OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Sristi Village - Strengthening the abilities of people with disabilities through eco-conscious care farms

A world where people with developmental challenges live respected, valued and dignified lives in an inclusive and eco-responsible society

Photo of Karthikeyan Ganesan
0 1

Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Sristi Foundation

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.

Ethos Agriculture (www.ethosagriclture.com) – Sustainability advisors

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://www.sristivillage.org/

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

  • 3-10 years

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

Villupuram District, Tamil Nadu

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

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

Tamil Nadu, India

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The place is my home. I grew up in Baby Sarah’s Home orphanage (30km from the current Sristi Village Care Farm) which fosters marginalized children: disabled and non- disabled. Growing up in an orphanage I soon realized that my disabled brothers and sisters had limited opportunities in life.

After leaving the orphanage, I studied and received a degree in psychology, but then decided to return to the orphanage and work. From then, it became my aim not only to give the disabled children a home, but to help them get a job later and have better chances in life through good nutrition and life skills.

Through my academic research and my personal experience, I noticed that many people with disabilities based in rural India are not provided support services (limited social services are only provided in the cities). After surveying 43 villages in Tamil Nadu I met with families of 300 disabled people and found that they were often malnourished and not getting a chance to learn and work. Coupled with reduced wages and opportunities for agricultural workers, I saw an opportunity to redefine how a farm could be utilized.

I have spent the last 7 years establishing the Sristi Foundation and the Sristi Village Care Farm. Here rural people with learning disabilities have the chance to live, learn, work, and generate food and income in a self-sustaining eco-farm.

My primary research has shown that just in one district there are 300+ disabled people who need care farm services. There is great demand in Tamil Nadu for these farms, for better food and for skilled labour to support people with disabilities. I want to create more eco-care farms and build skilled labour to encourage workforce development of rural Indians while serving people with disabilities

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

Tamil Nadu is one of the 28 states of India. Based in the south east it is the tenth largest Indian state by area and has the sixth largest by population (72 million). Within the rural areas farming contributes to over 50 percent of income. The poorest households (those in the lowest income quintile) receive almost 78 percent of their income from cultivation and agricultural wage labour. Villupuram, a district of Tamil Nadu and home of the current first Sristi care farm was named one of the 250 most undeveloped districts (out of a total of 640) in the country in 2006. The story of Villapuam is representative of the rural communities throughout Tamil Nadu.

Tamil is a vast land with varying topology. The western and southern parts are hilly and rich in vegetation. The Western Ghats traverse the entire western border with Kerala, effectively blocking much of the rain of the south west monsoon from entering the state. The eastern parts are fertile coastal plains and the northern parts are a mix of hills and plains. The central and the south-central regions are arid plains and receive less rainfall than the other regions. Within Tamil Nadu the risk of poverty is considerably more pronounced amongst those whose land is not irrigated. The state has the country's third longest coastline making it a large fish producer.

The climate of the state ranges from dry sub-humid to semi-arid. The state has two distinct periods of rainfall, monsoon season, June to Sep and Oct to Dec. We are entirely dependent on these rains for recharging water resources. Monsoon failures lead to acute water scarcity and severe drought.

THE PEOPLE

According to the World Bank, 49% of the workforce is agriculture based. In rural areas 25% of the population live in poverty (14% in urban areas). Tamil Nadu is 87.5% Hindu and steeped in traditions. In Villupuram, the average literacy of the district was 63.48%, compared to the national average of 72.99%. The most widely celebrated festival is the harvest festival of Pongal, a huge 3-day affair where we give thanks to the lands and animals for providing for us and usher in the new year. Tamil Nadu is famous for its deep belief that serving food to others is a service to humanity, a culture that is very uncommon in many regions of India. The region has a rich range of cuisine involving both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Rice, legumes and lentils are used extensively, and the most amazing flavours are achieved by the blending of various spices

Tamil is one of the oldest languages in the world (over 2000 years old)

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

72000000

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

The food system is facing a myriad of challenges with the rural poor most impacted.

Studies in rural areas show pregnant women’s nutritional intake is dangerously low, leading to malnourished children. This is increasing the prevalence of mental disabilities in rural areas as malnutrition is associated with pathology of the brain. The effect of chronic protein energy malnutrition is causing stunting and wasting in children and impacting development of higher cognitive processes during childhood. If nutritional intervention happened this could help children’s cognitive development recover and not succumbing to mental and physical problems later in life. 

On the supply side there is growing competition for fertile land, energy and water. Rising temperatures and delayed rainy seasons are decreasing crop yields, slowing growth and reducing food stocks. Meanwhile urbanisation of young people means farmers are facing rising wage costs, reducing the outputs of the local economy. Inefficiencies are also costing us, with up to 43% of India’s macros lost from production to fork. India’s farming technology also lags with limited access to high tech services and machines. This is all leads to higher food prices, impacting rural consumers who have no buffer to cost rises (unlike producers / distributors).

On the demand side population pressures are increasing and poor diets caused by a lack of education and higher prices are resulting in malnourished rural communities. Income inequality is on the rise and large corporations are consolidating power and taking sovereignty of food systems.

As we lose people to cities and lose access to local quality food, we lose the Tamil way of life, the culture and the connection to the food that we know is a crucial part of the human life system and support structures.

We also have a situation where only 1.5% of the 1.6 million Indians with intellectual disabilities are in employment. An often forgotten part of the food system they are a huge untapped resource pool as well as a significant cost for Tamil Nadu – the Tamil Nadu disability budget 19/20 was USD$80mn

At the current trajectory, by 2050 the situation will be worse. Challenges due to climate system changes, water scarcity, and declining soil fertility through land degradation will reduce yields, per capita food supply and increase prices. Population growth (projections show 6 million increase  by 2040) and rising economic inequality will pressure the food system greatly.

An ageing population will also impact food supply (the proportion of 60+ will be 22.6% by 2041 from 10.4% in 2011). For the learning disabled they will become even more vulnerable, continue to be undervalued in our economic system, live unfulfilled lives and be a large cost to the state.

As technology advances farms will be able to increase yields, but the right government policies are needed to ensure rural communities can access and benefit (e.g. interest free loans to buy equipment). As India’s domestic food supply can’t keep up with demand, its likely India will change its policy to encourage more imports, impacting on food producers as well as raising the climate cost of food.

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

Care farming (recognised by the United Nations) offers disadvantaged people the possibility to participate in meaningful and productive activities, by appreciating and focusing on their potential and capabilities.

The current Sristi Care Farm provides a model for integrating people with disabilities into a learning environment. This self-sustaining farming system utilizes livestock, organic agriculture and renewable energy and provides occupational therapy, vocational training and nutrition to residents and non-residents.

The farms address all the challenges of the food system – providing a new model for social services, food sovereignty and environmental sustainability.

Our current 35-person care farm combats environmental pressures by using a proven, economically-viable and sustainable farming practice (5-layer farming) creating year-round income and higher yields with less water and without chemicals. Combining this with water management (e.g. greywater) technology and renewable energy (solar), we have turned arid land in to a sustainable farm that is combating climate change.

Our diversified farming methods ensure a variety of organic crops are grown, which can are used by our knowledgeable kitchen staff to make, and educate others on, nutritious meals. A person’s health is directly connected to their diet – so our new food system reduces the impact on local health systems, reduces malnourishment and break cycles of poverty and disability. With vulnerable learning disabled and community workers being fed directly from our farm, we also reduce their vulnerability to future food price rises and increase their purchasing power.

The Indian food system loses food in agricultural production and post-harvest waste stages of the supply chain, with other significant losses in processing and distribution. With Sristi Care farm the localised producer – consumer relationship reduces waste. It also reclaims food sovereignty from corporations giving the local people control and ownership over their food system.

Our farm helps fix the rural economy slow down, as well as the issue of urbanisation of young people and reduction in labour supply, by providing a replicable model that unleashes the potential of thousands of learning-disabled people. Our farm provides the required support services such as health facilities, food nutrition & security and access to the labour market using a de‐institutionalising model.

Sristi farms does so much more than just produce food – it uses food and culture’s connection to bring Tamil people closer to their food again and reconnect them with their roots. This novel social service integrates learning disabled workers with neighbouring villages, changing the stigmatised culture around disabilities.

In the future, the farm’s enhanced use of technology (soil samples etc) to make data driven decisions will be replicated across farms to bring the average cost down and open up access to technology for rural farms, increasing yields

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.

Sristi Care farm provides a model that disrupts and transforms the food system - unlocking the potential of a previously ignored workforce and using a replicable model that harnesses new technologies and a revolutionary social ethos, executed at local level. In a world that seems to become more insular, soulless and de-personal Sristi provides proof that there is a better way.

PLACE

The sustainable care farming has reclaimed arid land, replacing it with fertile and productive soil. Throughout India sustainable farming is the norm. The Sristi model has scaled to help millions – the effective sustainable productive farming practices put in place have been replicated by many, removing inefficient farming methods. Sristi hast started an open source farming movement, creating models and systems that can be followed to create eco farms. With this change, the government start to release interest free loans and expertise to speed up the expansion. The output of the 30 farms and the many others have increased output. This combined with the new tourism boost of people coming to see the farms has increased the wealth in rural areas.

PEOPLE

Everyone is working the land, learning skills and living fulfilled lives. The learning-disabled workers are happy. Malnutrition rates are tending towards zero and the disability cycle is broken. We no longer see the effect of chronic malnutrition causing stunting and wasting in children. The high-quality organic food the farm produces is used to create nutritious meals that feed farm members and the local community.

The success of the farms has resulted in a more accepting culture of people with learning difficulties. Their skills and confidence have only grown, helping them contribute more to society.

Finally - the cultural roots of Tamil Nadu are rejuvenated, with food celebrated. The rural areas have strong communities and the migration to big cities has halted due to the productive and fulfilling lives being made possible by Sristi farms

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

There has been a paradigm shift in the way the people of Tamil Nadu treat themselves, each other and the earth. Sristi foundation’s pioneering farm model has created 30 leading lights in the fight to keep our food healthy and sustainable. Where big business has failed, Sristi’s local and community inclusive model has helped thousands thrive with a Sristi style care farm in each of Tamil Nadu’s districts.

Sristi’s innovative approach to farming focuses on community inclusive sustainable farming practices and encourages people with intellectual disabilities people to get in to work. Turbo charged over 30 years ago with a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, Sristi’s farms have gone from strength to strength helping secure a better future for Tamil Nadu’s and India’s food system and people.

The Sristi Farm model has been broken down in to modular chunks so others can create the sustainable care farm that fits within their land requirements. This has allowed it to scale across Tamil Nadu and the whole of India.

The Sristi foundation itself manages over 30 residential sustainable eco farms (around 100 people in each farm) that combine the latest in technology with environmentally friendly farming practice. Every part of the Sristi farms are carefully planned and managed to ensure the best yield in the most efficient way possible.

When it comes to the environment, nothing is left to chance. They use a layered farming model to grow a variety of crops from ginger to peaches using as a little water as possible and create self-regulating ecosystems that remove the need for chemicals or pesticides. On the topic of water, the farms have huge rainwater harvesting operations going on as well as managing their greywater to ensure nothing is wasted All these feed in to different places for use e.g. the water purifiers for drinking or the drip irrigation system to quench the plants’ thirst! This farming method combined with the water management brings biodiversity to areas that were once completely arid.

Malnutrition has historically been an issue for India. Now we’ve seen the fast food craze damage our urban populations as people eat too much and unhealthily. But not here in Sristi Farm – the home-grown organic food is cooked in to tasty dishes by the kitchen staff for all those who work on the farm and surrounding area. Excess harvest is stored in the state of art solar powered storage facility or sold to the surrounding people. Nothing is wasted – any food excess from the meals is fed to the small number of live stock who in turn create some great manure for the farm. Farm members and locals are given nutrition and diet lessons showing how to get a well-rounded diet, using low cost local food.

When you look at this 2050 farm it’s hard to imagine what it might have looked like 30 years ago. The integration of digital technologies and new farming methods with the knowledge and passion of rural communities has been astounding. All the electricity comes from solar panels, with excess electricity stored in state-of-the-art batteries for when it is needed. Each farm has a simple but useful dashboard where they can see what’s going on across the farm, receive Artificial Intelligence led improve suggestions and make the correct decisions accordingly. Whether that’s reducing a slightly acidic soil sample or fixing a leaking irrigation pipe. A number of their learning-disabled workers are in fact very talented with the digital products, it’s great to see what they can do!

With all this going on it’s great to see the economic impact that’s been had. The most obvious one is the engaging of the learning-disabled workers on the farms. Across the 30 original farms there are 3000 happy, hardworking and fulfilled learning-disabled workers, men and women, contributing to the Tamil Nadu economy. They originally helped fill the roles of many of the old farming community’s’ sons and daughters who left for the cities, which ensured the rural areas could keep producing food. Now they are running the show, setting an example for all of rural India to follow. Many no longer require state support to look after them and Tamil Nadu’s government is showing their approval by passing policies to funding future Sristi farms solidifying their belief that this is the best way to drive integrated rural development through combining social services, model farms and workforce development.

The environmental, technological and economic success of the Sristi farms has brought great visibility to farming, food and equal rights for learning disabilities. So much so that Sristi is the gold standard for how community led food initiatives should be run. The Tamil Nadu government has recently come out with a new policy to encourage the inclusion of person with intellectual disabilities in the workplace. They also have highlighted the need for people to eat nutritious and wholesome meals like those in Sristi, putting in place policies to stop the proliferation of unhealthy high calorie and low nutrition food.  

The biggest impact Sristi has goes far beyond good water management, tasty peaches or farming dashboards. Sristi has changed the culture in Tamil Nadu and in India. In saving our rural food systems, they’ve saved so much more. A culture of inclusions now rings through the state. Communities from the North to the South care about their food again, they treat people with intellectual disabilities with respect and happily use their skills. People are marching on to scale these farms and create a secure future for all.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Saurin Nanavati – Startegic adviser to Sristi Village

0 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment