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Spudnik Farms – A farmer for every family

An alternative food system built on restoring the broken connection between farmers, consumers and the environment.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Spudnik Farms Pvt Ltd

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

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

NA

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.spudnikfarms.com, www.instagram.com/spudnikfarms

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

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?

Bangalore (2,196 Km2) and its surrounding Districts of Chikkaballapur (4,244 Km2) and Kolar (4,012 Km2) covering a total area of 10,452 Km2

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I reside in Bangalore, the capital of the State of Karnataka and the third most populous city in India. 

Over the last decade, enhanced income levels, higher standards of living and an explosion of lifestyle-related ailments have increased the demand for chemical‑free food in Bangalore.  This has resulted in a proliferation of organic stores and food suppliers.  However, the increase in choice has also raised concerns about the authenticity of produce claiming to be organic.  With no visibility of the source of food in today’s impersonal market system, there is an erosion of trust, and many consumers in Bangalore are sceptical of the claims made by re-sellers regarding organic produce.

We have chosen to work with farmers in the Kolar- Chikkaballapur region (the “KC Region”) to supply organic farm produce to consumers in Bangalore. The KC Region is located within a distance of 75 Km from Bangalore, and is an important hub of horticultural crops that are supplied to Bangalore.  However, in the last 10 years, shrinking profits, land fragmentation and negative impacts of climate change have led to a sharp decrease in the number of farmers in this area.  Due to loss of livelihood, they are being forced to migrate to Bangalore to take up low-paying manual labour jobs.

We chose this region as we believe there is scope to make an impact in farmer livelihoods, environment and nutrition, especially with a ready market for organic produce in Bangalore. I am a farmer myself and own farm land in Kolar, which gives me first‑hand knowledge of the issues faced by farmers in the region. Further, our team is also from Kolar, and has a wealth of knowledge of local issues and challenges.    

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 place we have chosen to work in can best be envisioned as a triangle, with Chikkaballapur being the Northern most point, and Bangalore city and Kolar being the vertices on the Western and Eastern ends, respectively.  The cumulative extent of land covered within this area is 10,452 Km2.

Bangalore, officially known as Bengaluru, is the capital of the state of Karnataka located in southern India.  It is spread over an area of 2,196 Km2, and boasts a population of more than 13 million.  In the last 3 decades, liberalization of the economy coupled with availability of quality education and the emergence of a strong Information Technology sector has resulted in accelerated growth and rapid urbanization, which have transformed Bangalore into a mega city.  

While Bangalore is one of the most modern and rapidly-growing metropolises in India, tempering this growth are issues related to socio‑economic inequalities, improper urban planning and development, severe water scarcity, deteriorating green spaces, poor air quality and lifestyle-related ailments.

The surrounding Kolar‑Chikkaballapur Region (the “KC Region”) is spread over more than 8,000 Km2, and has a cumulative population of approximately 3 million people.  This area consists of small villages and towns, with agriculture being the primary source of livelihood for more than 70% of the population.  The KC Region is known as a leading producer of dairy products, silk, mango, banana, grapes, tomatoes and other horticultural crops, and has traditionally been a primary source of fresh fruits and vegetables for Bangalore. 

Climate and rainfall 

The climate is hot and seasonally dry tropical savanna climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons.  January to June is considered the dry season, whereas July to December is considered the wet season.  

No perennial rivers flow through either Bangalore or the KC Region, leaving the population heavily dependent on seasonal rainfall and groundwater to meet their requirements.  In the last 2 decades, scant monsoon rains coupled with poor water and land resource management have depleted groundwater levels drastically, pushing the region towards a persistent drought‑like situation in summer. 

Land use pattern and livelihood

Bangalore is an urban centre, with a large number of technology companies, educational institutions, and several important public sector enterprises. 

In sharp contrast, the main livelihood for a majority of population in the KC Region area continues to be agriculture.  However, climate change, land fragmentation, economic unviability of agriculture, and hardships faced by farmers have reduced the area under cultivation, and consequently the number of farmers. The youth among these rural communities is increasingly shunning agriculture, in favour of work in the city, even if it is low paying manual jobs, resulting in an aging farmer population. 

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

10452

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

16000000

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

The phenomenal growth of Bangalore has presented significant socio‑economic and environmental challenges. At the same time, awareness about the harmful effects of chemicals, along with an increase in disposable income has led to the growth of the organic food market, which has its own set of challenges:

1) There is growing mistrust in organic products due to lack of traceability in the supply chain.

2) The prevalent “push based” supply chain results in food wastage and inefficiencies.

3) The current system has also impacted our native food diversity. Today, consumer diets are limited to produce that is easy to transport and has a long shelf life, losing focus on taste, nutrition and environmental aspects.

4) The supply chain also fosters inequality, as profits are concentrated with middlemen, and not the actual producers of food.

While Bangalore has experienced rapid economic development, the KC Region has witnessed a disruption of rural livelihoods, and farmers here face multiple challenges.

Economic and livelihood related

a) Agriculture is becoming economically unviable in the KC Region.

b) Farmers are victims of a very exploitative supply chain, where they have no visibility of markets, nor do they have any say in determining prices.

c) The market systems cause severe cash-flow pressures on farmers and force them take on debt.

Environmental

a) The impact of climate change is being increasingly felt in the form of acute water shortages.

b) Excessive use of pesticides and unsustainable agricultural practices are causing a decline in soil health.

c) Lack of rainfall and other environmental factors have also had an adverse impact on the natural vegetation, and desertification has become a major concern.

Technology related

Farmers can use scientific data and technology to plan and grow better. However, information about and access to agricultural technology in rural areas continues to be a challenge.

Cultural

Rural communities have traditionally built a culture around localised seed systems, which encourages food diversity and resilience in the food system. With increasing use of hybrid seeds, optimised for specific traits like higher yields, this culture is being destroyed, and with it, food diversity and farmer autonomy.

a) Traditional farming practices and methods learned over millennia are being disregarded, which is an enormous waste of shared cultural knowledge that could help maintain biodiversity and protect natural resources.

b) Disruption of rural livelihoods and urban migration are also destroying the social fabric of rural communities.

Policy related

Since the 1960’s, food security has been at the centre of the Indian government’s agricultural policies. While this policy increased agricultural production several folds, it has had an adverse impact on the environment.

Further, rising input costs and continued yield-focused agricultural policies (without equal stress on efficiency, ecology and marketing) have made agriculture economically unviable.

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

Our broken food system can be fixed only by creating direct relationships between consumers and farmers.  We believe that the concept of “family farmers” (like family doctors) can help achieve this.

Hence, Spudnik Farms is building a community of local farmers who supply organic vegetables directly to consumers in Bangalore on a subscription basis.

We are doing this by:

a) Building a network of farmers and organizing their production;

b) Creating a market for produce and connecting this market directly with farmers;

c) Providing extension services and technical advice to farmers; and

d) Promoting regenerative agricultural principles.

 

Diet and market related

Spudnik Farms humanises our impersonal food distribution system:

a) Traceability builds trust in consumers provides convenient access to safe food grown responsibly.

b) Local and direct procurement means a shorter supply chain, which delivers fresher food.

c) A more personal supply chain creates greater food autonomy and re introduces local diversity in our diets.

 

Economics and Farmer livelihood

We secure a livelihood for partner-farmers:

a) Production is aligned to confirmed demand, thereby reducing food wastage and promoting better utilization of resources.

b) The network creates a ready market for all the produce grown by farmers.

c) Direct linkage enables farmers to earn a better price.

d) Farmers are liberated from external market pressures and price fluctuations since prices are benchmarked to cost of cultivation.

e) It eases cash-flow by providing a regular income to farmers.


Environment related

Spudnik Farms advocates regenerative agriculture, which combines tradition, innovation and science to create a diverse, adaptive and resilient environment.

a) Zero/ no tilling, crop rotation etc contribute to rebuilding soil microbial health.

b) Traditional knowledge and practices reduce cost of cultivation and also help in building climate resilience.

c) Seed saving practices result in more crop diversity, which helps build resilience to climate change.


Technology related

Spudnik Farms uses technological interventions to help farmers plan and grow better:

a) We promote water conservation technologies and facilitate soil testing.

b) We organise production through a farm planning and management app.  This automation leads to a more efficient production system, better yield estimation and improved monitoring.


Culture

Shared cultural knowledge about food systems is the key to achieving food security, mitigating the effects of climate change.

a) We train farmers in seed-saving techniques, create localised free seed banks; and 

b) Encourage sharing of traditional, low-cost farming practices.


Policy related

We believe Spudnik Farms can be used as a model for creating agricultural policies that focus on increasing farmer income, improving food-distribution and reversing environmental impact of agriculture.

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.

Modern agriculture is optimized for higher yields and greater profits (at least for some), but it is not optimized for health, environmental sustainability or the prosperity of communities.  Ironically, the processes that created this system are now destroying the very earth that is required for their existence. 

While agriculture is part of the problem, it also offers the most immediate, innovative and inexpensive solution. Agriculture, when done right, provides a unique framework for human beings and nature to work together to create a flourishing food system. This framework exists in the form of regenerative agriculture, and farmers have to be the lynchpin of this new paradigm. 

Sadly, some of the most abject poverty today is concentrated in farming communities.  Unless these communities are compensated adequately for the societal benefit of reducing carbon emissions, it will be impossible to break the vicious cycle of self‑destruction our world is hurtling towards. 

Keeping this in mind, our vision is to create an alternative food system, by restoring the lost connection between farmers, consumers and the environment through the concept of “family farmers”.  We are building a community of local farmers who supply vegetables directly to consumers in Bangalore.

  • Our role in this is to firstly create a demand/ market for the farmers in the community.
  • We then organise production for the farmers and provide them agricultural extension services.
  • We prepare production plans according to pre-determined demand and resources available to farmers. 
  • We further align production with principles and methodologies of regenerative and natural farming.
  • We create distribution channels that connect consumers directly with farmers.


Our vision provides a secure livelihood for farmers, builds confidence and trust with consumers, makes the food supply chain more efficient, and helps protect local environments through regenerative agriculture.  

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

We are confronted with various intractable problems today – from health and nutrition to disruption of rural livelihoods, poverty, income inequality and climate change.  However, that there is a common thread that connects all of these problems – they are all components of our current food system, and this food system is broken.  We believe that addressing the core challenges in our failing food system offers the opportunity to tackle the myriad risks that we face today.

Modern agriculture is optimized for higher yields and greater profits (at least for some), but not for health, environmental sustainability or prosperity of communities.  It is also unnaturally dependent on external inputs and is a major contributor to global warming, which is now devastating food production through extreme weather phenomena like droughts and floods. 

Further, this elaborate and impersonal system views food as just another commodity to be sold according to market forces, which leads to enormous wastage and creates a society where we, as humans, are forgetting the value of food we consume. 

The city of Bangalore and adjoining areas of the Kolar-Chikkaballapur Region (the “KC Region”) are a glaring example of this disrupted food-system.  

Despite a growing economy, Bangalore is overwhelmed with socio‑economic inequalities, natural resource degradation, pollution, health and lifestyle ailments.  Customers in Bangalore also lack access to a trusted source of chemical-free food. 

At the same time, the KC Region has witnessed a virtual collapse of rural livelihoods due to shrinking profits, land fragmentation, climate change and pressure from over-commercialization.  Today, youth among these rural communities are shunning agriculture in favour of low paying manual jobs in the cities resulting in an aging rural population. 

We have started Spudnik Farms to respond some of these challenges.  We believe only a direct link between farmers and consumers can guarantee farmer prosperity, nutritious food supply, and a resilient ecosystem.  We are thus, building a community of local “family farmers” who grow and supply organic vegetables directly to households in Bangalore on a subscription basis.


a) Organising farmer communities – Our team connects with interested farmers, understands their needs, challenges, aspirations and constraints.


b) Creation of demand – We then create a demand/ market for the farmers in the community.  The traditional approach to vegetable supply chain involves bringing produce to markets and then “pushing” it on to consumers.  Spudnik creates a “pull”-based supply chain, which means produce is grown according to confirmed demand.  The pull-based supply chain leads to the following advantages:

  • Less food-wastage;
  • A ready market for produce;
  • Better utilization of land and resources; and
  • Greater food autonomy for customers


c) Production planning and agricultural extension services - We then plan production and provide extension services and technical advice to farmers.  We are developing an Android farm planning application (the “App”), which will enable planning, management and remote monitoring of farming activities keeping in mind the demand, farmer goals, growing conditions, availability of resources etc. 

The App will:

  • enable creation of a detailed layout of the farm, with crop information, crop rotation patterns etc;
  • allow tracking of the progress of each crop, from sowing until harvest;
  • provide information regarding yields;
  • calculate growing periods and harvest times, and provide reminder prompts, allowing easy scheduling of farming activities;
  • provide information on nutrition, disease and pest management in a crop cycle;
  • record agricultural inputs and expenses and enable tracking of costs;
  • permit stored data to be compared with actual growing data to allow tracking of patterns, changes in yields, update data etc.


The App will allow automation of planning and documentation activities that are performed manually by our team today, and would also help in remote monitoring of farms.  It would also support a more efficient supply chain through more scientific yield estimates and better land utilization. 


d) Regenerative agriculture - We align production with principles and methodologies of regenerative agriculture, and have identified nine main practices that guide us:

  • Minimal disturbance of soil including “zero/ minimal tilling” practices to increase carbon sequestration;
  • Crop rotation to improve and maintain soil fertility;
  • Encouraging diversity through polyculture;
  • Mulching including cover cropping to preserve soil moisture and improve soil health;
  • Animal integration – Incorporating grazing into the crop cycle, along with application of manure and other natural nutrient solutions like jeevamrutha made using dairy products;
  • Planting more perennial crops to reduce top soil erosion, increase carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling efficiency;
  • On-farm preparation of inputs required for pest, disease and nutrition management;
  • Seed saving; and
  • Agroforestry to maintain better micro‑climate, reduce soil erosion and increase biodiversity.


We provide training and advice to farmers in the above methodologies.  We encourage use of traditional knowledge and practices, which not only reduce cost of cultivation but also help in maintaining food diversity and farmer autonomy.  Apart from this, we guide farmers on water conserving techniques like drip irrigation and rain water harvesting to better manage water resources.


e) Seed autonomy - Seed saving is vital to our work, and hence it is important to elaborate on the reasons for this. 

Agricultural policy in post-Independence India began in the context of food shortages.  Hence, the focus of seed research was better germination rates, higher yields and longer shelf life.  Also, most of the research was focussed on foodgrains such as rice and wheat, and a handful of horticultural crops, while ignoring the native diversity of crops in India. 

Today, India has become a net exporter of food and faces very different challenges.  Unfortunately, our seed policy has not kept pace and continues to chase higher yields.  

One consequence of this centralized policy is that farmers have been pushed out of seed saving and forced to become dependent on sterile, patented seeds sold by industries which are increasingly monopolizing the seed supply.  For consumers, it has led to a shrinkage in the native diversity of food consumed.  Also, unlike native crops, the seeds being produced are not adapted to local soil and weather conditions. 

When nutrition, rising input costs and climate change are major challenges to agriculture, our seed policy and research seem to be failing us.

Hence, we are creating localised native/ indigenous seed banks and provide free seed access to farmers within the network. 

  • Traditional seeds are better adapted to local growing conditions and more resistant to pests, diseases and environmental conditions. 
  • Some crops like millets, jackfruit, moringa, and indigenous tubers are important plant sources of protein and nutrition.  We are trying to re-introduce this native crop diversity into consumers diets.
  • Traditional seeds are also specifically bred for superior taste and flavour.
  • Traditional seeds do not have a peak season harvest, so harvesting is staggered and lasts for a longer duration.
  • Using traditional seeds also means increased diversity, which in turn increases resilience in the face of climate change.
  • Traditional seeds reduce input costs for farmers as they can save their own seeds for the next growing season.
  • A decentralized approach to seed production leads to greater autonomy in food production, both for farmers and consumers.


f) Direct distribution channels – We create direct distribution channels for the farm produce to reach consumers in the city.  We believe direct and local distribution channels have many advantages:

  • Direct procurement from farmers allows traceability, which means consumers can trust the source of food. 
  • For farmers, a direct distribution channel means better prices.
  • Local and direct procurement means a shorter supply chain, which delivers fresher food.
  • A “reasonable distance supply chain” reduces costs and carbon footprint. 


g) Subscription model - We distribute farm produce on a subscription model, ie, consumers pay upfront to become subscribers, and receive a share in the harvest from network farms.  This model has the following advantages:

  • It allows us to grow crops against a pre-determined demand leading to less food wastage and better utilization of resources.
  • Farmers are guaranteed a market for their produce.
  • It allows farmers to factor cost of production in their price, and liberates them from external market pressures.
  • Upfront payment of money eases cash-flow and reduces farmer reliance on loans.


Conclusion

For most of human history, mankind has been very closely connected with the land.  Every civilization has used land as a food source, and agriculture has constantly advanced to keep up with the opportunities, requirements and challenges of the changing world.  From domestication of plants and animals to improving methods of agriculture and increasing yields, agriculture has evolved according to the challenges of the times. 

A major challenge facing humankind today is sustainable food production in the wake of falling profits, socio-economic inequalities, climate change and natural resource degradation including soil degradation and biodiversity loss.  It is a complex problem with many contributing factors. 

We believe agriculture has the innate characteristics to rise up to this challenge.  But since the problem is multi-faceted, what is required is an integrated view of agriculture, commerce, biodiversity and nutrition, which will tackle problem on multiple fronts.

We believe Spudnik Farms presents one such holistic model that can be used to address these issues.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • It was mentioned to me by a friend.

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