small scale business and mainly agriculture. Many pharmaceutical companies, consultants & general practitioners are increasing their presence in Parbhani. Marathwada makes up most of the deccan plateau. The soil is commonly known as 'black cotton soil' or 'regur' because it is best suited for the cultivation of cotton. The volcanic action almost 60 to 90 million years ago; which had taken place in the Deccan region has given rise to the soil texture and composition. These igneous rocks break down to form black soil, which is very fertile. It is better suited for rabi crops. Food habits are primarily driven by the crops grown in the region grains (jowar/bajra/wheat) and lentils (tur/moong/chana). These make up the staple diet. Majority of the population is dependent on primary vegetarian food including multiple varieties of vegetables grown locally. Semi-arid climate, dependent on monsoons for water supply. Annual average rainfall is 750mm and drought is a permanent feature. Irrigation water, reaches not more than 50,000 acres of cultivable land. Many river valleys mark the Deccan plateau region as rivers Narmada, Krishna, Godavari, Wardha, Tapi carve valleys in between intervening highlands. The soil in the semi dry Deccan plateau is mostly black basalt soil. This type of soil is clayey, retains moisture and is rich in humus.

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

20

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

Environment: A) Water Conversation: Water crisis in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is getting worse with rapid depletion of water levels in dams across the region. According to the data received from the state water resources department, all the dams in the region are left with just 5.4 per cent of live water compared to 31.3 per cent of water storage last year. B) Soil tests: are rarely performed close to the field or within enough time to give small or marginal farmers the information an opportunity to take a decision on the optimal fertilization strategy for their crop. This result in over or under fertilization. In time, this will get worse with depleting soil nutrients, and over fertilization will only contribute to poor uptake by the crop. Diet: Although the daily staple diet comprises of all healthy options, the problem is poverty and lack of enough food for a large population. Therefore, the cases of malnourishment (especially among kids) are high in the region. Economics: Majority of the farmers are small and marginal farmers with small parcels of land. The land will further fragment with the next generation taking up farming. Developing sustainable and cost effective solutions at small scale is a challenge. Culture: Farmers are forced to take extreme measures like giving up on life after taking loans and not able to meet the farm outputs. Farmers are open to new methods of farming if guided and corrective solutions are provided. People generally are not too hopeful for the economic potential of the region or the agriculture sector. Most of the younger generation is moving to other regions for finding non-agricultural job opportunities. Policy: The right crop at the wrong time. The sugarcane curse has made the situation even worse for the Marathwada region as several farmers have dumped drought-resistant crops such as jowar and chana for water-intensive cash crops such as sugarcane. Farmers at this region have still got to blame the government for creating the needless demand for sugarcane which has forced farmers to shift from traditional crops to assured cash returns from sugarcane as Latur alone has 13 sugar factories in the region. Agri Inputs: A) With decreasing animals in the homes and farms, farmers are using less organic inputs. To address the immediate results, farmers are increasing the chemical fertilizer usage, accelerating the detoriation of soil conditions. There are no trusted and reliable organic fertilizers available in the local area for the farmers to use. B) Hybrid or fortified seeds are needed for long needed to address the growing need for food demands in the region. Technology: Limited access to advisory services based on weather forecast, farm data, automation, best practices are currently available. Lack of these services and data driven models are forcing the farmers to stick to the traditional methods of farming which are not sustainable

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

Environment / Water: Ingenious structures to efficiently use and replace water in shallow aquifers and to distribute it in a balanced and efficient way among the population. Achieve the adaptation to the uncertainty of the monsoons and the overexploitation of aquifers: the collection of rain water and the recovery of the water table by means of the construction of reservoirs and the implementation of drip irrigation systems to improve the efficiency of each drop from the aquifer. The first one recovers the ancestral (and successful) water culture: rainwater was traditionally used as an irrigation system in south India by storing it in tanks. Agri Inputs: A) Decomposed organic liquid and solid compost enriched with nutrients improves soil structure, increasing its water-holding capacity. The organic compost made from agri or farm waste is decomposed into compost, further increasing the soil’s ability to retain water in the soil during the dry season. B) Fortified seeds with calcium and iron ensures the people are made available with right quality of food. Technology (Data Driven Model): By providing on the farm soil tests, generating a recommendation, and providing the optimal nutrient mix through organic fertilizer, small and marginal farmers can increase productivity at only a small additional input cost, resulting in improved income for the farmer, and more nutritious and safe food for the consumer. There are many unknown elements that farmers cannot control, such as the weather, the legislation, the soil, there are many things which are out of their hands. However, farmers need to make a lot of complicated decisions on a daily basis that affects their outcomes. With this device, we want to minimize the unknown, we want to help them to make a better decision. Decisions can now be made based on firm data not only on a hunch, we are really bringing them hard facts regarding their fields and their crops so that they can get a better outcome. This is actually a part of a much larger context as the global demand for food will increase by 70% by 2050 or in around 30 years. Culture: Training and providing skills to farmers using digital means will help to present current and future models for them to see and observe. The reference farms will help the farmers to see and then adopt in their communities. Economics: Adopting our approaches, ensures the farmers have a crop with market access to ensure the monetary realization of the produce. Local availability of the agri inputs: A) The organic fertilizers can be made in each local area, with trusted processed and organizations supporting the product. The farmers can go ahead and use with confidence. B) Fortified seeds ensures the crops have better resistance and helps in better price realization for quality product. C) Seed germination in the compost ensures the seeds have better life, high resistance with pests, re-use of seeds for next season.

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.

Empowered to make decisions: Using various data capturing modes like sensors, weather information, period alters on farming, pictures based query resolution, remote advisory practices will help the small and marginal farmers to reduce the effort to take 'gut-feel' based decisions to make informed decisions. These efforts empower the farmers and not be deprived of lack of professional support in the times of need. Effort reduction: Automation at collective effort can be taken in a cluster can significantly save effort. This can be positive impact given the larger amount of migration to cities and reducing number of young people adopting agriculture as choice of profession. Predictability of the farming outcomes: The current challenge of uncertainity will be removed when the produce is of predicatable quality, the market linkages are assured and prices of the produce can be known. The efforts results in time and cost savings for the entire value chain.

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

Environment - Transformative Potential: A) Soil health enhancement with focus on real-life soil testing with recommendations and inputs on user friendly composting technologies. There has been a worrying degradation of soil health across the region of Marathwada with depleting nitrogen and phosphorous levels due to the common practice of overuse of fertilizers by the farmers. Smart application of inputs based on the soil profile increases productivity where farmers are able to grow more with appropriate inputs, decreasing both the input costs and increasing the chances of soil to recover its natural health. B) Using tried models of sustainable farming, we propose to move from conventional chemical based fertilizer to organic farming. In a 30-year farm systems trial, the Rodale Institute found that corn grown in organic fields had 30 percent greater yields than conventional fields in years of drought. In addition to keeping many of the more toxic pesticides out of our waterways, organic methods help retain soil moisture. Healthy soil that is rich in organic matter and microbial life serves as a sponge that delivers moisture to plants. The trial also found that organic fields can recharge groundwater supplies up to 20 percent. C) Ingenious structures to efficiently use and replace water in shallow aquifers and to distribute it in a balanced and efficient way among the population. Achieve the adaptation to the uncertainty of the monsoons and the overexploitation of aquifers: the collection of rain water and the recovery of the water table by means of the construction of reservoirs and the implementation of drip irrigation systems to improve the efficiency of each drop from the aquifer. The first one recovers the ancestral water culture: rainwater was traditionally used as an irrigation system in south India by storing it in tanks. In pre-colonial times, the construction and maintenance of these tanks was a priority, but nowadays these systems have deteriorated due to the lack of resources. An working example is a reservoir in Ganjikunta, in the Anantapur district, a structure which is able to store 80,000 m3 of rain water and extend by 25 acres (10.12 ha.) the existing irrigation area. The dammed water allows farmers to overcome the periods of drought between monsoons and to diversify their crops. On the other hand, the stored water, as it filters, allows the regeneration of aquifers that feed the wells of the area with water and improves reforestation, something that is essential to stop the aggressive erosion experienced by the region, which degrades the soil to the extent of turning it unproductive.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Nicole Civita
Team

Hi Mateen Abdul 
Our team was excited to read your submission, as ours is also focused on India. Yours is an inspiring and hopeful vision for the future. One of the strongest ideas that stood out was the piece about providing farmers with the technology that they need to be able to gain information quickly and efficiently, and then make decisions based on that information. Perhaps the vision could be narrowed down to focus on parts A “soil health enhancement with a focus on real-life soil testing” and then accompany that technology with information for the farmer about best practices relevant to soil data.

Of course, it is wonderful to have multiple ways to address challenges -- but we were wondering which strategy is the central focus of your vision.

Feel free to take a look at ours, which is rapidly evolving... Maati-Paani-Asha: Regeneration of Hope, Health, Land & Community in the Face of Extreme Poverty & Climate Crisis 

Best of luck!

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