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Living Beyond Binaries of People, Place, Prosperity

Socially and ecologically ethical food systems that provide locally appropriate nutrition with a positive ecological footprint (zero waste)

Photo of Satyarupa Shekhar
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Palni Hills Conservation Council (PHCC)

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.

Madhu Ramnath, the Vice President of PHCC, is an advisor. Madhu is an ethno-botanist, who is now active in documenting and promoting the use of wild (uncultivated) foods,often neglected by mainstream food policies in the country.Madhu is engaged in work studies linking culture and ecology, and documents the vast latent knowledge that indigenous communities have about biodiversity conservation.Through his work,he demonstrates that agriculture,food security and forest protection policies have paid little attention to the lands and forests inhabited by indigenous communities.He has lived among the indigenous communities of Bastar, in central India, and has extensively written about forests, wild foods of South Asia, food and forest policy.

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?

Republic of India

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


What country is your selected Place located in?

Republic of India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Satyarupa Shekhar has grown up in the Nilgiris mountains and has lived in Chennai for the past decade.For her,Chennai is both easy going and an influential hub for exciting innovation,especially with cuisine experimentation.She loves that people are welcoming and hospitable,gently challenging boundaries but remaining accommodating and embracing of cultural and social diversity.Her work on urban governance allows her to interact with municipal officials to improve the delivery of public services and making planning pro poor.She has conceptualised and executed innovative action research projects that re-look at common urban challenges,including those on informal waste workers,public toilets,waste management - each has resulted in significant positive changes in municipal policy and practice.She has worked with Chennai’s city government and one Tamil Nadu state department to improve their data management practices to plan civic infrastructure better,and has supported the creation of data that has been used by the city government,Madras High Court,and other civil society organisations.Satyarupa is recognised as a commentator on urban governance in Chennai, and data and civic technology for development. 

Ajay Tannirkulam is a native Tamil speaker who was born and raised in Eastern India.His educational pursuits took him to Mumbai for an undergraduate degree in applied Physics and to Michigan,Ann Arbor for a Phd in Astrophysics. Fortuitous circumstances brought him to Chennai (his father’s hometown) in 2009.A stint at microeconomics research and interaction with farming households created a new passion for understanding agriculturalists and agricultural ecosystems.In 2012,he co-founded an organisation that works with 1500+ small and marginal farmers and farm workers towards reducing drudgery and to make the crop choices and production methods eco-friendly.

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.

Tamil people are proud of their culture, which they express through music,martial arts,dance,literature and poetry,food and architecture.More than 40 million people call Tamil Nadu home and are proud of Tamil,one of the oldest surviving classical languages, Bharatnatyam,a classical dance,and classical Carnatic music, myriad folk music and dance forms,and temple architecture. At the same time, Tamilians are hospitable,open to others and new ideas, and increasingly experimental. Tamil food culture is diverse,a reflection of the historically rigid caste lines interacting with  plentiful food sources and new diasporas that accompanied invasions and migrations,including to Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. Vegetarian, coastal,and meat-heavy cuisines are part of the milieu. Rice, pulses, millets, groundnuts, sugarcane, vegetables, root and aquatic food, milk, honey, and spices like tamarind, chillies, pepper, cinnamon, turmeric produced here create a colourful and spicy food palette.

The Western Ghats,Thiruvannamalai Hills,Palar and Cauvery rivers’ drainage systems, and the Bay of Bengal create 5 agro ecological zones in the area. Annual rainfall varies between 600 mm to 2500 mm,giving rise to a vegetation diversity that ranges from the tropical-ever-green forests to dry thorn forests.The region is home to 36 indigenous, nomadic communities who constitute 1% of the population,but their lifestyles and cultures are threatened by the shrinking forests and grasslands.Half of the population is rural and  dependent on agriculture and allied activities and more than 500,000 households rely on fishing for their livelihoods. 

Chennai,the largest city in the state with a population of 8 million,is the political and economic capital of Tamil Nadu,with the automobile and IT industries bringing in residents from different parts of the country and the world. Chennai hosts close to 100 diplomatic missions,many of which host music, theatre,and food festivals that constantly introduce Chennaiites to new cultures and foods.New apps are letting consumers choose meals that combine meals from restaurants,street vendors and home chefs.Chennai is easy going with a rebellious streak,constantly evolving to reflect its cosmopolitan diaspora. 

Rural urban migration is making cities more crowded and preferences for urban employment are largely driving people’s aspirations.Women washing,children bathing, fishermen standing in knee-deep water, and colourful boat races are images that urban residents say disappeared less than a decade ago. Many low-income communities and fishers are deeply saddened by the complete absence of green vegetables,fish and crab that were easily accessible on the banks and shallow waters of the rivers. Chennai’s urban poor are severely under-nourished,although this is far more related to their lack of income than to a lack of capacity to produce food. Their incomes are so low that their health and nutritional status are at risk from any rise in staple food prices.

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.

Many Chennai residents can still recall the Cooum and Adyar rivers being an integral part of their daily life. Today, they see only garbage, sewage and industrial effluents. Despite the high rate of urbanisation, poor planning plagues cities: pristine lakes and fertile river floodplains were used to build low income housing sites, and to dispose of construction and industrial waste. A similar transformation can be observed among rural and tribal communities. Regardless of the rainfall conditions, public policy has caused agriculture, culture and diets to be dominated by rice, banana, coconut and sugarcane; crops that have short production cycles and are water intensive. Large swathes of hillsides have been cleared to grow tea, coffee and bananas. 

Though more people are engaged in agriculture, fisheries, and livestock rearing, their incomes are declining, resulting in rural to urban migration, and seeking employment in the services sector. This has caused distress sales of rural lands, farmer suicides, and a high incidence of bonded labour. Forests have shrunk and fragmented due to expanding farms and urban areas, resulting in the forced displacement of tribal communities. They rue that the loss of their lands, foods and stories is causing a loss in identities. 

A variety of traditional protein and vitamin rich foods have been replaced by rice in diets and aspirations. Vegetables are more expensive than pre-packaged food. Public policy and subsidies promotes an excessive reliance on modified crops, petrochemical-based fertilisers and farm machinery, and dependence on water and electricity. Public supplies of staples are cheap but poor quality, prompting many to sell it to more needy and use the profits to buy better quality food.

In 2050, 1/3 of Chennai would be submerged and large swathes of coastal TN would be inundated due to sea level rise. Rainfall and temperature variations would be amplified, and groundwater more saline. Nearly 1/4 of the population remains poor and depends on the public food system to meet their calorie needs and income constraints. The public food system continues to be calorie-focused, but would have diversified in a limited way to include more complex carbohydrates. Urban culture and diets are heavily influenced by global trends, but local farmers are unable to respond effectively. While traditional foods have made a come-back, people are not open to new protein sources.

Sadly in 30 years,large food corporations will still dominate the food supply chain,and large farmers continue to receive larger shares in water;thus able to plant multiple crops.Many of them would have taken to palm oil cultivation to benefit from the public subsidy.Small and medium farm holdings will be dominant, though continue to battle inadequate state protection against large food corporations.Public policy will have made some concessions but due to lobbyists and international pressures from foreign businesses and companies,there will still be structural challenges in urban and agriculture policies that support capitalist and mechanised systems of food production that is devoid of nature and of the role of farmers.

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

Our vision empowers people to overcome poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and stewardship of the environment so that future generations can also live in prosperity. It builds autonomy and adaptive capacities through four key pathways. 

Embrace agroecology Farmers adopt a holistic farming practice where they do not purchase anything from outside, relying instead on nature and human waste to provide the water and nutrients necessary. They would introduce fast-growing, drought resistant, pollinator-friendly fruit trees that are popular in local cuisines and culture, whose fruits are also nutritious. Farms and urban gardens would have a combination of canopy trees, herbaceous plants, vines, surface and rhizomatic plants. They would rely on biofences and buffer zones to establish the continuum from farms to forests, thereby enhancing the ability of plants to self-regulate their pest control and be climate resilient. 

Prioritise health and diets Public food schemes introduce complex carbohydrates millets to directly improve the nutritional intake of 75-80% of the population. Public investments recognise that clean water, sanitation and hygiene improve nutrition and health, thus integrating these to prevent diarrhoeal and parasitic diseases. Damage to intestinal development is avoided and leads to a reduction in mal/undernutrition and stunting in children. Agroecology supports rural women to develop autonomy through commercialisation of collective action, like producer groups. Women (with the support of policy makers and civil society organisations to build capacity and knowledge) become more autonomous and empowered to positively shape household food security, dietary diversity, and health.

Establish psychological-spatial connectomes Place-relationship patterns improve the way people interact to establish a continuum of microhabitats that benefit food production. Urban policy mandates in situ waste and water recycling, renewable energy, and encourage home and rooftop gardens to grow microgreens and perennials, while also reducing their energy demand for air conditioning. Biomimetics provides low-cost and low-tech equipment to make growing food in homes easier. Technology enables farmers to connect with consumers for farm to home delivery services, and consumers can trace nutrition and supply chain information of food products.

Reduce ecological footprint Decentralised processing of human and food waste replaces petrochemical-based fertilisers and fuel for public food kitchens. Economics and technology replace plastic with coconut coir, banana fibre, and mushroom-based packaging. Informational technology allows consumers to scan their food for quality and nutritional information so that food and packaging waste can be avoided. Indigenous communities and smallholder farmers provide subscription-based harvest boxes that contain locally available and sustainably harvested wild honey, fruits, and root crops.

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.

Chennai is a celebration of diversity and a local, regional and national influencer in the relationship between people, food, production and space. Everyone has sufficient food that is safe and nutritious, allowing them to live full and happy lives. People will be passionate about what they put in their bodies and care about how it was produced leading to a major reduction of chemical based agriculture as well as a greater variety of species cultivated. People will discuss and ask each other about where and the techniques used to produce what is on their plate. Urban centres will flourish with uncommon breeds and unusual varietals. It will be trendy to be a food producer, whether that be on traditional agricultural spaces or from your apartment balcony. People will share seeds and discuss traits as they want to experiment with cross breeding. Food production will no longer be seen as work for the poor, but something shared across all socio-economic and geographical lines. 

Food will be produced in holistic systems that reduce waste through recognising the non monetary benefits of farm outputs (such as stalks for mulch or animal waste for fertiliser or biogas). Resilient land and water management ensure the healthy functioning of vital ecosystem services such as pollination, soil nutrient cycling, natural pest control and watershed services. Natural and wild areas will be preserved due to reduced pressure to clear land for agriculture, plants will be able to co-mingle and proliferate in numerous interfacing areas leading to increased plant genetic diversity that is climate adapted and resistant to pests and disease. Access to food will be affordable and stable because it has reduced susceptibility to vulnerability and market fluctuations. Individuals, communities, private sector and governments take ownership and provide a social structure that prioritise healthy and ecologically sustainable food production.

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

Our vision is for Chennai to be diverse and resilient, with a continuum of landscapes that support human and ecological development. Conventional efforts focus on boosting agricultural output to produce more food, but today’s challenges – growing populations, shrinking forests and farms, rural to urban migration, corporate dominance, and  climate change – demand a new approach. We urgently need to transition to a more sustainable food system that produces more, with more socio-economic benefits and with less environmental consequences. The food system is in resonance with patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies, and the interrelationships are in synergy with each other such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It minimises waste, human labour, and energy input by choosing details that require minimum care, are regenerative naturally, and interdependent. 

People & Relationship to food and land: Our Vision rebalances the role of cultural traditions and indigenous knowledge in a way that enhances diversity, resilience, and synergies. People have an understanding of where their food comes from. Not only do they choose foods that they grow in home gardens and family farms, they are more mindful of what they eat. They choose foods that have relatively lower greenhouse gas emissions throughout their supply chain, not just in transport. As a bottom-up, grassroots paradigm for sustainable rural development, agroecology empowers people to become their own agents of change. We seek to build a food system that recognises the contribution of women to food production, biodiversity, and household nutrition.

“I live and work in Madurai, which has provided me career opportunities that Javadumalai will never provide. But I have an emotional connection with the forests and my land. I hope my children also have the same relationship.” - 33 yo man with PhD

Nutrition & Health: People have access to nutritious, safe and affordable foods, thanks to the diversity in foods suitable to the climactic, geographic, cultural, and income diversity. Millets and dry-land varieties of rice and pulses are suitable for small holding farms and do not require irrigation. Root and tuber crops would provide nutrition, food and income security, as well as enhance climate resilience. Aquatic plants, such as lotus, chestnut, watercress, and even water hyacinth, have proteins and minerals comparable to some animal proteins, and could be included in the culinary mix as nutrition supplements.

“India has not solved its calorie problem. More than 70% of its population depends on the public food system for its staples. Tamil Nadu should introduce more complex carbohydrates as well as enhance the quality of its products” - Jean Dreze, economist

Environment: Forests and water systems would be envisioned as sources of food, thus ensuring their protection from land use changes and pollution. The Sholas are a biodiversity hotspots, with the forests and grasslands forming a unique system of water towers where six springs that feed the Cauvery river originate. Aquatic biomes would be protected by increased plantation of mangrove forests, as well as working upstream to the springs. Growing kelp, seaweed, select tubers, and fish could greatly enhance the availability of nutritious foods. 

“35 years ago I used to run away from people like you. Tribal farmers have been cheated on so many occasions by people from the city and plains. But I realise that I must work with you to save our forests and rivers. We cannot do it by ourselves” - 72 yo farmer, male


Food production landscapes: Farms, crops, landscapes, and livestock are organised to reap maximum benefits from the interdependence of plants, animals, and humans. The system is designed to enhance diversity by integrating horizontal and vertical layers with canopy, shrub, soil surface, rhizosphere, and vines. It also creates more interfaces, which is where biodiversity is enriched, such as farm-forest buffers, biofences. The food production landscapes are a continuum, thus choosing to harvest products that are naturally present. Thus, farms are complemented by forests, rivers and sea as spaces where food is produced. 

“There is no money in agriculture but I have grown old amidst the forests and hills. I cannot imagine living elsewhere, but my children and grandchildren want more than these hills can provide” - 65 yo farmer


Waste & Use of resources: Agroecology imitates natural ecosystems, which support biological processes that drive the recycling of nutrients, biomass and water within production systems, thereby increasing resource-use efficiency and minimising waste and pollution. Recycling can take place at homes, farms, and within landscapes, through diversification and building of synergies between different components and activities. For example, agroforestry systems that include deep rooting trees can capture nutrients lost beyond the roots of annual crops. Crop–livestock systems promote recycling of organic materials by using manure for composting or directly as fertiliser, and crop residues and by-products as livestock feed. In urban areas, food and human waste can be used to processed to produce energy to replace fossil fuels. Recycling delivers multiple benefits by closing cycles and reducing waste that translates into lower dependency on external resources, increasing the autonomy of producers and reducing their vulnerability to market and climate shocks. 

“I never thought Chennai residents would manage their own waste. I am pleasantly surprised that the government adopted decentralised waste management and so many residents are composting their bio waste” - 42 yo waste worker, male


Climate change & Resilience:  Diversified systems have a greater capacity to recover from weather  disturbances, such as droughts, and to resist pest attacks. By adopting agroecological practices, our food landscapes promote the organisms to self-regulate against diseases. Food producers are also better able to reduce their vulnerabilities to failures of single crops, livestock or prices. Our Vision seeks to design a diversified food system that selectively combines annual and perennial crops, livestock and aquatic animals, trees, soils, water and other components on farm, forests and urban landscapes to enhance synergies in the context of an increasingly changing climate.

“I hope robots replace hard labour in agriculture that women are burdened with” - Lady teacher in a tribal community 


Economics: Family and small farmers/ food producers have access to markets that support agro ecological products and value nutrition. Rural women are able to form producer cooperatives to provide them autonomy and income security. Agroecology helps food producers replace petrochemical-based inputs with natural and free inputs, thus reducing costs and environmental impacts. Information Technology supports the democratisation and equity of food production. For instance, back breaking work typically performed by women can be automated, thus freeing them to engage in higher value work. 

“I know how to grow crops. If the government encourages local markets, the agriculture problem can be fixed. Now I am forced to sell to a trader at whatever price he quotes” - 40 yo farmer, female


Systems/ Governance: Public policy provides the appropriate incentives and support needed to evolve the food system that provides food and climate security, and is sustainable, and regenerative. Subsidies and institutional structures encourage farm-forest continuums, minimum waste and energy inputs, and home food and forest habitats. People are also able to access a diverse basket of foods through the public food distribution system. Policy creates an enabling environment through incentives and subsidies that favour the procurement of agroecological products, advocates for the nutritional value of products, and the adoption of agroecological practices. Institutional innovations enable food producers to obtain certification.

“The public system is among the best in the country. But the market will take over as the primary source of food” - Senior bureaucrat


“The Tamil Nadu government is very motivated by successful pilots. It shows vision, and our politicians take great pride in being forerunners for food and education programmes” - Mid-level bureaucrat

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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

We were inspired by conversations with farmers, fishers, tribals, economists, waste workers, urban residents, senior civil servants, and activists who characterised the current food system as divisive and exclusionary. During Refinement, we conducted a literature review and interviews with food scientists, food influencers and social activists to help us understand food trends and issues regarding data privacy, gene modification and subsidies. These helped us check our assumptions and gather new inspiration. During the COVID lockdown, we had an unexpected opportunity to interact with migrant workers, farmers, and frontline bureaucrats to enable access to food and shelter, gaining firsthand insights into how a resilient foodshed and grassroots autonomy could deliver social justice and food security. We used scenario planning and human centred design to iterate.

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).

Ajay and Satyarupa spent over 1000 hours interacting with workers, farmers, drivers, and Chennai city officials since the start of the lockdown on March 23. They worked with a multilingual team of 30 volunteers supporting more than 50000 workers with cash, rations, vegetables, cooked meals, shelters, and travel arrangements. They helped a farmer cooperative deliver vegetables and fruit directly to workers and public canteens, benefiting farmers recoup income and crop losses due to a complete breakdown of established supply chains.

Farmers of the Toothukudi Pulses Producer Company spent 18 hours engaging with us in discussions on crazy weather patterns, invasive pest species, pesticide poisoning of humans and livestock, loss of control on seeds production and inability to access produce markets on fair terms. 

Four tribal farmers gave us poignant insights into the drastic changes in their cultural identities and culinary traditions.

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.

To eliminate the binaries of people, place and prosperity we sought out individuals who could bring the cultural and professional diversity that we were missing in our Vision. Several artists shared their stories of exclusions of traditional food producers and their aspirations for an equitable and flourishing world. One group of farmers performing their traditional harvest dance explained how young people no longer knew the moves or the different farming practices that their dances portray, yet also do not have stable city jobs. A woman filmmaker shared poignant stories of how remote communities were unable to make traditional musical instruments because specific bamboo was inaccessible. Four senior bureaucrats from TN and one from Orissa spoke with us regarding the opportunities and challenges in making the Public Food Distribution of India more nutritious, universal and accountable to the beneficiaries. They also shared their experience on household and industrial waste recycling and management, in decentralised decision making. A profile summary of the stakeholders we spoke to is as follows:

Cooperative Farmers
10 M, 5 F
Individual Farmers
7 M, 2 F
Tribal Farmers
2 M, 2 F
Tamil Nadu IAS officers
4 M
Orissa IAS officer
1 M
Corporate Food Lab
1 M
Home gardeners and permaculturists
1 F
Large Residential Communities
2 F
Domestic help and security guards
3 M, 4 F
College students and young professionals
3 M
Migrant workers
10 M
Food journalists and trend writers
2 F
Food and Ecology Scientists
3 M
Social Activists
4 M, 3 F
Agriculture Economists
2 M
Development Economist
1 F
Film maker
1 F

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

Resurgence of agroecology In 2016,Sikkim became India’s first 100 percent organic state.The TN Organic Certification Dept supports farmers in 30000 acres annually to transition from synthetic chemicals.Save our Rice campaigns have revived 150+ varieties of heirloom rice,which require less water & are drought tolerant.The Agriculture Dept promotes biofences,fruit trees as wind breakers &crop rotation.The Irrigation Dept revived the Kudimaramatthu(bund repair) scheme to restore traditional water harvesting structures through community participation.Patent claims for ownership and control of genetic resources that originate & commonly used in India, such as neem,a plant that has been used in India for more than 400 years,threaten sovereignty & are difficult to challenge.

Prioritise health and diets There is a growing local and global interest in making traditional foods a mainstay in diets.Push carts selling millet porridge, yams,dried fish are a common sight in cities.Popular chefs say the future of food is healthy,traditional & sustainable.Doctors worried by the decadal decline of daily consumption of fruits,vegetables,fish and meat & gender gap in the consumption of nutrient rich foods,recommend millets in diets.Karnataka introduced region specific millets in PDS in 2014 & Orissa’s Millet Mission 2017 incentivises consumption in nutrient-deficient communities.Insects as a nutrition source are gaining popularity and food scientists recommend adding them in public food schemes and animal feed.

Deepening psychospatial connectomes Urban populations want to be closer to small food producers.The success of food integrators like Zomato and Swiggy signal tight knit local agrivalue chains.The Horticulture Department promotes kitchen gardens and the Chennai government is adding urban forests.These signals indicate that urban populations are poised to become food producers & connect with farmers & nature.

Multifaceted economic and social roles & identities Current growth sectors like software and automobile manufacturing are going to lose jobs to automation.Only 23% of Indian women participate in the labour force now & low participation rates have been extremely sticky for decades.With our vision of non binary roles for individuals,women's identities as home makers and preparers of food will blend with their new identities as work-from-home techies,home farmers,small business owners or cooperative participants.Indian men contribute less than 15% of  domestic chores & the lockdown may nudge them towards adorning multiple roles.  

Reduce ecological footprint There is a national policy consensus to reduce the ecological footprint through waste reduction,sewage treatment & adopting renewable energy.The Central government is banning 27 toxic pesticides detrimental to pollinators & humans. Industrial scale production of near-infrared spectroscopy tools for real-time data on food freshness and safety are just a few years away.

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.).

Mira lives in Chennai. Mira manages a shop in the city where she sells organic foods and home garden materials.She sources her produce from a farm in Kalpakkam (near Chennai) which undertakes agroforestry.Every morning,she has breakfast made from a mix of fruits, tapioca pearls & coconut milk from the farm or the community garden where an assortment of herbs, chillies and greens, banana & papaya grow.After breakfast,she rides to the shop on her bicycle.She checks in with her staff & they scan the quality and freshness of all the fruits and vegetables that have arrived from the farm.Mira and her staff prepare harvest boxes for deliveries based on the freshest arrivals.Her afternoons are reserved for meetings.Today, she has a meeting with an official in the Agriculture Department to discuss the kitchen gardens in crèches and primary schools.They walk to a nearby restaurant that serves her favourite toor dal with cricket flour chapatis and jackfruit curry.Mira shares her experience with the vegetable garden & Miyawaki forest she set up in her niece’s school.Once a week,she runs an afterschool program to increase children’s experience of growing food.Her activity is part of a greater partnership of schools with the Chennai city government,which includes visits to village markets & compost centres as well as environmentally sensitive curriculum.Some days, she meets with potential suppliers.Her latest connection has been with tribal representatives from a Commodity-Based Cooperative in the Nilgiris who are eager to sell wild honey,roots & tubers in Chennai through Mira.They are also actively setting up Damar bee boxes in parks all over the city.Mira recently introduced them to her friend,Aiyana,who is the head chef of an award winning restaurant serving traditional,indigenous foods.Aiyana has more than 1 m followers on her blog & has helped popularise many forgotten foods from the region.

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

In 2050, our food system exists within regenerative and restorative ecosystems that raise the visibility of local biocultural diversity, conservation and traditional knowledge systems under the stewardship of small food producers, women, indigenous peoples, pastoralists and fisherfolks. It is characterised by diversity, localisation, and co-ownership of knowledge and risks. Adaptation is constant, following the fluctuations of climates, markets and social conditions. Nearly three-quarters of small farmers have embraced agroecology, relying on polycropping, cover copping, crop rotation, biofencing, seed exchanges, crops tolerant to temperature and rainfall. All of them have incorporated roots and tubers, which secures them from the water and temperature fluctuations, and also allows them to harvest on demand. Women-led farmer cooperatives have established specialty enterprises focused on superfoods such as moringa and jackfruit trees, catering to ever-growing demand from Africa and South East Asia. Overall, we see robust and vibrant collaborations and cooperatives of food producers based on commodity and across villages to enable them to collectively overcome the increased climate change effects, smaller land holdings and to leverage technological innovations and economic subsidies.

The average size of landholding has reduced to 0.7 hectares per capita, leading to farmers to pool their land. Farmer cooperatives have adopted polyhouse farming to make them water and energy independent, and protect fragile crops from inclement weather. They have connected these to the network of biotoilets all villages were mandated to install. They have also revived the eri (tank) system, an ancient water management system which acts as flood-control, prevents soil erosion and wastage of runoff during periods of heavy rainfall, and also recharges groundwater. They had to work with a Chennai-based NGO to use GIS to accommodate new roads and infrastructure obstructing water flows. This has enabled small farmers to harvest the more-than-adequate rainfall the region receives and insulates them against monsoon fluctuations.

Due to climate change, coastal and topsoil erosion have accelerated, the Bay of Bengal has risen another 25 cm leading to inundation of large parts of Chennai and the surrounding coast. Biodiversity has decreased due to climate change and is limited to protected areas in the Nilgiris, Tiruvannamalai, and the Chennai wetlands. Emissions from our food system have halved due to reduced fossil-fuel inputs for fertilisers, machinery, and transport. The biggest contributors to this positive impact are reduced waste along the entire supply chain, switching from rice to millet production, replacing petrochemical fertilisers and pesticides with organic fertilisers and biocontrol practices, and food supply chains reduced to 200 km from 1000s. Pre-consumer food waste has reduced from 30% to 10%. 

History of the Future

2015 Chennai floods devastation caused by human judgement, not climate change

2017 Gaja cyclone blows over hundreds of trees across the city

2019 Drought across the state with severe crisis in Chennai (water trains)

2022 TN State government publishes revises draft State Plan of Action for Climate Change, incorporating recommendations by civil society 

2024 TN faces severe drought, forcing the government to reclaim and revive water bodies to exponentially expand capacity for rainwater harvesting

2025 Pre election policy announcements focus on environmental conservation, palm oil cultivation banned. The environment is a key election issue with many voters demanding all major parties have scientifically robust plans.

2025 Hybrid solar farms shows promise combined with successful decentralised rooftop solar with microgrids prompts civil society to demand for the closure of coal-based power plants by 2040

2026 Fisherfolk in North Chennai win legal battle to get the Kosasthalaiyar River a living person status

2029 Soil Health Report Card results show promising indication of soil fertility and water

2030 TN government agrees to begin decommissioning of thermal power plants starting 2035 with all 40 TPPs permanently closed by 2050

2035 Decommissioning of thermal power plants begins; 

2047 Port, thermal power plant and oil refinery in the Kosasthalaiyar estuary dismantled; and remediation of 300 acres initiated; transition to renewable energy successful

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

In 2050, healthy, affordable and diverse food that is accessible to all, particularly urban poor, rural and tribal communities, thus eliminating hunger and reducing nutrition deficiencies. Chennai has been declared zero hunger, and undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency have been addressed. Social media and marketing campaigns influenced consumer demand to choose locally appropriate diets over Western-styled and highly processed diets, which are high in sugar, salt, fat and animal-based protein. There is also a significant decline in obesity and non-communicable diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases). This is the result from a complex mixture of national & international public policies and advocacy campaigns that aimed at reorienting consumer behavior (and wellness) through increased societal attention to healthy lifestyles, food habits and physical activities. India adopted promising national dietary guidelines, but the consumer demand shift was strongly influenced by external socio-economic factors that vary at the individual level (e.g. education, access to information, etc.). The shift was also made possible by the lower cost of a healthy diet than that of an unhealthy diet. 

However, a true pivot in what we eat comes from the shift in what is considered a food source. With rapid technological advances, plants and animals will be replaced by microbes, manipulated and processed into food that imitates the flavor and texture of plant and animal foodstuffs, but without being as resource intensive and slow-growing. Meats grown in industrial and laboratory settings resemble real meat  that consumers cannot tell them apart from real food. This is accompanied with transparency in the source of foods, which lead to cultural and faith-based frictions. There are also regulatory challenges with the classification of microbe-based food as vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Information and AI technologies will enable personalised diets to suit an individual’s genetic composition and environmental conditions. It also allows tracing which shows the origins and processing of foods e.g. the farm the food was produced, what treatments it underwent post harvest or slaughter etc.

The success of Chennai is not experienced equally across our chosen geography. New methods are being shared and adapted in areas lagging. Among rural communities and indigenous peoples, micronutrient deficiencies are still prevalent but showing gradual declines. . This is the result of the public distribution system including millets, in addition to rice. All government school, creches and canteens have replaced rice with millets, greatly enhancing the access to nutrition-based diets. In 2050, people will have adequate access to food. The key challenge of the food system will be to deliver adequate nutrition, and will be driven by ethics, cultures, and technology. 

History of the Future

2016 National Family Health Survey results reveal that India faces the burden of undernutrition and communicable diseases, and the prevalence of overweight/obesity is steadily increasing among adults

2018 Tamil Nadu UNICEF Chief states that the state does not have adequate data on malnourishment among children

2021 National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) reveals malnourishment stands at 6% among children

2021 TN state elections scheduled for May of the year; incumbent government announces slew of pre-election promises, including nutrition-based PDS, school and creche meals, as well as for meals served in public canteens

2024 National elections sees a comeback of the Congress-Left Alliance, whose earlier policies in 2004-09 had improved the country’s hunger index and pulled the maximum people out of poverty

2025 Central government initiates wide reforms to the Food Security Act, including making individual ration cards and delinking them from home states. Migrant workers can now claim rations in their place of work.

2029 ‘Impossible Foods’, a range of microbe-based foodstuffs that resemble animal protein, clears legal hurdles to be used in India, but the launch was marred by faith-based groups who claim that microbes violate their religion

2030 Consumer Affairs Department organises a mela to launch the new organic food section in PDS

2033 National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) survey shows 20% of Tamil Nadu consuming organic and pesticide-free food

2035 use by date becomes a thing of the past

2038 NFHS reveals severe malnutrition in children reduced to 3%

2043 30% of Tamil Nadu consumes sustainably grown food per NSSO. 

2047 Adopters of insect flours exceed 25% of population

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?

In 2050, local economies are characterised by short supply chains that bring consumers closer to small food producers, diversified markets based on solidarity and fair prices, and multiple sources of income. Many food producers have completely adopted agroecological food production practices, replacing petrochemical-based inputs with natural and free inputs, thus reducing costs and environmental impacts. Nearly 90% of small farmers have moved away from cash crops and towards food crops, such as grains, pulses, cereals, legumes, seeds and nuts, vegetables, herbs and spices, which has diversified their incomes across seasons. The government has included many non-grain foods as eligible for minimum support price (MSP), which has provided the right incentives for farmers to shift their cultivation pattern and still safeguard their incomes. Technology supports the democratisation and equity of food production. For instance, back breaking work typically performed by women can be automated, thus freeing them to engage in higher value work and collaborative strategy. 

Local entrepreneurship, especially women-managed, flourishes enabled by technological innovations and public funding that enable access information and infrastructure. Every village hosts farmers’ markets, farm-gate sales, box delivery schemes, and mobile shops. Commodity Based Cooperatives prove that greater benefits accrue by localising supply-chains, lowering transport costs, offering better-more direct prices to farmers themselves, and also changing the crop-cultivation pattern to localised demands that are part of the community’s palate. Medium, small and micro enterprise (MSME) sector has benefited from the policy incentives and technological advances, and in 2050 is able to provide appropriate solutions for the local context for a wide range of informal sectors, such as brick making, construction, agribusinesses, garments, etc. 

In Chennai, mobile markets ensure that food supplies are frequent, more localised and enable direct procurement of a diverse food basket from farmers. The Chennai city government also operates a mobile van fleet that distributes PDS rations on a weekly basis in areas where there are high concentrations of the urban poor. Better prices for food crops, lower input costs, the elimination of middlemen, and direct sales to urban consumers has ensured that a stable and increased value accrues to farmers. Women self help groups have successfully won public contracts for collective catering and canteens that provide only organic food sourced from within the Chennai foodshed. Consumer-producer cooperatives have enhanced social cohesion and making it more likely that farmers will stay in farming. This helps foster a sense of community in rural areas, improving the quality of life. It has also provided a basis for education on sustainability and ethical issues.

History of the Future

2020 COVID-19 pandemic triggers major economic downturn, collapse of international trade, loss of jobs in manufacturing and service sectors; Chennai continued to be in various stages of lockdown till Dec 2020, disrupting established supply chains that depend on far-off sources

2020 Commodity Based Cooperatives (CBCs) begin to form locally to respond to Chennai’s demand for a variety of farm produce

2021 TN adopts aggressive economic policies based on agroecology, medium small and micro enterprises (MSME), and tourism for health

2021 Chennai and surrounding areas see an increase in mobile vans, farmers’ markets, and doorstep delivery directly from farms

2022 Census (delayed by a year) reflects de-urbanising, with population in rural areas having increased by 40% due to COVID19

2023  Credit offtake by MSMEs shows increasing trends, reflecting expansion of operations to respond to increased demand

2023 RBI data shows doubling of online transactions on e-commerce platforms catering to farm produce

2025 Slow revival of industries as indicated by rising demand, 40% of the workforce having been lost due to automation

2027 NCRB data shows that after a peak in 2022, farmer suicides decline year-on-year for five years

2030 Survey by independent NGO shows organic foods comprise 30% of urban food consumption

2037 Central government bows to public pressure to include labour as an input in the minimum support price formula, thus giving food producers a true fair price

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

In 2050, collective actions by small food producers and consumers are transforming our food system. Consumer awareness and food science are combining culinary traditions with modern tastes in ways that encourage producers, business owners, researchers, investors and policy makers to innovate and promote well-being of humans and the environment, gender equality, and opportunities for youth. Food science is driven by local cultures, ethics, and climate, and not by the needs of large corporations and industrial agriculture. 

By shifting diets towards vegetal foods generate benefits not only for the environment, but also for human health. However, this shift is mindful of cultural identities, marginalisation and poverty, which are strong influences on eating beef, pork, fish, insects, bats, and other animals. Many indigenous communities have a rich cultural heritage of consuming these, and these are embedded in their traditions as well as conservation practices. Even today, caste plays a dominant role in all aspects of life - access to water, food, livelihood, housing, health, education in India. The rise of the right wing has exacerbated existing inequities and exclusion. 

The Food Citizens Collective, a collaboration of food bloggers, chefs and food scientists, works to preserve the culinary heritage through recipe books, cooking classes & features in restaurant menus.Recipes from rural and indigenous communities that incorporate ants,bugs & crickets have gained popularity.Coconut water,aloe vera juice & raw fruit-based juice are popular beverages.

Chennai’s Urban planners recognised the damage caused from the time of the first Master Plan in 1975 till 2026.The Master Plan 2027-2050 prioritises urban ecology & the restoration of rivers and wetlands.In 2050, the thermal power plant,port & oil refinery in the Kosasthalaiyar River have been completely dismantled.Local communities have commenced the remediation of the area & restoration of the creek and mangroves.They envision the revival of inland and sea fishing & the return of migratory birds within a couple of years.

Urban farming is flourishing in Chennai,reducing the pressure on land to compete with natural ecosystems. Both low-tech & high-tech urban farming contribute to decreasing emissions while increasing food security.Low-tech urban agriculture is taking place in rooftop gardens, unused land surrounding utility infrastructure, public buildings, such as creches and schools, and public parks. Layering the benefits these provide has revitalised the connection citizens feel with their neighbourhood. High-tech vertical agricultural systems require less space by design and have been successfully deployed in neighbourhoods with restricted spaces. In slums, the additional source of nutrients has nicely complemented the community garden, fish ponds, mobile kiosks and farmers markets that are an integral part of the neighbourhoods. 

Food citizenship is a concept that has taken root in Chennai and is shaping the view that consumers are not at the end of the food chain, but active participants in shaping the agenda, ethics and outcomes of the food system. Consumer choices are strongly influenced by women and labour rights, dignity, and the right to food. Activists have won a decades-long legal battle in the Supreme Court against Bayer Monsanto that seriously threatened the ecological integrity of the country. Strong public pressure by social movements has led to significant policy changes with respect to fertilisers and pesticides production and sale subsidies, genetic modifications, patents, and antibiotics in animal feed. 

History of the Future

2020 TN government issues advisory to use only biocontrol agents for the locust attack, and announces purchase scheme for poultry feed

2023 Free Food Movement (spearheaded by fisherfolk, small farmers) forms an alliance with the Break Free From Plastic movement to ban plastic packaging, the use of petrochemical-based farm inputs, machinery and transport by 2030

2026 Chennai’s Master Plan 2027-2050 designates the Kosasthalaiyar river and creek as a fragile ecosystem; and envisions a dismantling of the port and oil refinery by 2047

2030 Food Citizens Collective publishes 75 recipes entirely plant-based products, including mayonnaise, cookie doughs, cake mixes and dressings, with a list of mainstream outlets where these are sold

2033 Food Citizens Collective launches an open-source database with information on every plant and insect protein in the Chennai foodshed

2035 National Institute for Nutrition endorses insects as a rich source of protein fit for consumption by humans

2035 Steep fall in consumption of sugary beverages for the first time

2050 Kosasthalaiyar fishing communities host grand food celebrations showcasing their cultural and culinary traditions to mark the start of the restoration of the wetlands and revival of their culture and livelihoods

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?

In 2050, technological innovations become a way to free and give people choice, and helps everyone be part of the food production process - from hobbyist and new starters to part time/supplementary farmers. It reduces the burden of food production, and makes food systems more resource-efficient and climate-resilient. Biomimicry and other environment friendly solutions reduce toxic-chemical based insecticide and pesticide usage by 50%. Affordable and reliable soil and water sensors enable producers to apply fertilisers to soil based on measurements, which is rendered easily understandable in real time. Digital technology has powered a vibrant ‘Sharing Communities’ movement, allowing people to interact seamlessly for commodity exchange. The open source app supports demand-supply forecasting and matching to minimise food wastage without compromising privacy. Villages are equipped with renewable energy-powered granaries, cooling units, and processing units for the Public Distribution System. A block-chain based information system allows rural and tribal communities to monitor quantity, vehicle schedules, and trace sources and quality of the foods. 

Smaller quantities and shorter distances combined with improvements in packaging and infrastructure are keeping food fresh longer and preventing damage. Nanotechnology and pocket-infrared spectrometers enable real-time detection of food quality and safety reducing food wastage. Biotechnology and nanotechnology create solutions for making household and industrial waste free of toxic matter and antibiotics enabling return of organic waste and water to food production systems. New packaging materials made from mushrooms and other biodegradable materials. Invisible, edible and tasteless plant extracts are used as a barrier-like skin to protect produce from transpiration, oxidation, and microbial activity. Labels printed on fruit and vegetable surfaces eliminate packaging, and used in combination with mobile phone apps, provide information on nutrition, freshness, and source. 

Low cost, low tech cooling systems that hydrate rather than cool, and are stand alone units powered by solar energy have changed the way farmers store their perishables. They no longer find themselves at the mercy of traders or inclement weather. They also use hermetic technology to store high value agricultural commodities such as wheat, grains, maize, coffee beans, and cocoa beans. These products can be preserved for long periods when stored at the right level of moisture content, which is particularly important to maintain seed banks. New developments in geothermal cooling and silo technology allow land-race seed banks to become ubiquitous. Small food producers extend shelf life through natural and low-impact additives that are not associated with health impacts and ensure product quality or preservation techniques such as canning, drying, etc. To reduce food losses that occur between farm-gate level and retail, public campaigns have made natural shapes and sizes acceptable. Composting and other nutrient recovery techniques are employed to prevent fertiliser use production upstream. Restaurants and grocery stores use smart metres and sensors to track trends in food waste and to plan better.

Open source tools for farm management are ubiquitous enabling more production with fewer resources. AI helps create better weather, rainfall, and price models reducing risk for primary producers. Several free peer-to-peer services enable food producers to share information via SMS, without the internet and without having to leave their farm. They can ask questions on food production and receive crowd-sourced answers from other food producers around the world in minutes. Urban residents also benefit from apps that help them match plant types with their nutrient needs.

History of the future

2020 A prototype hyperspectral imager for mobile-phone based food freshness testing is released by a large cellphone maker.

2023 Commercial version of an onsite and on-chip nano-fluidics parts per billion detector for 10 pesticides and 5 naturally occurring toxins launched. 

2025 Real-time food-quality (freshness, taste etc) detection technology widely available

2027 Biogas and solar/wind powered granaries becoming cost effective and high quality. Technology for safe treatment of human waste (food and excrement) is ubiquitous

2030 AI solutions predict commodity price over a 6 month period with 20% accuracy

2032 Climate-controlled seedbank powered with geothermal energy developed by Tamil Nadu Agriculture University

2035 On-site, real-time detectors can identify 200+ unsafe chemicals and toxins

2038  AI solutions can predict commodity prices over a 2 year period with 80% accuracy

2040 Soil and water sensors are affordable, reliable, sensitive and ubiquitous

2045 AI accurately predict daily weather over a 4 month period

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

In 2050, the Chennai metropolitan area has established a circular metabolism framework by directing attention to its ecological footprint of food, food security, and localisation of food systems. The TN government took significant steps to vitalise the agroecology sector, resulting in reduced prices for healthy diets, resource-efficient production and consumption, and short food supply chains. The Chennai government establishes a programme that formalises the connections between people living in the metropolitan area of 1185 sq km. It eases permissions for mobile farms, prioritising low income communities and food deserts. It mandates all large schools to host Sunday markets within their premises and encourage children to shop with their families. All its canteens and school meal kitchens are powered by biogas and solar energy. The city Green Lungs initiative, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), resulted in 250 sq km of Miyawaki forests. The city has converted 30% of unused land held by public utilities and municipal buildings to community gardens, and residents contribute 100 hours annually as community service. All buildings have rooftop gardens, rainwater harvesting, composting units, and solar panels.This was made possible by a unique collaboration between various public, private and non-governmental organisations.

India drafted strong national nutrition guidelines and regulations against heavy metals and pesticides in food, prompted largely by international pressure. Food safety regulations have also been strengthened, and certification has less red tape. However, large food corporations continue to lobby with state governments against all three mechanisms, as they see all benefits accruing to small food producers. Chennai government has leveraged these to revitalise public spaces with a spicy twist. It encourages street food vendors who sell nutritious local cuisines to apply for permits for high traffic areas, including the beaches, cinemas, educational institutions, and government offices. 

Subsidies are given only for organic food, none for petrochemical fertilisers and pesticides. There is no free electricity, only incentives for renewable energy. Urban residents receive financial support to install decentralised sewage treatment plants and are mandated to make the treated urban wastewater available to farmers. Small food producers have access to institutional credit and insurance. There is structural support for innovations in agroecology, a shift away from the traditional agriculture intensification, and helping the transition to a local food system.

History of the Future

2017 Chennai joins 100 Resilient Cities, C40, and other global networks to enhance its resilience and climate preparedness

2021 TN adopts aggressive policies for post-COVID recovery. These strongly promote agroecology, MSME, and health tourism with subsidies for

2021 Chennai has local government elections and the new mayor announces URBACT - a new city mandate to follow circular principles

2026 Chennai’s Master Plan 2027-2050 radically departs from established practices and is positively received by environmentalists for its vision to protect its three rivers, estuary, and revive 300 small lakes

2030 Chennai and UNEP launch the Green Lungs programme to establish 250 sq km of Miyawaki forests

2033 TN government mandates fruit trees to be planted as avenue trees 

2042 Safe and secure app for panchayat meetings is widely adopted, ushering in participation from socially marginalised groups

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

Our Vision recognises the interconnectedness of individual system elements and their dynamic relationships,including undesirable outcomes such as rebound effects & burden shifting.Small food producers embrace agroecological principles of vertical, spatial and temporal diversity in species and genetic resources, enhancing ecosystem services and soil health.Genetic diversity contributes macro-micronutrients & other bioactive compounds to human diets.They leverage human wastes to meet nutrient requirements and crop residues as livestock feed.These synergies reduce the investments required for fertilisers and also promote local food consumption that reflects local culturally appropriate foods. 

Biodiversity conservation strategies focus on integrating indigenous communities so as to mitigate the transformation of their cultural identities while explicitly increasing livelihoods and wild food supply.Women and marginalised communities are able to participate in decision making,improving their access to shared resources, entrepreneurial opportunities & contribute to community well-being.Small food producers benefit from access to institutional credit,certification,distributed infrastructure & customised technology and information solutions.

Increase in incomes and urbanisation prompts shifts to low-carbon diets & willingness to pay for local,seasonal,nutritious foods,even for eat-away-from-home lifestyles.Chefs and scientists influence diets to be more nutritious while in harmony with culinary traditions and traditional knowledge.Restaurants and grocery stores are leveraging digital innovations to inform consumers about the real cost,source,safety and nutrition with a quick scan of produce as well as meals.Consumer literacy is high, and people make food choices in a way that promotes healthy food production & strengthens their relationships with their landscapes.It is trendy & easy to maintain a home garden;even small flats have edible plants growing in balconies, terraces & tabletops!Youth from traditional food producing families offer their services to maintain home and community kitchen gardens. 

Chennai city officials are excited about the cost savings to manage waste and improve public health, & mandate linking city sewage systems to non-food crop farms.This leads to improved policies for natural resource management, city mandates,food and nutrition guidelines.International pressure to improve nutrition, compels the TN government to establish an inter-departmental task force comprising Agriculture,Horticulture,Consumer Affairs,Education,Health, and Rural Development. Food for the Future-Vision 2050 realigns policy,finance & governance to facilitate the transition to a food system that maintains an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable food system,one that restores ecosystem services,enhances human welfare & promotes community-based economic development.

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

Food security within and beyond the foodshed:Localisation assumes that all habitats can be incorporated into one foodshed or another.There may be short-term productivity declines when farmers replace chemical fertilisers with organic ones.The soil health may have degraded to such an extent that natural biochemical processes take longer to heal the soil.However, this does not result in food shortages.Consumer awareness combined with evolving culinary traditions shapes diets to reflect seasonal and nutrition-rich foods,including integrating new and traditional wild, aquatic & insect-based sources.Who collects wild foods and how much would have to be limited to prevent over-harvesting, poaching of wildlife & price rises that make them unaffordable for poor communities.

Parochial image of rural idylls: There is a danger of promoting villages as idyllic locations where people want to live and where opportunities can exist to seamlessly absorb any kinds of labour fluctuations.People may aspire to live in urban areas for the lifestyle, stable incomes with benefits, and personal development opportunities. 

Diseconomies of scale: Small farmers will coexist with large food corporations with large financial capacities & lobbying power.They may not be able to meet demands for high volumes,consistent quality,timely deliveries,out-of-season availability.Primary food producers would also spend time in packaging and transport & direct sales.Unless there is a significant consumer demand shift & strong regulations,it is unlikely that food corporations will adopt a socially and ecologically ethical approach.Restaurants may not be willing to transact with several small food producers as it may entail inconsistent quality or unassured quantity supplies.Many of these diseconomies can be offset by forming commodity based cooperatives.

Workforce changes:There may be job losses in upstream agriculture input supply, & downstream in packaging and transport.On the other hand,jobs that were done at a centralised location can now be done locally resulting in a larger portion of the value added to remain local.The additional income spent locally will benefit the local economy. Encouraging rural economies may hinder rural to urban migration & labour surpluses may drive down wages & shift back-breaking jobs to women.

Digital divides & techno-lock in: Small food producers may benefit from technological advances that help ease access to information,record keeping, monitoring crop health,insurance.However, there is the danger that privacy and autonomy will be compromised & the data used by large corporations or big data firms.They may not be tech-literate & the technology may be expensive to maintain and keep safe from theft or vandalism.There may also be technology lock-ins, which may mitigate gains in the longer term.

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

In 3 years, we have firmly established ourselves as catalysts for the transformation of the Chennai foodshed.

Community of action:a functional small scale demonstration of the connections between small food producers and consumers. This includes a weekly fresh mobile market in food ‘desert’ areas reaching 100,000 customers (mostly high density poor areas such as slum tenements). We have also connected 500 smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples providing fresh food for subscription-based recipe boxes. These farmers have created ‘chaos gardens’, enabling them to provide diverse produce throughout the year.

Food Futures Community Centre:a place to draw those who want to embrace our Vision and make changes in their homes and communities. It is a physical space where we conduct regular workshops on zero waste lifestyles. People can use shared tools and contribute hours to help others. We also conduct workshops on permaculture-based food gardens, organise seed and plant exchanges, and host a nursery of indigenous edible and ornamental plants. Once a quarter we organise volunteer-driven permablitzes, where we help set up community food gardens and Miyawaki forests in unused public lands.

Future of Food Ambassadors:a network of active champions and influencers comprising policy makers, small food producers, chefs and food scientists, and activists. This network has successfully articulated the need for the TN public-distribution system (PDS) to be more nutrition-based supported by concrete evidence of nutrition intake per household [calories+nutrition:protein,fats,vitamins etc.] and to shift from household to per capita intake.It has also supported key bureaucrats to develop ambitious policies for post-COVID recovery.These strongly promote agroecology, MSME, and health tourism with subsidies.Chennai adopts far-reaching strategies to reduce their ecological footprint.

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

In 10 years, we expect that our Vision is well on its way to becoming a reality. Growing one’s own food, including fish and poultry in urban centres, is no longer looked at as odd. Things that used to be niche, now become the norm and local governments easily give permissions for community gardens and urban forests. The Food Futures Collective has spurred a large base of early majority, many of whom host their own farm-to-fork initiatives and grow 50% of their vegetables at home.

Together with the champions of our Food Vision, we have significantly influenced the Chennai Master Plan 2027-47 process and outcomes. Many more resident associations and professionals participated in the public consultations, resulting in a commitment of urban forests, reclamation of fragile ecosystems from industrial and hazardous land use classification. 

Making local economies and ecosystems thrive, eliminating hunger and nutrient deficiencies, and decarbonising are issues that political parties are including in their election manifestos.

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

We would use the prize money to develop our Vision for the Chennai foodshed by reaching out to a broader stakeholder base, especially small food producers and policymakers in Chennai. Two senior bureaucrats expressed interest in developing pilots projects, which we will take up. For this, we will leverage Ajay’s ongoing work with small farmers and farm workers and PHCC’s biodiversity conservation in different parts of Tamil Nadu. 

Second, just as Satyarupa worked with the Chennai city government to develop the Zero Waste Chennai initiative, we would help them develop a plan for urban farming that would connect with ongoing efforts to improve Chennai’s resilience. This would include establishing kitchen gardens and a youth engagement programme in city-run schools. 

Third, we would develop partnerships with select food outlets and plant nurseries in Chennai to stock foods, seeds, and indigenous ornamental and edible plants.

Fourth, we will conduct monthly farmers’ markets in city parks. This would be similar to the Kuppai Thiruvizhas (Zero Waste Celebrations) that Satyarupa has organised during 2017-2020. We will also forge new connections with urban consumers through farm-gate sales and harvest box deliveries.

Lastly, we would develop a Chennai-based community of practice that would establish home and community gardening, seed and plant exchanges, and pollinator boxes. It would give residents a hands-on opportunity to create new perma-gardens and qualify to have their own perma-garden built once they have joined three blitzes. This has helped establish permaculture as an ethical food production process. 

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?

Our Vision calls for adaptive capacities and resilience to be built into the food system, so that people can respond to emerging challenges. Today, we are at a crossroads and have the opportunity to embrace a food system that produces nutritious food for all, creates vibrant local communities, fair economies, and enhances ecosystem services while living within planetary boundaries. 

India has more food produced today per person than ever recorded, yet the country has widespread hunger and malnutrition,many of them small food producers and their families. The Green Revolution established intensive agricultural production methods since the late 1960s, which have caused ecological degradation, unsustainable resource consumption, and entrenched dependence on nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels. A small number of actors in the fields of production, processing and retail control most of the food system and strongly influence policy making, eroding local food security and sovereignty. 

Our Vision places people at the centre of the food system. It empowers people to use nature and culture to meet their food and livelihood needs. It brings people closer to each other, and to the earth. It respects the rights of producers to control their land, water, seeds, livestock and fish so that they continue to nourish current and future generations.

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

Our food system in 2050 has many of the current stakeholders with expanded roles & attitudes changed to creating more sustainable, nutritious food for all.Stronger connections between influencers & rural people inspire & revive traditional foods which form new attitudes in urban communities, whose demands influence corporations, policies and municipalities.The development of strong agroecological systems have helped make the food system be resilient to climate change.


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Hi Satyarupa Shekhar congratulations on putting together such an optimistic Vision with a consistent positive narrative.During refinement, how might you detail out your Vision through a few concrete examples that address the feasibility of all your goals?

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