Regenerative climate-resilient agriculture igniting a smart farmer revolution
We bring together farmers, technologies, institutions, markets and policy to make regenerative climate-smart farming the industry standard
Reshma, Kheyti's first farmer enrolled in the "Greenhouse-in-a-Box" program (the first phase test in this long term vision) smiles amidst her Cucumber crop
A short video depicting the farmer centric Greenhouse-in-a-Box rolled out by Kheyti as a stepping stone to the broader vision of regenerative climate resilient agriculture.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
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.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Telangana, a state in southern India, having a total area of ~112,077 km^2
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Sathya, one of Kheyti’s co-founders was 18 when he was playing cricket in his granddad’s village. He saw an old farmer sitting next to a stream, eating something. Curious, he went to the farmer and was shocked to see that he was eating mud. Forgetting any rational response, Sathya screamed at the farmer to stop and asked him “Why?”. The farmer responded
“My stomach does not know that my pocket is empty”.
This incident shook Sathya and dedicated him to the cause of Telangana’s farmers.
15 years later, not much has changed. Telangana is one of India's driest states where farmers are forced to abandon farming for 6 months a year due to excess heat. It has the 2nd highest number of farmers’ suicides, often due to a lethal combination of climate failure, crop disease, market volatility and indebtedness.
All 4 members of Kheyti’s founding team have a strong connection to Telangana and its farmers. Kaushik and Ayush grew up here and Saumya has been working here for 6 years now. Ayush has himself been a farmer here and knows first hand the challenges that farmers face to eke out a living. About 7 years ago, as a precursor to the current work, the team built Cosmos Green, an initiative focused on delivering sustainable (organic) farming practices to 8000+ smallholder farmers through training and market linkages.
Because of this natural advantage, we began ideating our vision in Telangana in 2015. After conversing with 1000+ farmers, living and eating with them, we realized the need for sustainability and climate smartness in agriculture and started Kheyti. We’ve met and worked with thousands more farmers over the past 5 years and considered farmers’ inputs in every aspect of our vision, solution and organisation design.
Telangana is our home. Telangana’s farmers are our family - they are the people who feed us, employ us and allow us to live the life we are living. This gives us passion to see our vision of a bright future for them realised in our lifetime.
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.
Charminar, a historic monument in the capital city of Hyderabad
Telangana's popular handlooms
Native Metal handicrafts
Biryani - A rice based delicacy of rice and meat
The IT hub of Hyderabad city
Telangana, the state in South India that Kheyti works in, was created in 2014 by splitting the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh into two. Telangana is spread across 122,000 sq. km, and is home to 35 million people. Nearly 28 million (80%) depend on agriculture for livelihood and live in its 10,000 villages, while the rest inhabit small towns and the industrial hub of Warangal and the capital city of Hyderabad, known for its thriving place in global IT and software services.
Telangana’s people primarily belong to two religions - Hinduism(85%) & Islam (12%), and speak the language of Telugu (70%), followed by Urdu(12%), while there is often a comfortable intermingling of peoples’ fluency in the two languages. It has a rich tradition of handicrafts such as Bidri (silver engravings), Dhokra metal crafts as well as popular native handlooms.
Telangana’s diet primarily consists of rice. The capital city Hyderabad is famous for Biryani - a rice dish filled with spices, dough covered and slow cooked. In contrast, the rest of Telangana eats rice with extremely hot kuras or curries and a variety of lentils. The high rice consumption is believed to lead to obesity (24% of men and 28% of women are considered obese) and rising diabetes and hypertension. A big sign of inequality and low dietary diversity is the fact that 29.3% of children suffer from stunting.
The weather plays havoc with the 28 million people depending on agriculture. Telangana is a very dry state, receiving 700mm of rainfall in a normal year. With predominantly hot climates across the state, temperatures in summer peak to 47o Celsius and heat waves with casualties are not uncommon. Two major rivers, Godavari and Krishna, run through the state but being rain dependant, the land is prone to being arid. Further, regeneration of water tables is slow and acute water distress often results in a dangerous over-exploitation of groundwater. The net irrigated area is 45% and the major crops grown are rice, maize, soybean, cotton, chillies and turmeric.
85% of the farmers are small and marginal, with the average landholding being a mere 1.12 hectares. The impact of climate change is made worse by the adverse agro-climatic conditions of the region, leading to poor agricultural yields and economic conditions of these farmers. Indebtedness is high; Telangana ranked second in the list of farmer suicides in the country in 2015. Faced with an inability to access high-yielding farm solutions and systemic letdowns across the value chain, surveys report that over 75% farmers in India want to quit farming and it is not too different in Telangana.
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.
The food system in Telangana, similar to most food systems, is a natural, symbiotic relationship between farmers and the environment - soil, air, water - to facilitate the supply of nutrition to end consumers. This seemingly simple relationship between farmers, nature and consumers is influenced by a complex system of actors like input companies, supply chain players, financiers, research and technology providers, govt, influencers & collectives.
Farmers and nature:
Critical resources like water and soil are fast depleting. In Telangana, 66% of all groundwater wells showed a decline in 2019 in comparison to average levels between 2009-18. Rising temperatures disrupt farming for nearly 6 months each year. Soil degradation has also diminished farm yields. The supply of other farm inputs are also irregular and irrationally priced as input companies face extreme unpredictability in demand. A 2 degree temperature increase can decline yield by 20% and spike pest multiplication. With rapidly worsening climate change, agriculture is now unproductive, risky and irredeemably discouraging to Telangana’s farming community. An average farmer in Telangana earns $800/year from farming.
Uncertainty also impacts every other stakeholder in the system. Supply chain players are finding supply unpredictable, with wastage increasing already high costs of doing business . Consumers face poor nutrition, toxicity, less diversity and wild fluctuations in food prices. Research and new technologies are unable to reach farmers outside of peri-urban areas due to a lack of affordability and barriers of risk & uncertainty. Banks, reeling under a crisis of bad assets, are now wary of serving farmers due to loan waivers and credit mandates thrust by the State based on tokenism rather than good business policy. An overbearing State will cause banks to course correct, potentially causing agri credit to dry up.
All policy is currently designed on the premise that agriculture is a failing business. Thus, subsidy underpins policy at each level instead of incentivising right behaviours. High budgets are made but a majority is spent on freebies such as loan waivers. If this continues, there will be a rift between urban citizens who contribute more to GDP and the farming community on whom public spending is disproportionately higher. Conflict of causes also exists in the ideologies of influencers - environment vs farm productivity, technology vs traditional wisdom, farmer livelihoods vs inflation and so on.
As farmers find themselves at the center of a weekend food system, they are paying intangible social and cultural costs in the form of an eroded sense of dignity and identity. Social cultures in villages are also changing. Unemployment is estimated to rise to 40% by 2030; at the same time, young generations expect well balanced labour and leisure. Caught between the two are scores of youngsters who are migrating from rural Telangana to stressful urban areas.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision is to transform smallholder farmers of Telangana into regenerative, climate-smart farmers. This needs adoption of climate-resilient farm technologies that help not only to adapt to climate change, but also to regenerate natural resources.
Climate-smart farming will reduce depletion of resources like water and soil and will facilitate regeneration through a curtailed demand for these. As local habitats cannot remain unaffected by global climate change, farmers will benefit from ways to safeguard crops from events like drought, excess heat and floods. This will bring certainty to farmers.
Certainty and predictability will balance incentives and create positive outcomes for farmers as well as other actors. Predictable demand will mean rationalization of farm input prices as production becomes efficient with scale. Visibility of production will allow for robust supply chains, reduced wastage, better prices & minimal post-harvest nutrition loss. These solutions will also minimize pesticides, leading to safe, healthy, traceable food for consumers at stable prices.
That farmer, who stands at the intersection of consumers and the environment, will now earn steady, climate-resilient incomes year long.
The certainty that farmers will now be able to offer will aid in transformation of all other stakeholders. Technologists will find incentive to test and distribute technologies in a stable market that has affordability. Steady farm incomes will eliminate “risk”, and banks will be able to do better business.
With these in place, policy will shift from responding to an ailing food system to creating markets across the value chain. Collectives and influencers, whose incentives were previously divided, will now find common ground for ideas, action and collaboration.
Farmers will find renewed pride in their personal and social identity as entrepreneurs who no longer till the land unprofitably but originate value that multiplies exponentially. This value will strengthen rural microeconomies, stem migration and help youth circumvent the trappings of un/under employment in cities. As climate-smart farming does not demand long hours, there will be more time for leisure while being productive.
We’ve already tested a sliver of this vision today with our “greenhouse-in-a-box” solution. Our 150 farmers harvest 7x food with two hours of work/day, 90% water savings, and earn profits of $100/month regardless of climate. This stability has drawn businesses across the value chain to partner with us. Partners, including 2 of the region’s biggest banks, offer farmers customised, low-cost loans, supply quality inputs and offer end consumers fresh produce that our farmers cultivate.
Our broader vision is to create an ecosystem that allows every actor in the food system to design, test and roll out lasting solutions with minimal intervention. We believe regenerative, climate-smart agriculture is a key lever to achieve that.
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.
Reshma, a farmer in Depalle village, can be seen fixing a hot meal of vegetables for her kids who came home from school happily soaked in the sudden midday showers. These vegetables are from her first harvest of capsicum, with five tons of lush peppers scheduled to be plucked and picked up by a retailer in the morning.
Reshma isn’t worried about the rains damaging her crops. The greenhouse that was financed by her local bank shelters her crop against such climate events. In fact, she is pleased with the showers as it will replenish a thirsty water table. The soil report she received yesterday on her mobile phone also showed that watering was due.
She uses the same farm intelligence tool to plan her next crop cycle - what to grow given her location, soil, water and market conditions. She is leaning towards cucumbers, as they will be in high demand at the turn of spring. She orders on her phone a “crop-kit”, which contains seeds and nutrients. An SMS comes in, deducting her farm credit for the crop-kit.
Reshma is happy that information is easy to get. She spends only 2 hours in the field and enough time with her kids. She does not lose a whole day in line at the bank anymore. She transacts over phone, visiting the bank only sometimes.
Reshma feels heard. A company making crop covering materials conducted a hackathon involving her. She now knows quality customer experience as her rating now affect sales of companies.
Thrishika, a financial literacy trainer from Hyderabad, had once told Reshma about “pesticide poisoning”. This is now a thing of the past. Simply by scanning a QR code, Thrishika can trace food to its source, know inputs used, carbon miles travelled and it’s nutritional value. This information creates a bond of empathy and respect between Thrishika and Reshma.
Food is nutritious for Thrishika. Producing this food is easy for Reshma. Reshma’s children wish to become farmers themselves, not only because it is profitable but also because it is fun.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Our vision of regenerative, climate-smart agriculture holds the potential to transform Telangana’s entire food system by 2050.
From our experience of working hands-on in the sector for the past decade, we know agriculture is the key button in the system that drive systems change, once pushed. However, we also know that agricultural solutions by themselves are not enough. The right vision has to not only bring together all stakeholders in the system but also align incentives for them so that a virtuous self sustaining cycle is created. This is the vision we have worked on over the past 5 years through our Greenhouse-in-a-Box initiative. We recognise that our current solution is just the start, and are thus working to build innovation frameworks with feedback loops and scope to iterate and pivot.
Farmers and natural resources
Agriculture can be viewed as contributor as well as victim of global climate change. In the quest for food security, farming has brought over the environment decades of over and mis-use, contributing heavily to GHG emissions and water distress. Farming is also now a victim of the same challenges of global warming and water shortage, leading to unsustainable responses. Farmers have low income due to low productivity, high income variability due to climate risk and low income sustainability due to depleting resources and climate change. These farmers live in despair and want to quit farming given the chance.
Regenerative, climate-smart agriculture can help the food system break out of this cycle. Climate-smart technologies treat natural ecosystems sustainably and also restore their health. For example, Kheyti’s current solution, the greenhouse, allows farmers to have 50x water savings per kg of horticulture produce grown. It reduces temperatures by nearly 5 degrees celsius, capping water loss from excess heat and extending growing season. Significant savings in water will reduce the strain on freshwater ecosystems as well as replenish groundwater. Lower pest attacks result in minimal pesticides and translates into revitalized soil health as organic matter improves organic carbon levels.
Today, through this solution we are testing doubles farmers incomes by engaging only 2% of their and 1 hour of their day. More importantly, farming using a greenhouse is respectable, sustainable and creates amazing optimism.
We strongly believe many other solutions working together can transform the economic situation of smallholder farmers in Telangana. By 2050, we want to see every farmer in Telangana farming using a whole portfolio of regenerative, climate smart solutions.
Collective solution development
There are no silver bullets. There is no one superhuman who knows the architecture of the ideal food system. This vision has to be rooted in the principles of collective wisdom, data driven decision making, regular feedback loops, minimal interventions with localised impact and possibility for reversal. Awareness around ideas and their promise will need to be created by working and co-designing with stakeholders, and reiterating many times over with many hundreds of farmers. Such models will need to be proven before they are accepted and can become mainstream. Other stakeholders including government, input companies, supply chain providers and consumers have to also play a part in solutions development.
To achieve this collective experimentation vision, collectives such as farmer producer organizations, consumer collectives, industry collectives and knowledge centers will play a great role. Farmer collectives can serve as innovation labs where these stakeholders can meet, new solutions can be ideated, tested and reiterated, information and training can be dispensed, and the cause of regenerative climate-smart agriculture can be championed. Given that climate-smart agriculture is not a zero sum game, conflict of incentives between such influencers will be minimized and stakeholders representing various fronts will be brought together.
At Kheyti, we have started on this work through two rural R&D hubs in Telangana already. In these locations, manufacturers, financiers, govt stakeholders and input industry experts have come together to provide thought partnership. Our current solution has been prototyped, tested and redesigned after surveying 1000s of farmers and iterating with 300 early adopters and is now in its seventh version. We know that if we are able to replicate this across Telangana and with many other stakeholders, the impact we dream of will be achieved.
Input Industry actors
Certainty in the production capabilities of farmers will also benefit businesses that supply inputs to farmers and as economies of scale unfold, the supply of inputs will become less expensive and more organised. However, while predictability increases, the nature of inputs being sold would also need to change. Today, inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, tools) are unsustainable and businesses are incentivised to supply environmentally harmful goods for profit. Such companies will need to be gradually motivated through the innovation collectives we envisioned above to invest in regenerative and ethical products. Manufacturing of products must also be kept sustainable without negative carbon impact. We are already doing this by co-designing greenhouses with manufacturers to ensure material reduction and waste minimisation. We are also working with various input companies to test lower fertilizer doses in our R&D hubs with farmers.
Market supply chain actors
Once there is stability on the production side of the food system, there will be an immense opportunity for technology to bring the demand side onto the same page. While there is an immediate incentive alignment for market players because of the safer and more predictable supply of food that comes with regenerative climate smart agriculture, they will also have to innovate for building technology expertise that leverages a stable food production system to move to a predictive model and reduce waste. Supply chains will be more predictive, less wasteful and also boost ancillary industries such as food processing and Food and beverage by offering great produce at fair prices. Technology will have a critical role to play in mirroring every actor of the food system, but to do it better and cheaper than ever before. For example, today, we are working with market partners who have developed lean technologies that pick up produce from the farm gate and reach store shelves within just 4-5 hours of harvesting. This use of technology will become more widespread across all points of the value chain with climate-smart production.
We acknowledge that there is a long way to go before technology becomes in-expensive. Until then, the cost of building climate-smart technologies for the food system will have to be supported by a visionary, adaptive financial system. Banks will need to take an initial leap of faith in piloting financial products for climate-smart and other food system technologies. While farmers presently may be perceived as high risk, it is an indisputable fact that 80% of our food is produced by smallholder farmers to whom climate change poses an existential dilemma today. Banks and other financial institutions will extend credit and financial aid to farmers who are willing to partake in the design and iteration of climate-smart technologies. The end result of this will not only be successful farmers but also profitably bankable assets for the very same banks. Kheyti has partnered with five leading banks and financial institutions who have taken this leap of faith by giving 150+ loans to our farmers in Telangana. These loans are not only low-interest but are also termed to suit the quarterly crop cycles of our greenhouses at the end of which farmers are able to repay their loans. This is possible in regenerative climate smart agriculture because of the lower risk and the fact that financiers are incentivized to invest in “assets” rather than “risky farmers”.
A positively evolving food system will also influence the government to step up. Like banks, government needs to see the promise of regenerative, climate-smart agriculture and shift policies from subsidizing to creating valuable markets. Currently, Telangana subsidizes a farmer’s greenhouse or drip irrigation purchase but these are large sized and do not fit either in the land or the context of smallholder farmers. While it is a great step forward in the direction of climate-smart farming, government policies will need to be framed in participation with all stakeholders, especially farmers. There is scope to do much more, for instance, better financing terms may be promoted if a farmer invests in one climate-smart solution to incentivise them to move to the second. A forward looking government will reshape the ecosystem to ensure that all stakeholders of the food system are made better off.
Regenerative climate smart agriculture will ensure that consumers gain food security, battle malnutrition and gain food diversity. They will also benefit from the regenerative system in the form of mitigated climate change and improved freshwater ecosystems. They are not only recipients of the benefit and have a role to play in creation. Climate change impact on food production has gathered pace as a global conversation and this movement will need to grow stronger. Consumers will need to rightfully demand traceability, quality nutrition and stable prices for their produce and vote with their pockets to influence various other actors in the food system to work with farmers.
In 2050, farmers will farm free of worry, earn climate-resilient incomes, live healthier lives, but importantly, they will regain their place in our cultural fabric as the backbone of society. Their success will flow bottom up to industry, policy makers and consumers rather than the opposite that exists today.
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