Maati-Paani-Asha: Regeneration of Land, Health & Hope in the Face of Extreme Poverty & Climate Crisis
Nurturing smallholders near Umarkhed, India enables regenerative & indigenous farming practices to take root, renewing place, body & spirit.
A brief video introducing the Maati-Paani-Asha Vision and personal motivations behind it. This video features Sumeeta Gawande, Director of SESA (our lead organization) and Dr. Dhanraj Tayade, a GSG professor whose unique personal story motivates our entire team.
Systems map depicting challenges in the Umarkhed Region circa 2020 (static screenshot).
To view & interact with the dynamic version of our preliminary systems map on Kumu, go to:
"Futurecast" systems map depicting our vision for a transformed Umarkhed Region circa 2050.
(static screenshot). To view & interact with the dynamic version of our preliminary systems maps -- current and future -- on Kumu, go to: http://bit.ly/mpasystems - once the page loads, click on the pull down labeled "Maati-Paani-Asha" in the upper left of the screen and toggle the view to "Vision Future-cast 2050".
Maati-Paani-Asha (Marathi) = Soil-Water-Hope (English)
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Student and Education Support Association, Inc. (SESA)
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.
Collaborators include (1) Researcher Institutions: Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidyalaya (GSG College), a college in Umarkhed that teaches & conducts research in farming, environmental science, & commerce & provides resources to farmers, University of Colorado Boulder Masters of the Environment professional graduate program (CU Boulder), Ohio University Office of Global Affairs & Center for International Studies; (2) Farmer Organization: Yavatmal Zilha Akhil Kunbi Samaj (YZAKS), composed of farmers, business owners, & policy makers; (3) Youth Organizations: GSG College & CU Boulder students; and over 80 stakeholders engaged through 10+ meetings, interviews by 30+ students of 30+ farmers & food preparers, & other methods: (4) Producers (5) Preparers (6) Consumers (4) NGOs (5) Medical/Public Health Professionals (6) Scientists & Researchers & (7) Artists & Writers. Our Vision is deeply informed by input from these diverse stakeholders.
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?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Umarkhed Taluk, an agricultural community in Yavatmal District in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Umarkhed is a microcosm of Vidarbha.
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
SESA’s co-founder, Atmaram “Ram” Gawande, was born in a farm village outside Umarkhed. After he became a doctor & settled in the US, he observed that his birthplace continued to have astonishing levels of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, & morbidity. When local organization YZAKS needed funds for the first building of a nascent college in Umarkhed, Ram & his wife, Sushila, donated the funds. In recognition, the college was named after Ram’s mother--Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidyalaya (GSG College). Believing education to be an uplifting force, Ram & Sushi adopted GSG College as their “3rd child” & formed SESA to support education in rural India and rural America. Their daughter, Sumeeta, continues the work they began. GSG College has relied on the Gawande family & SESA for its growth and guidance, and they in turn have stewarded GSG College’s evolution into a nationally accredited college offering a range of academic degrees, plus resources for farmers & villagers. SESA & the Gawande family leverage resources in the US to foster development projects both at GSG College & the surrounding Umarkhed region. At GSG College, such projects have resulted in construction of 8 campus buildings, clean drinking water, drip irrigation to 30 acres of college farmland, computers & multi-media equipment, textbook bank for poor students, high-speed internet, solar panels that enable access to continuous electricity, technology installation and training, tools for improving English language education, enhanced psychological support services, and training for teaching and research. In the Umarkhed region, such projects have included 58 bore wells & hand pumps, water tank with pipeline capacity of 10,000 liters, village toilets, a community health and education project, food security research, & labor migration research. SESA is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of the Umarkhed region, provide the guidance sought by the college and community, & leverage resources in the US.
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.
Life in Umarkhed (Lookbook Cover)
Life in Umarkhed (at home)
Life in Umarkhed (as a child)
Life in Umarkhed (at Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidhyalaya - GSG College)
Life in Umarkhed (at Gopikabai Sitaram Gawande Mahavidhyalaya - GSG College)
Life in Umarkhed (on the farm)
Life in Umarkhed (on the road)
Life in Umarkhed (at the market)
Life in Umarkhed (in the kitchen)
Life in Umarkhed (on the plate)
Location of the Umarkhed Region within India & Maharashtra.
This maps depicts the Umarked Taluka (total population = 257,359; with an urban to rural split of 47,458 to 211,899). Yellow icons mark farming villages. Umarkhed is an administrative division & microcosm of the larger Yavatmal District (total population = 23 million). Our vision focuses on Umarkhed, but the interventions are expected to be applicable, with appropriate place-based modification, throughout Yavatmal & beyond.
Maps depicting World Bank designated climate change "hot spots" in South Asia. Umarkhed - marked by a flame icon - is located in a "hot spot" area where, without visionary intervention, climate change is predicted to dramatically decrease already low standards of living. [See: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/28/climate/india-pakistan-warming-hotspots.html & https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28723 (India Snapshot)]
Poetry of Umarkhed by Dr. Dhanraj Tayade -- Farmer, Educator, Poet
Poem by Dr. Dhanraj Tayade - My Inner Voice (in Marathi & English)
Poem by Dr. Dhanraj Tayade - Sorrow of the Farmer (in Marathi & English)
For a description of our team's transoceanic stakeholder engagement & a summary of what we learned from
interviewing 30 farmers in the Umarkhed region, please click on "Stakeholder Engagement & Farmer Interview Results" in the attachments section. [Art Credit: Manjusha Gawande, a resident of the Umarkhed region.]
As the sun sends its first ray of light through the Umarkhed night sky, parrots caw, Hindu temple bells clang, & prayers from the mosque call out. A villager emerges from a small mud house to collect water from the nearby well - if it hasn’t run dry. Milk is squeezed from the family’s water buffalo - if she hasn’t been sold. If both water & milk are in hand, they are poured into a small pot & simmered with cardamom, tea powder & cane sugar. This is a brew of comfort & awakening.
In the few households with sufficient means, food preparation for the day begins. Rotis (flatbreads) are served with homegrown leafy greens, long beans, or gourds sautéed with peanuts, sesame, and coconut, and paired with spiced pigeon peas or desi chickpeas, rice, and fresh yogurt. But such balance and abundance is the exception, not the rule. For too many villagers, a meager ration of either wheat, millet, or sorghum is rolled into two dry rotis - the day’s entire sustenance. Satisfied or wanting, the work of daily life calls.
The road to Umarkhed is busy: colorful, honking trucks piled high with cotton lumber alongside bullock carts steered by sun-aged men draped in white cloth. Beeping motorcycles, loaded with up to 5 people each, dart between. Women adorned in colorful saris stride confidently with pots balanced atop their heads. Herds of goats & water buffalo join the fray. All journey through gently sloping hills squared off with fields in which farmers toil for soybeans, cotton, chickpeas, turmeric, and sugarcane -- some irrigated fields gleam green, others are yellowed and sparse. In this tropical, dry climate, December temperatures dip to a surprisingly chilly 50sF, but rise to 80sF by day. Temperatures rise with each month, routinely exceeding 100 F by June. The hot sun scorches until the monsoon comes - if it comes. Then, there are floods.
Whatever the weather, love abounds. Families & neighbors squeeze together to share life’s milestones: celebrating a daughter’s return from her marital home to nurture a newborn with her mother’s help; listening eagerly to a revered guest’s stories of life in another town. Blossoms adorn altars & entrances are decorated with colorful powders drawn into interlocking peacocks & flowers to mark happy occasions. Gifts, sweets, local trinkets, hand-drawn pictures, hand-stitched clothes, or cards with caring, uplifting messages are lovingly exchanged. Yet, closeness is not only for exalted times. Friends squeeze onto one scooter to get to school, aid each other’s studies & combine food into a shared lunch eaten from a single plate. This intimacy enables many people of Umarkhed to endure the myriad challenges they face. And so, even when life is cut short because another among them has succumbed to the unrelenting stresses of eking out a livelihood from an unforgiving land, they come together to mourn & to make tea at the start of a new day.
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.
In Umarkhed, each day brings new challenges. Climate change has arrived. Even bore wells have run dry. The intense heat from rising temperatures is made less bearable by recurring drought. The land is dusty & sandy from dehydration. Monsoon seasons are no longer reliable water bearers. When prayed-for rains do come, they ferociously wash the land of its poor topsoil - degraded by years of tillage, monocropping & heavy synthetic inputs. Precious little moisture percolates into the parched ground. Drought and late rains extinguish both crops & farmers' hopes for harvest. Thirsty land and people, many without irrigation & potable water, struggle to overcome the challenges of inadequate infrastructure & unequal access to a life-giving resource. Climate crisis accelerates economic crisis in a region with no "savings account" to draw from. And the World Bank predicts that already meager standards of living in the region will decline precipitously by 2050.
Historically underdeveloped, Umarkhed did not reap the spoils of the industrial or technological revolutions. Its residents are on the losing end of widening global inequities. Faced with high-input costs, erratic yields, crashing commodity prices & a string of profit-seeking middlemen, farmers often don’t break even, let alone profit. For many, it is impossible to meet basic needs (e.g., adequate food, health care, education). Branded as risky borrowers, farmers must take loans from private moneylenders who charge usurious interest & make repayment near impossible. The labor-intensive style of farming makes family labor key. Yet, supporting a large family exacerbates the burden & anxiety of inescapable debt.
As debt increases, so does pressure to produce more for market, leaving less for subsistence. Farm work is often performed without the benefit of ecological, agronomic, or technological knowledge attainable through formal education or (typically disrupted) indigenous transfer. Farmers apply overwhelming amounts of expensive, destructive fertilizers & pesticides, hoping to offset the depleted soil and increase yield, but often not succeeding. The chemicals cause illness, but they cannot afford health care. Farmers look to the state for help, but public agricultural assistance, subsidies for feeding the poor & initiatives to improve rural employment fall short or get mired in corruption. The vicious cycle of inputs, debt, and depletion causes many smallholders to out-migrate or, worse, to ingest the same pesticides to end their lives. Experts have called the Vidarbha region (where Umarkhed is located) the epicenter of the Indian farmer suicide epidemic & "the worst place [in India] to be a farmer."
Negative reinforcing feedback loops abound in Umarkhed. Without transformative interventions, current challenges will worsen forcing many people in Umarkhed to become climate refugees. To avoid this version of 2050, we envision re-balancing influences that will allow the people of Umarkhed to thrive in place.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
The Maati-Paani-Asha (Soil-Water-Hope) vision addresses the challenges in Umarkhed by creating a locus for regional transformation at GSG College - the Maati Paani Asha Center. This Center will model & support transition in farming, food access & provisioning, & food marketing practices; coordinate infrastructure improvements; disseminate novel psychosocial supports; & host a multi-stakeholder advisory board.
The MPA Transition Support Program (MPA-TSP), our cornerstone intervention, will provide robust, linked technical & financial assistance to smallholders to motivate, inform, & de-risk their transition away from chemically dependent, extractive, & unsustainable methods of producing conventional, undifferentiated commodities in monocultures. We will help them adopt diversified, agri-ecological farming methods that favor traditional seeds & on-farm inputs. MPA farming will generate sufficient yields, soil health & ecosystem services, human health benefits, & conditions that support resilience.
With a regionally adapted form of regenerative agriculture - a top solution for carbon drawdown - at the center of our vision, the farmers & people of Umarkhed will be empowered to actively address the climate crisis. Though the people of Umarkhed, with modest lifestyles & low levels of consumption, made only minor contributions to this human-caused calamity, they are geographically positioned to bear the brunt of the crisis, now & in 2050. Our team, lead by SESA, will inspire donors internationally to financially support the Umarkhed community in adapting to challenges foisted upon them. Our theory of change also connects MPA farmers with buyers seeking ingredients that regenerate place & people.
Our vision is powerful because it provides Umarkhed communities with strategies that simultaneously enable them to:
(1) break vicious, interconnected & reinforcing cycles of climate, economic, & health crises and establish cycles of renewal, conditions of sufficiency, & reasons for hope in their places;
(3) farm with, not against, nature & build regional, ecosystem, household & personal resilience in the process;
(2) build direct connections with values-based buyers who are willing & able to pay a premium for agricultural products devoid of harmful residues & capable of providing critical climate & ecosystem services;
(3) better meet their household & community needs, creating local interdependence alongside reduced dependence on exploitative lenders, opportunistic traders, & multinational corporations;
(4) replace deprivation with rejuvenation & marginalization with political empowerment;
(5) take an active role in addressing climate change & sequestering carbon, which must be done for their homelands to remain habitable beyond 2050.
In sum, our vision - because it spawns both profound local shifts & new global connections across the food & fiber system - will transform the overlooked Umarkhed community into thriving, valued members of the global community.
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.
Experiencing the grounded wealth & vitality that derives from healthy soils, nourished bodies & connected communities, the Umarkhed region has shed its notorious reputation as the epicenter of farmer suicide & emerged as the paradigmatic example of human resilience & adaptability.
Smallholders tend land with pride. In return, their land, once again, supports them. They’ve diversified land uses - rotating cash & cover crops and integrating livestock. Their exposure to harsh agrichemicals, exploitative lenders, & indifferent market forces is drastically reduced. The women of MPA farming families cultivate valued subsistence foods for household consumption & barter. They also grow produce for the rising population of middle class, values-driven consumers in nearby cities. Multiple cash & barter income streams provide a livable income. Elegantly redundant ways of meeting basic needs make villagers more resilient in times of disruption. They are well-nourished & psychosocially supported.
Farmers who graduated from the MPA-TSP have developed durable connections to buyers who forward-contract for regeneratively produced crops. They make direct sales using a secure, traceable, mobile trading platform. These regenerated farmers mentor the next cohorts of farmers ready to make a supported transition to practices that renew.
The MPA Center has engaged multi-stakeholders including homemakers, shopkeepers, elders, youth to evolve the program & comprehensively improve the food system for all. The MPA Center has also documented the knowledge base of elders, stimulated novel entrepreneurship, & called in youth by incorporating new technologies & offering attractive job opportunities. Diverse stakeholders - across gender, caste, religion, age, and socioeconomic status - serve on the MPA Food Policy Advisory Board, connecting the work of the Center to public governance.
Renewal is upon the Umarkhed region & ready to take root in Vidarbha, India & the developing world.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Original art by Umarkhed area resident, Majusha Gawande to introduce key elements of our vision's theory of change and intended 2050 outcomes...
A description of our proposed, regionally & culturally appropriate form of farming with nature -- MPA Farming -- which has the potential to regenerate soil, sequester carbon, hold water, reduce polution, improve health of humans, ecosystems, and other living beings, and support decent livelihoods. A variant of regenerative farming tailored to the Umarkhed Region.
A continued description of our proposed, regionally & culturally appropriate form of farming with nature -- MPA Farming -- which has the potential to regenerate soil, sequester carbon, hold water, reduce polution, improve health of humans, ecosystems, and other living beings, and support decent livelihoods. A variant of regenerative farming tailored to the Umarkhed Region.
A continued description of our proposed village based Home-2-Home Barter initiative that enhances food access, improves health outcomes, and empowers women.
A continued description of our proposed village based Home-2-Home Barter initiative that enhances food access, improves health outcomes, and empowers women.
For much more on the challenges and opportunities in the Umarkhed region, expert briefs, and descriptions of how our vision connects to and improves on challenges across the themes, please see the "Challenges & Opportunities in the Umarkhed Region" attachment. [Art Credit: Manjusha Gawande, a resident of the Umarkhed region.]
This video explains how to navigate our two Systems Maps - which depict the current dysfunction and our vision for 2050. These Kumu maps can be viewed and interacted with at: http://bit.ly/MPASystemsMap
Maati-Paani-Asha = Soil-Water-Hope. Our vision is that these 3 life-sustaining elements have been renewed in Umarkhed Taluk via the Maati-Paani-Asha Center at GSG College (“MPA Center”) that, since 2020, has provided integrated support services at impactful leverage points across the food system.
The MPA Center takes full advantage of GSG College’s role in Umarkhed. Institutes of higher education in rural India are distinctive assets that can inspire & facilitate transformative & transferable change throughout regional food systems. The MPA Center builds on GSG’s existing collaboration with its network of local stakeholders at all stages of the food system (producers, preparers, shopkeepers, policy-makers, etc.) and international experts (in ecological agriculture & food systems, resource management, renewable energy, information technology, mental health, etc.) to refine regionally appropriate forms of agricultural production, relationship-based food exchange, & resilience-generating forms of hyper-local infrastructure. These interventions are led by local stakeholders with support from international partners.
The MPA Center recognizes that: (a) human & planetary well-being are inextricably linked; (b) agri-ecologically managed, productive landscapes have unmatched ability to regenerate resources, rebalance ecosystems, & renew human health & hope; (c) connected communities of directly interacting producers & consumers across a range of spatial domains have tremendous potential to generate resilience; and (d) when scarcity thinking is interrupted by evidence of abundance, the prospect of equality is no longer threatening, community-sufficiency is possible, & human ingenuity flourishes.
Building on these philosophies, the MPA Center helps all living beings in the Umarkhed region thrive through the following suite of initiatives:
(1) Establishing a teaching farm that models MPA Farming & seed bank that helps revive indigenous seeds.
MPA Farming is a form of farming with nature that integrates regionally & culturally appropriate principles from Zero Budget Natural Farming, western-style Regenerative Agriculture, holistic management, & traditional (pre-Green Revolution) farming practices. It combines age-old local wisdom & revival of ancient, indigenous seeds (alongside improved varieties) with recent scientific insights to meet the challenges of producing adequate nutritious food in a changing climate under conditions of increasing volatility & scarcity in a regenerative manner.
(2) Providing wrap-around technical assistance and extension-style services to farmers who participate in the MPA Transition Support Program (MPA-TSP).
Building on GSG College’s strengths in Crop Science, Dairy Science, Horticulture, Botany, Zoology, Commerce, Economics, Renewable Energy, & Computer Science as well as its preexisting extension services (e.g., soil testing, crop guidance, market price access, solar energy support), the MPA Center develops & provides regeneration-oriented extension services to smallholders. GSG faculty, staff & students actively guide farmers & villages participating in the MPA-TSP by rebuilding local seed stocks, teaching new production techniques, offering soil testing services, integrating solar & biogas solutions, & creating regenerative MPA farm plans. MPA Center staff & partners monitor implementation & support farmers in making adjustments as conditions change. They research & document outcomes & adjust practices accordingly. They recruit new farmers into the program & conduct train-the-trainer programs.
(3) Guaranteeing financial support to farmers during their tenure in the MPA-TSP.
For several transitional years, farmers in the MPA-TSP receive guaranteed wages. Program payments are made in quarterly installments, providing farmers with the stabilizing benefits of a steady income. During this period, income is not dependent on yield or the vagaries of commodity markets. MPA-TSP program payments are based on a formula that accounts for acres in production, yield & revenue history, living wage assumptions, number of household members participating in the program & satisfaction of MPA-TSP requirements. Thus, farmers who make a sustained commitment to transition, actively partake of the technical assistance services & serve as citizen scientists experience no financial risk in connection with their participation. When harvests are profitable, participating farmers are eligible to receive a percentage of gross revenue as a bonus, enabling them to pay down debt, make investments in their farm, or realize incremental increases in their standard of living.
(4) Communicating the eco-social value proposition of commodities produced via MPA Farming & establishing direct trade & short-chain relationships with buyers seeking to source ethically produced regenerative food & fiber.
Transitional capital & know-how propel farmers down the path to transition, but durable change must be sustained with continuous revenue. Once MPA Farming has created measurable & influential improvements on a farm, the farmer graduates from the program with connections to buyers in the regenerative supply web. The MPA Center helps its transitioned farmers secure direct supply relationships & negotiate forward-contracts that guarantee premium prices for the more ethical & traceable products of MPA Farming. The Center has created a secure, traceable, mobile trading platform that MPA Farmers use to transact with buyers. The Center stimulates entrepreneurship, e.g. in value-added products.
(5) Coordinating village-level renewable energy, water storage & infrastructure projects
To help farmers better cope with unpredictable & extreme rainfall conditions, maintain the viability of year-round farming in the region & provide more consistent access to clean water to all residents on & off farms the MPA Center coordinates with NGOs operating in the region to install water storage and irrigation infrastructure and off-grid solar energy.
(6) Supporting women-led barter & sharing economies for nutritionally important foods.
To empower women and girls in the region, encourage on-farm diversification, reduce reliance on cash-crops & the money economy, & improve health outcomes for all residents (especially new generations growing up on healthy diets), the MPA Center supports a village-based Home-2-Home food Barter Program.
(7) Nurturing & enhancing psychosocial support tools.
In partnership with local & international public health & mental health experts, the MPA Center reinforces psychosocial support tools already existing in Umarkhed’s well-connected community, as well as leverages emerging mobile technologies as a means to connect isolated individuals with additional, novel psychosocial supports. The Center works with the community to better understand & address psychosocial stressors & the causes of suicide, dismantling the culture of suicide that had previously burdened the rich culture & vibrant traditions of this place & its people.
(8) Convening a multi-stakeholder local Food Policy & Economy Advisory Board
To connect all of the above initiatives with public sector action at all levels of government & to collaborate with urban counterparts in the region and strengthen urban-rural food pathways, the MPA Center is the convenor of a diversely constituted Local Food Policy & Economy Advisory Board.
Given the current degree of deprivation, downward trends in agricultural productivity & farm viability, unparalleled incidence of farmer suicide, & foreboding climate modeling, half-measures will not suffice. Thus, our vision includes a suite of community-based interventions, which will be implemented & utilized in concert.
Umarkhed Taluk will withstand an increasingly unforgiving climate because residents will have been supported to (re)learn agri-ecological farming techniques suitable for the area, reestablish locally adapted seed stocks, construct communal water & energy infrastructure, develop local barter systems that provide a nutritious diet, utilize psychosocial supports. They will experience empowerment & agency as powerful actors capable of improving quality of life while retaining agrarian identity. As they courageously & optimistically walk this new path, the people of Umarkhed will not be alone. They will have support from local leaders who hold or access indigenous wisdom & external experts who have been welcomed & continually guided by local stakeholders. Finally, they will be lifted out of extreme poverty by receiving guaranteed transitional financial support. Thus, while participating in the transition program they will receive a much needed financial & psychological reprieve from usurious money lenders, the vagaries of the market & the stresses of volatile weather. And before they "graduate” from the transition program, they will be connected to buyers committed to paying MPA farmers a fair price for their products - a price that accounts not only for the commodity value, but also for the farmers' efforts to sequester carbon, conserve natural resources, increase biodiversity & habitat, & support ecosystem health.
Umarkhed is ready for a food system as vibrant & life-affirming as its art & poetry, glimpses of which can be seen throughout this submission. Although outsiders might look at the region today & see deprivation, in reality Umarkhed is rich in tradition, creativity & love - essential ingredients for a resilient future. The people of Umarkhed, who make the most beautiful Rangoli art from dry sands, are no strangers to transformation. With hope & the partnership of the Maati-Paani-Asha Center, we will turn regenerated soils, adequate water, and connected community into health and abundance.
(Additional information re: the MPA Center, MPA Farming, the MPA-TSP, and the Home-2-Home Food Barter Program are provided in the materials attached & the visuals that support this Full Vision Response.)
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