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Symbiotically Enhanced Wadi Agriculture (SEWA) for securing livelihood of marginal tribal farmers

Transformative Symbiotic development model springing from deep ecology and ancient wisdom purposefully driving sustainability in 6 of 17 SDG

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Govardhan Eco Village – A project of Sri Chaitanya Seva Trust

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 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.

Complexity and nexus of community issues especially in case of farmers in India calls in for collaborative approach with multiple stakeholder engagement. Govardhan Eco Village (GEV) works closely with Governmental agencies at National, State and Local level, International developmental agencies as UN WTO has recognized efforts of GEV with Sustainability initiative award in 2017, Corporates like Apar Industries, Mafatlal Group, Bajaj Group, Reliance Foundation and Urmi Found have trusted GEV with several multi-million worth projects impacting 100000+beneficiaries collaborating for participatory action with 50+ village communities

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?

Galtare Village, Palghar District, Maharashtra,

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


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

Palghar, Maharashtra

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Statistics as reported in 2019 states eight farmers commit suicide every day in Maharashtra. Palghar is no exception, sadly here there have been more Malnutrition deaths. In fact out of total 8 taluka divisions it has 7 divisions marked as dominated by scheduled tribes which are considered as most economically challenged. Research shows that 50% population is below poverty line i.e., they earn approximately $390 annually. 

Rain fed cultivation being the main occupation allows farmers in this region to harvest successfully only one crop per year. Thus forcing them to migrate to urban areas where they take up job as migrant contractual labour. This leads to exploitation which impacts their families and food needs. Average farmer here own > 2 ha of land. Research says 15% of the farmers do hard work for others due to lack of own land.  Also this area has lot of land which is not dense forest and can be utilised towards productive forestry plantation.

Situated in Galtare village of Palghar-Maharshtra-India, GEV has been producing organic food spread over 11 acres of land cultivating indigenous high yielding varieties of seeds especially rice. GEV has developed organic farming techniques for local conditions and shared these valuable lessons through outbound initiatives with 1100 adopted and over 6000 trained farmers in and around the district. Palghar has total of 1008 villages and many struggles with similar challenges. We would like to contribute to make it an Ideal District in terms of SDG attainment. Considering present state of tribal villages here which are a critical part of food chain in India, efforts towards sustainable food cultivation and availability will go long way supporting not only this place, but the state, nation it belongs to and towards successful attainment of SDG at the global level.

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.

Palghar is situated at foothills of Sahyadri Mountains located around 100 kms north of Mumbai, the Economic Capital of India. Palghar was apportioned from Thane district on 1st August 2014 and is 36th District of Maharashtra. Topographically district covers 4,69,699 hectares of land. It has a total of 1008 villages and 3818 sub-villages governed by 477 gram panchayats, the local governing body. Out of total land approx 63% land is cultivable and 27% land is under forest.

Palghar lies 17 m above sea level and has tropical climate. The average annual temperature reported is 26.5°c or 79.8°F, average yearly rainfall is approximately 2500 mm.

It is located at the border of Maharashtra and at the brink of border of Gujarat on the other side. Dominant language is Marathi, Out of 8 taluka divisions of the district, 7 have majority scheduled tribes inhabitants.

Coming from tribal ethnic background, communities are rich in culture and traditions. The dominant tribes in Palghar district are Bhandari, Warli, Katkari, MalharKoli, Vanjari, Vadval, Mali(Sorathi).Warli painting and famous Tarapa dance can be considered as main contribution of community from Palghar. Warli art is millennium old and has been appreciated globally. The Koli community reminds the close connection of the district with Arabian Sea. Fisheries form large part of trade and supply for diet of inhabitants. Koli dance is another highly popular dance form for Maharashtra state. Palghar district has a rich historical heritage and supports long standing of 8 forts and 1 palace.

GEV has conducted a baseline survey with BAIF-MITTRA institute, methodology being Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) technique incorporating techniques as Focus Group Discussion, Resource Mapping and Transact walk. All of the observations noted here are based upon the baseline study and several successive works that followed it in the region. The major occupations of the families are agriculture followed by labor in others farms and manufacturing industry in close by neighborhood, especially brick kilns and construction. People have negligible income from dairy.

Palghar district has 84% rural population and just 16% is urban population. Rural population’s main occupation is seasonal rain fed agriculture, reason being very low groundwater levels. Main agricultural crop is Paddy cultivated once a year in monsoon Other crops like black gram, sorghum and red gram are also cultivated for home consumption on small scale.Few farmers cultivate vegetables in the Winter season, as a second crop.Livestock rearing is common supporting occupation to agriculture. Many tribals rear buffalo and cows for milk and goats and poultry farms for meat.

Literacy rate for males is at 72.2% and 59.3% for women.

Women play important role in household income generation through engagement in agriculture.

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.

Nexus of issues form the wall of challenges to be faced. Although region receives an average rainfall of 2500mm, region is surrounded by mountains which are made of basaltic rock which does not allow water to percolate in the soil and surface run-off of rainwater results in low water tables thereby scarcity of water, resulting in only rain fed agriculture. Although farmers are at the source of the food chain, still they struggle to meet the family need for food leading to malnutrition in case of more than 50% children. Forcing migration in the non monsoon seasons as majority of population from rural areas is below poverty line and depends on agriculture. Migration disturbs the social fabric of the village, and report published in 2018 reported death of 396 kids. Tata Institute of Social Sciences has reported 59% children have stunted growth and 53% of total children as underweight in its report in 2017.

In spite of heavy rainfall in the monsoon season, the region faces drought perennially in the summer season forcing Women to travel miles to collect water for drinking and other necessities. Migration in turn negatively impacts social indicators like health and education, where migrants don’t get sufficient government support.

Tribals in India are considered most economically challenged as compared to others. As mentioned more than half of the population is reported to have annual earning of > $390.

The productivity of Paddy as crop is 8-12 quintals/acre which is very low as compared to average of counterparts. Reason is decreased soil fertility due to disproportionate and faulty use of chemical fertilizers and disinfectants.

Declining trend of perception of Dignity in agriculture as an occupation and trend of suicide is grave challenge we perceive not only for Palghar but whole of India in 2050. Challenge of unfulfilled economic and food needs leads to forced migration leading to vicious cycle of deterioration of quality of life. These challenges not just affect the farmers but the whole nation considering the fact that farmers are at the source of food chain.

Environmental pollution is gripping on to Agricultural sector in many ways as Soil pollution;Erratic climate change; unpredictable monsoon season; increasing water scarcity with depleting ground water tables & its pollution through mishandling of waste for rising population; rising Water pollution in all sources as Lakes, Rivers and Oceans endangering lives of humans & other living beings affecting food chain.

Hybrid seeds lead to depleted nutritional value of food along with chemical fertilizers and disinfectants in case of vegetarian diet. However; even non-vegetarian food chain is not safe with rising pollution and communicable diseases on rise coming from animal meat consumption threatening millions of human lives. Moreover; we live in highly inter-connected world where no problems remain contained in a region but it also optimistically means that even impact is omnipotent.

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

GEV has vision of a holistic program for sustainable livelihoods and interventions to improve the quality of life of the tribal communities, in a socio-ecologically just manner. The approach will help to develop a diversified horticulture, floriculture and dairy portfolio for the tribal families to enable them to earn a sustained income for themselves and their future generations. The various components within the approach are given below:

 Our model while increasing income security is primarily designed to build the capacity of the small farmer in adopting a total systems approach. Training and hand-holding is given in each of these connected components, but the onus is on farmers to gradually design their own sustainable solutions.

Product: Selection of Flowers & Fruits like jasmine, papaya, and mango that command good prices round the year.

Prototype: Farm layout design is based on research on various categories of land and customized to local conditions.

Process: The organic methods harness the symbiotic relationship between various crops as well as natural systems of soil nutrition, seed and water conservation.

Promotion: Route to market (nearby urban / semi urban places) strategy is designed by farmers along with the NGO. However, after initial support for a year, the farmer groups will take it over.

Initial impacts of our pilot in Palghar District (started 3 years back) demonstrate that our small farmers are earning >$6 per day and spending <$1 on the farm, thereby doubling the average profit per acre.     

The proposed vision aims at helping the tribal communities establish one-acre organic plantation to provide long term/middle term and short term sustainable income. This will result in a major adaptation from the threat of climate change affecting the income for the small farmers. The program also aims at improving the agriculture practices by providing improved technology for the main crops and introduction of vegetable and cash crops.

 This will result in tribal families getting stabilised on the land and taking care of the land and the cattle’s, thus mitigating distressed migration. Organic Farming practices will over a period of time result in the long term nourishment of the land thus eventually the yield per acre will improve. Healthy soil conditions also result in very nutritious yield which will tackle undernourishment of women and children.

Organic farming practices will also result in seed conservation of indigenous varieties of high yielding seeds. Farmers conserving and storing their own seeds results in independence from the market based expensive hybrid seeds which are more prone to diseases

 With stabilised farmers, the entire family can stay together as a unit and enjoy healthy social life, which will result in good opportunities of growth for women and children.

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.

GEV has holistic vision towards creating sustainable solutions for synergised social, economical, ecological and cultural conditions of rural community. This proposed symbiotic developmental model aligns with 6 SDG’s. Broader vision will contribute to empowerment of farmers converting challenges into opportunities balanced with ecological sustainability with blend of modern technology based upon ancient wisdom for sustainable agricultural production.


Short term benefits that will be experienced will be –

·       Wastelands will be converted into cultivable productive assets

·       Increased plantation which will result in increased green cover

·       Perennial cultivation will result in good crop rotation techniques which in turn will result in healthy soil conditions leading to better yields

·       Short term income generation through rice and vegetables and middle term income generation through floriculture and long term income generation through horticulture practices.

·       Generates local employment throughout the year, thus giving the tribal community a sense of ownership of the work they

·       There will be increased sensitisation about the best practices

·       There will be better availability of good quality seeds

·       Increased awareness and access to government schemes

These short term goals once realised will result in

·       Reduction/alleviation of distressed migration due to lack of opportunities

·       Alleviation of poverty

·       Sustainable source of income all through the year

·       Skill development amongst farmers, will result in a sense of pride and self prestige

·       Effective implementation of government programs, will result in high level policies getting implemented at the grass roots level

·       Improved dignity for being a farmer, especially in times when it is not considered to be very dignified work

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

The Symbiotically Enhanced Wadi Agriculture(SEWA) Concept:

Under the SEWA concept is a synthesis of interventions in agriculture, water, women empowerment for improved access to food systems. Below is a summary representation of the concept for the future. 

The horticulture cum forestry plantation program is called the WADI (local name for ‘orchard’). The socio-economic rehabilitation of poor rural families will become possible through development of wastelands/rain-fed land into productive assets by plantation of fruit and forest trees.

The program based on a symbiotic farming system approach that includes horticulture, forestry, intercropping (food and cash crops), and intensive cultivation of cash crops on separate smaller plots. The components of this program are as follows:

·       Development of eroded wasteland through soil and water conservation.

·       Plantation of fruit and forestry trees.

·       Cultivation of suitable improved intercrops both for food and for cash incomes wherever possible during the initial stage

·       Cultivation of short-term cash crops on small plots in an intensive manner in the nearby area.

·       Improved production techniques and 

varieties of traditional crops.

The program is planned with the family as a unit. The intensive utilization of land and water resources helps to generate self- employment opportunities throughout the year. The components are need based and tailor made to ensure that the family will be rehabilitated by the end of gestation period of seven years when horticulture and forestry plantations become productive and income from these and inclusion of agriculture helps the rural family to rise above the poverty line on a sustainable basis.


Each participant family takes up intensive land development and plantation work on one acre (0.4 ha) of wasteland or marginal land, to convert this into a productive forestry plantation and orchard.


Participative approach on SEWA plots involves digging and filling of pits, fencing, plantation of fruit and forestry saplings, water resource development, inter cropping, aftercare of plantations etc. This increases sense of ownership. The forestry species are planted on the boundaries of the plantation, serving as a windbreak for the fruit trees and a source of timber, fodder and fuel wood.


The species to be planted are chosen according to their suitability to the project area, their income generation potential and the preferences of the participating family. The saplings are provided critical watering during summer months in the first few years to enable their proper establishment.


Participatory approach for SEWA model has outlined following steps:

1. Village Survey and Meeting (Concept training)

2. SEWA plots exposure

3. Selection of participants

4. Documentation and Agreement

5. Land development- Contour bunding, Trenching, Terracing, Making gradonies /terraces

6. Formation of farmer’s co-operative, opening of bank accounts, monthly saving and meetings

7. Plantation –Fencing, digging pits and filling them with soil and manure, raising nurseries of fruit and forest trees, planting saplings, transplanting grafts

8. Post plantation activities in horticulture-After care practices such as weeding, basin preparation, mulching, pruning, etc., protective watering of plants, plant protection through pest management and control.

9. Soil Improvement activities-Inter cultivation and harrowing, soil improvement through

Green manuring, raising intercrops such as vegetables, fodder oilseeds, tuber crops etc.

10. Other Activities-Water Resource Development (WRD) -Construction of low cost check bunds to harvest post monsoon flows, development of ponds/tanks, dug-wells, springs and Repairing of existing wells,water lifting devices.

11. Improved Agriculture-Provision of seeds/fertilizer and pest control measures, technical know-how.

12.Trainings-Functional training of participants in above activities, training of field functionaries.

13. SEWA Video Presentation

14. SEWA plots Overall Execution – Pitting, plantation, aftercare etc.

15. Marketing linkage for farmer produce and Government linkage scheme.


In addition to the above activities for the program includes efforts towards improved seeds for traditional crops,

 Small-scale irrigation arrangements or elaborate water resource development support, as well as livestock support for producing organic inputs such as cow dung and cow urine is provided to the farmers.

 Conservation of water and its storage becomes crucial for providing irrigation to summer crops and also for drinking purpose for human and animals.

 Water resource development intervention, primarily covers construction and/or repairs of small wells and bore wells, lift-schemes for irrigation and installation of water tanks. For achieving the better impact, farmers in contiguous areas are selected (for horticulture, agriculture) in the small catchments. This has generated employment throughout the year.

 Land Irrigation Program:

Villages are dependent on natural spring and rainwater for their water supply. However, this water supply is irregular. Additionally, in the last couple of years’ spring water has been decreasing due to insufficient rainfall, and decrease in water retention capacity of soil owing to indiscriminate deforestation. Water scarcity has become a grave concern. Under Land Irrigation program, following WRD interventions are provided:

·       River and well lift scheme.

·       Small Land Irrigation Support: Development of spring/small well (Kaccha well)

·       Rain Water Harvesting: Development of big ponds, farm ponds, and check dams

·       Water Storage: Development of water storage tank and Jalkunds for storage of water in rainy and peak summer season

·       Smooth Supply of Water From Reservoir To Farm Land: distributed diesel/kerosene engine or electric motors, garden pipe and PVC pipe

·       Water Conservation: Support for Drip Irrigation

Role of Women for the future of food is very critical, apart from being an integral part of the SEWA model, it is necessary that women take lead in kitchen gardening concept. It is a idea under which women can grow food for their families just by irrigating a small patch of land connected to their households with the amount of water used in the daily chores. This will result in availability of fresh vegetables for internal consumption.

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