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ARAKUNOMICS- Tribal Communities of Araku in India show how Food &Nutrition for all,Profits for Farmers&Collateral Damage to None is Possible

Decentralised organic biodiverse community food systems

Photo of Salma Umme
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Naandi Foundation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.naandi.org

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

  • 10+ years

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

Hyderabad, Telangana State, India

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

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

3 diverse region- Araku(mountainous tribal forest region),Wardha(rural region infamous for farmer suicides), & New Delhi(metropolitan city)

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Naandi Foundation has been working in over 19 states across India covering 10,000 villages and slums. Apart from programmes pertaining to education for girls and employment for youth, Naandi’s other main focus has been eradication of hunger & malnutrition, school-feeding program and promotion of farm livelihoods. Naandi chose to develop its agriculture and food system vision in 3 strategically diverse regions in India. They are- (i) Araku characterised by extreme poverty, denudation of forest, erosion of soil, high maternal mortality rates, and increasingly eco-fragile region; (ii) the district of Wardha which is part of the Vidarbha region of the state of Maharashtra in central western India. This region has been infamous for one of the highest farmer suicides in India. The hot and arid conditions coupled with scanty rainfall has made this region the epicentre of agrarian distress in India. (iii) New Delhi which is the capital of India and part of the big 4 metros of India, the region like all cities is at the tipping point of a food system crisis. These 3 regions represent the diverse geographical and topographical challenges of a country such as India and that is why we have chosen them. 

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

Araku– a notified tribal area with a population of 0.6 million tribal or indigenous people living. They are mainly forest dwellers who were introduced to agriculture around India’s independence in the 1940s. When the pressure on forest land and foraging increased, they were forced to adapt to agriculture, mainly shifting cultivation. Till the 80s barter economy prevailed therefore high levels of income poverty existed when Naandi started work in early 2000s. The people of this region were concerned by their depleting wealth i.e. forest and biodiversity. Culturally, they are strong community people with sharing and caring as values they uphold most. Despite comprising of over 35 tribes, these communities have a common value system of sharing & living in harmony with nature. Geographically, it is a mountainous forest area with an average altitude ranging 3000-4000ft. During the last few decades, the region was characterised by loss of biodiversity, rapid erosion of soil and felling of trees. Predominantly an illiterate population, little is known to the outside world about how much these communities are a rich repository of knowledge on food systems, agriculture & forest management. 

Wardha- Traditionally a millet and groundnut growing area with rich black soil in the northern part of the Deccan plateau with large basaltic rock formations, over the last two decades became almost wholly mono-cropped with cotton. Temperature range across the year is wide – from a harsh winter to a harsh summer and average rainfall is about 1000 mm. Average landholding size is now about 2hectares. The external pressures (state subsidies & and market forces) had forced this subsistence farming based small farmer communities in this very hot and rain-fed region, to move to farming high yielding crops of cotton, sugarcane, soybean which increased the agricultural input cost and rendered their existing knowledge redundant. This new unsuitable set of agrarian practices resulted in further depletion of soil, income, and morale of the region and its people. Usurious money lenders, spurious ‘agri-experts’ selling pesticides, and middlemen worked in coalition to exploit this farming community. This has been resulting in crop loss, high level of indebtedness, and huge financial loss often pressurising farmers to take the drastic step of committing suicide.

Delhi- Indian cities are characterised by porous boundaries & resultant increase in population due to constant rural to urban migration. Farming communities from neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, & Punjab, migrate in search of livelihoods to Delhi and end up working as menial labourers. Delhi has a population of about 19 million. With one of the highest real estate costs and toxic air quality makes agriculture an unviable in the city. The increasing rural-urban migration in Delhi has been adding to pressure on water, food, sanitation, and overall quality of life. When food prices go up in cities like Delhi, migrant populations and other poor communities are the most effected. The rich can afford expensive imported food resulting in very skewed attention from policy makers to address the food crisis in cities.

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

Traditionally in India, agriculture was a culture, a way of life, where people lived in harmony with nature. With the onset of the green revolution in the 1970s, and introduction of minimum support prices for paddy and wheat and high yielding variety of crops, the entire shift of agriculture as a way of life and the idea of local food systems changed into the concept of farming as an economic activity which became very exploitative and profit oriented in nature changing the food system of the country. The agriculture and food system linkages collapsed and instead mono-cropping, especially cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane, replaced food systems itself. This meant that the traditional knowledge and practices became redundant and farmers became de-capacitated with their existing knowledge. Farmers who were entrepreneurs and in-charge of symbiotic food system networks became unskilled wage earners due to lack of knowledge of the new systems emerging. The food system also became dependent on excessive flow of cash increasing the cost of farming hence increasing indebtedness. The farmers in India grow cash crops with high yield for a profit resulting in a reduction of growth of food. The modern mono-crop non-food farming that replaced the biodiverse agricultural practices has resulted in food and livelihoods crisis. The lack of biodiversity in food production is causing masses across the country to follow often low nutrition diet made available through government’s public distribution systems. Just as mono-cropping effected the biomes of the soil, the stomach share and nutritional diversity of food also started disappearing as people have started to depend on cheap fast foods or ‘food coupons’ resulting in an overall lack of nutrition. The depletion of soil, nutrition, and knowledge as well as the inability to handle the vicissitudes of climate change and pest attacks results in a very challenging scenario where farming has become a loss making unsustainable profession.

In future, with dead soil, scarcity of natural resources, and climate change characterised by increasing drought conditions, and unfavourable weather conditions, the input costs for production of food will further increase hence resulting in more expensive and less nutritious food. There is also the threat of non-availability of farmers as the new generation is increasingly moving away from farming as the idea of farming is shifted from entrepreneurship to subsidy dependent population that is entirely surviving on political dispensation. We feel all this put together will lead to a complete cultural, health, and economic collapse.

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

The diverse and complex challenges of Indian agriculture can be addressed only in a comprehensive economic framework that addresses soil fertility, seed quality, efficient farm management, biodiversity, and skilled human resources approaching agriculture in an entrepreneurial way.

Increasing soil fertility in a sustained manner requires inoculation of microbial colonies to create organic matter and carbon. This preparation of new layer of top soil that can serve as nutritious food for plants is a critical component of the vision for food systems and agriculture. 

Creation of indigenous varieties of seeds, development of plant nurseries, and designing perma-culture like farm management systems curated by global expertise and technology forms the second critical component of our vision.

Aggregating best practices from around the world to create organic bio-fertilizers and optimal pest management techniques reduces input cost and creates greater resilience to climate change. The production of compost and soil with microbial ecosystems around; the development of new strains of germ plasm; and biodiverse portfolio of crop selection based on real time market demand creates conditions favourable for farmers to be immensely profitable. This facilitates an opportunity for farmers to move up the value chain by using the shared infrastructure for grading, sorting, processing, packaging in tribal, rural, and urban areas.

In the tribal region of Araku, the vision has been demonstrated with an additional focus on tree plantation and horticulture in order to reduce the effects of climate change. Today 34,000 acres of forest land has been restored & 23 million trees of 19 different varieties have been planted in the region of Araku. Araku has also shown that with zero involvement of middlemen farmers’ produce can be supplied to not only domestic markets but also niche global markets especially for cash crops like coffee thereby enabling very high profit margins from even small parcels of land. This in turn generates interest in the younger generation to take up farming as a career option. Through this integrate soil to market approach farmers are empowered with convenience, predictability (through technology), profitability and markets. Consumers are empowered with trace-ability, choice and healthy food.

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.

Tthis vision can be summarized as ‘ABCDEFGH’ approach:

AGRICULTURE, NOT FARMING

Traditionally, agriculture was a culture, a way of life where people lived in harmony with nature. Over time, the world transitioned from agriculture to farming, an economic activity, an input vs output battle focusing heavily on how to get more by putting in less.

BIOLOGY, NOT CHEMISTRY

Till the green revolution in India, the approach to agriculture was based on life science, i.e. biology. At the centre of it was the use of natural elements, activation of biomes & microbes, all of which contributed to the goodness of the soil. It was only when we moved from biology to chemistry did we trigger collapse of natural symbiotic agriculture system.

COMPOST, NOT CHEMICALS

In all three regions we replaced the use of Chemicals with Compost. We also democratized scientific knowledge about organic growing. As a result we not only enhanced produce, but also reversed soil erosion and even climate change.

DECENTRALIZED DECISION MAKING

This means Compost preparation, Bio Fertilizer spraying, pruning, & harvest are all decentralized & executed in a customized manner at the farm level.

ENTREPRENEUR, NOT SUBSISTENCE FARMER

A farmer should function as an entrepreneur and should be able to make profits through quality, value addition, and ownership. He or she should not rely on wage earning or subsistence income through subsidies. Such as approach has been adopted in all our regions of work.

FAMILY, NOT MALE ALPHA FARMER

Farming is sustainable only when it is made a viable option for the next generation.

GLOBAL MARKETS, NOT GOVERNMENT MINIMUM SUPPORT PRICES

Farmers are empowered not only to withstand impact of globalization but also to enter global markets with global expertise and knowledge. Araku coffee farmers get the highest price a coffee farmer gets anywhere in India or the world.

HEADSTAND

Only when we turn our approach on its head, can we expect to solve India’s agricultural crisis.

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

Our ‘ABCDEFGH' approach to food and agriculture systems addresses environment, culture, technology, and public policy. The traditional agricultural practices from microbial biomes to biodiversity requires compilation of knowledge of local communities with regard to diverse cropping pattern and equally varied diet and food habits. 

1. In Araku, a predominantly mountainous forest region, one can see today how the forests are being reclaimed. This was made possible by creating a win-win economic framework where European companies contributed capital to plant these biodiverse trees and pay for their nurture and upkeep in return for credits for carbon sequestration. Together with the local tribes of Araku, we have created a successful agricultural model which has resulted in an award winning brand called ARAKU Coffee (www.arakucoffee.in; www.arakucoffee.com). Creation of a globally acclaimed retail brand called ARAKU Coffee required a shared value framework that allowed farmers to reap the benefits of the value addition created by grading, processing, roasting, packaging, and retailing without middlemen in niche global markets. This chain of food production and consumption from soil to consumer that we successfully demonstrated in Araku region is what we refer to as ARAKUNOMICS.

In 2050, we envision to move from 35,000 hectares to encompass and cover the entire region of Araku and turn it into a biodiverse climate change resistant reserve. Additionally, a large part of the population in the 7 out of the 11 sub-districts we work in are engaged in our form of agriculture. 40% of them have been able to pull themselves out of poverty solely through agriculture. In the coming years, we will be able to see that the entire farming communities in Araku region will not only emerge out of poverty but also have per capita income that is 3-4 times that of national average. Arakunomics will also represent societies free of hunger and malnutrition, improved health conditions for all, and enriched ecological infrastructure. This will make it conducive for inter-generational transfer of traditional knowledge and practices of agriculture, continuation of harmonious co-existence with nature, and proactive preservation of forests and biodiversity. Arakunomics, the science of doing the well nigh transformation of a region condemned with conflicts, marginalisation and geographic isolation to a haven that attracts people from around the globe to study how climate change can be combated and biodiversity preserved. Over and above the soil and microbial activity in the region, the vision includes reviving not only indigenous varieties of trees and plants, but also bringing back birds, bees, insects, to maintain the sustainable healthy ecosystem which continues to prosper and thrive. 

2. Wardha – Wardha represents a global political malice that has further crippled food and agricultural systems in rural agrarian regions of the globe. Punishing weather, desertification of soil, market led thrust on cash crops like cotton, opaque pricing and inability to access markets have created large populations of discontented, angry farming communities. Opportunist politicians have exploited this situation and psyche of the population by resorting to unsustainable subsidies, loan waivers, and other political largesse. This short term approach to food and agriculture has been accentuating poverty, migration, and a growing unrest across the globe. Wardha, in central India, is a microcosm of this global agrarian crisis. Like Araku, Naandi’s approach has been to create agricultural clusters that address composting waste into soil, mechanisation of farm practices, upgradation of skills of farm labourers and market savvy mix of horticulture (pomegranate) and cereals and vegetables have resulted in reversing the trend of indebtedness, loss, and resultant farm suicides. The last few years of our work has shown increase in soil carbon levels and greater resilience of crops to extreme climate conditions and pests resulting in a renewed curiosity, optimism, and interest in agriculture. Our work in Wardha is far recent than in Araku and therefore requires a longer duration and faster expansion to more villages to create a total transformation in the mind-sets of the people and thereby reverse the populist political policies that has been the bane of deepening economic crisis across the globe. Wardha holds our vision of changing the politics of food and agriculture that creates entrepreneurs out of farmers resulting in agriculture becoming the choice of profession for the younger generation. 

3. New Delhi – Large cities like Delhi have the potential to be the harbingers of change when it comes to matters of food habits consumption, diet, health, and lifestyle. Not just for the denizens of the city but for an entire nation. Most the populations in rural hinterland, particularly the youth aspire to imitate lives of the people in cities as is characterised by the continuous voting by feet as they migrate from rural regions to cities. Therefore, we felt it imperative to customise our Arakunomics model to a city setting with greater focus on influencing day to day food consumption patterns of the city’s influential population. In New Delhi, we envision to create a system where city dwellers will be shifting from mindless consumption to conscious food consumption and also aspire to become food producers.

The Delhi model is what we call the 100-hectare cluster approach. As of today, one such cluster in west Delhi where a one hectare model farm of our serves as an open agricultural university for 20-40 farmers with an average of 2-5 hectare land holding resulting in an urban food cluster of approximately 100-hectares. In this cluster our model farm not only imparts knowledge but also produces and supplies all the inputs from microbial biome infused soil to seeds, bio-fertilizers, bio-inoculants, specialised teams for farm management and value added direct retail market linkages. This results in  high margin profits for the urban farmers in the cluster and this produces local, traceable, nutritious, tasty food at affordable, stable prices for the city consumers.

In 2050, we hope that the focus will shift from food prices to enhancing quality of germ plasm creating genuine seed banks and nurseries of saplings relevant to cultural and climatic conditions. In this framework, we envision use of modern techniques to strengthen germ plasm and facilitate judicious mix of nutrition and income for farmers to work on. This means on the one hand they will grow food for nutrition and health and on the other grow super foods and exotic foods which fetch higher margins for the discerning rich customers. In this way, farmers will be able to not just withstand market forces, but also leverage the market for their own benefit, through technology, knowledge transfer, economies of scale, and sharing of market information. They will move away from the subsidy-loan-waiver-sops paradigm into one of entrepreneurs who are enabled to negotiate on equal terms. Use of technology and scientific approach of measurement and evidence creation will govern the entire food system. Today, rural and tribal India is deeply influenced by urban lifestyles and trends especially in food patterns. By turning cities into food hubs and making food locally available, affordable, and nutritious, we will be able to influence national trends. Our urban replication of the agriculture model will help cities become centres of excellence and the fountainhead for ideas around food and food production which will spread to the rest of the nation. The city peripheries will become food hubs and young professionals will be creating them as centres of excellence with the help of global knowledge and expertise through which they will be able to showcase and inspire rest of India. We will also be able to address the disruption created to food systems due to huge income inequalities in cities between the rich and the poor. The vast majority of poor which do not have the capacity afford food security in the cities will be able to produce and consume the food produced. Additionally, cities are becoming fastest growing centres of lifestyle diseases. We see that in 2050 Indian cities will be healthier with locally cluster produced food.

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hi Salma: good afternoon from Ahmedabad. Great thought. will love to exchange thoughts.
www.naireetaservices.com , ph: +919825506900, wa: +919825506900, T: @BHUNGROO fb: BHUNGROO , e: biplab@naireetaservices.com

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