The future is healthy and sustainable, and to make it a reality for everyone, our food systems must preserve the liveability of our planet. This is why we must produce and choose foods without synthetic additives, pesticides, or chemicals, foods that are full of flavour, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Here is where agroecological initiatives enter the scene.
According to the United Nations, India is the leader in this area. In 2020, the Minister of Agriculture, Narendra Singh Tomar, pointed out that in the next five years the country intends to convert 200,000 hectares of land into organic cultivation. The idea is to produce food free of fertilizers, agrochemicals and pesticides, while guaranteeing food security and the nutritional needs of the population. Initiatives like the EU SWITCH-Asia Bhoomi Ka network work towards this vision.
Local, Healthy and Nutritious
Bhoomi Ka’s mission is ambitious: transform food systems in India. The network provides support to farms of small local producers to assist them in the cultivation of chemical-free food, favouring biodiversity and reducing the environmental impact of the crop.
We never use chemical fertilizers. Instead, we use biofertilizers, which provide essential nutrients and energy to plants. Chemical fertilizers detroy our soil. It is true that in the first years we obtain more vegetables, but it does not ensure the continuity of production, comments one of the Bhoomi Ka farmers.
This project is supported by various international organisations that recognise the need for clean, green, and fair food practices in the Indian subcontinent – the German NGO Welthungerhilfe, committed to humanitarian aid and eradicating hunger by 2030, the Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS), which seeks to promote sustainable livelihoods by empowering vulnerable communities, with special attention to women and children, and the Voluntary Association of Agricultural General Development Health and Reconstruction Alliance (VAAGDHARA), an Indian NGO working to improve the livelihoods of people involved in agriculture by optimising traditional practices.
A meeting point between the urban and rural world
Agroecological fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive and not everyone knows their value. So, how does a small producer get a fair price for his work? To address these issues, Bhoomi Ka is working with small farmers to create a transparent and fair market access mechanism, bringing together stakeholders in the food value chain, such as farmers, retail traders, street vendors and consumers.
For Pallavi, a small farmer from India, her experience with the organisation has been very positive:
Thanks to the support of this fantastic movement, we have been able to reach a large audience to raise awareness about millet and bring this forgotten food to the tables of many people in the city.
Among its activities, the Bhoomi Ka network offers informational resources, fairs, webinars, exhibitions, workshops and awareness sessions for schools and the general public, on topics such as clean, green and fair eating habits, sustainable living, urban gardening and kitchen and cooking.
Jind Organics: The Journey Towards a Sustainable Value Chain
Jind district located in Haryana, India is home to a large rural population engaged in agricultural activities. Farming communities from Igrah Village in Jind believe that nature has bestowed the area with enough natural resources to sustain life and livelihood through agriculture.
Almost a decade ago, under the guidance of late Dr. Surender Dalal, an Agriculture Development Officer (ADO) of Nidana, Jind, it was observed that the yield and farmer’s life in the area could be improved only by working in tandem with nature. Heavy use of poisonous pesticides not only did not prevent repeated pest attacks, but also were causing adverse health effects. Led by Dr Dalal, some of progressive farmers initially learned about environment friendly ways of dealing with pest attacks and eventually shifted towards organic farming, following the principles of sustainable agriculture.
With increased awareness and positive outcomes from the new practices, more farmers switched to organic agriculture, but several challenges remained. There were serious doubts about establishing a parallel supply chain with regular access to markets and sustainable income for organic farmers. The existing supply chain structure was functioning around dependency on chemicals, from cultivation to the storage of food. Farmers were also unfamiliar with processes for obtaining organic certification.
Bhoomi Ka efforts in the Igrah Village eventually led to the formation of a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) called Jind Organics. Training farmers on Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) certification was a priority. PGS certification is a traceability and quality assurance link between farmers and consumers. This certification puts organic farmers in an advantageous position and provides scope for participation and knowledge exchange among groups of farmers. Since April 2021, 60 PGS certified farmers associated with Bhoomi Ka are practicing organic farming in Jind and Hissar.
In 2021, over 150 PGS certified farmers from Jind, Hissar and Panipat joined Jind Organics. Among the activities promoted by Bhoomi Ka, a series of capacity building sessions were organized and delivered involving experts on price determination, market linkages, packaging, labelling, accounts, social enterprise, business development and book-keeping to facilitate smooth operations of the newly formed FPO, Jind Organics.
A 3-day fair under the theme ‘Our Organic Food Bowl’ was also organized on 17-19th March 2021 at Jind. The fair hosted 600 visitors bringing together organic farmers, retailers, consumers, educators. A Common Facility Center was inaugirated by Shri Manbir Redhu, Managing Director of Jind Organics.
Two more FPO groups from Fazilka and Gurdaspur in Punjab also joined this event. To strengthen market linkages, five Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) were signed between farmers of Jind Organics and the retailers from Delhi NCR. Representatives from these FPOs shared their aims and objectives to further strengthen and realize their goals.
Periodic meetings between Bhoomi Ka’s team and farmer members of Jind Organics led to the mapping of 43 organic products that could be sold in markets at a fair price. Around 40 of the listed organic food products were showcased during the event.
Creating Successful Linkages
Bhoomi Ka is playing an instrumental role in facilitating successful linkages in the organic sector in India. As a result of the event in Jind, market linkages were strengthened, and participating farmers received purchase orders for 10 Kgs of organic Honey and 50 Kgs of organic Jaggery.
The project also supported Jind Organics in launching their social media channels to increase their visibility, outreach and share information about new developments and achievements.
Within a period of four months, Jind Organics has provided a price list and is regularly catering to 25 households in Delhi NCR. Farmers are getting a fair price for their products and are hopeful that their sustainably farmed products will increasingly reach more households.
I am thankful to Bhoomi Ka for turning my dream of taking organic food from farm to plate into reality. We will be able to protect our food systems from the adverse effects of harmful agro-chemicals with a platform like Bhoomi Ka. Our aim is to provide authentic organic food to maximum number kitchens of our country, shares Dinesh Redhu, an organic farmer and member of Jind Organics.
To achieve the goal of sustainable consumption and production in agri-food, Bhoomi Ka hopes that many more Farmer Producer Organisations will be created, as these play a crucial role in strengthening India's organic sector.
Our impact so far:
- Bhoomi Ka supported 3000+ smallholder farmers register for Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) certification.
- 6 Farmer Producer Organisations registered and 2 Common Facility Centers were established with Bhoomi Ka’s support.
- 15 organic food value chains were developed with Bhoomi Ka’s support on palm jaggery, red rice, roselle, turmeric, millets, vegetables, pigeon pea, black gram.
- 500.000+ consumers reached out on sustainable consumption practices through events, fairs, school programs and information material.
- 81 radio shows aired covering 156.000 listeners.
- 250 chefs trained on traditional nutritious food recipes.
- A network of 40 Ecopreneurs, 5 restaurants established in and around 7 cities. (FPOs, retailers, restaurants).
- Bhoomi Ka’s policy advocacy efforts led to the state of Rajasthan issue an order introducing millets in mid-day meal for schools.
Join The Network
Part of this article was featured at World Sustainable Urban Food Centre of València
Also featured on European Commission DG INTPA
Photo credit banner: Arijit Sen, Welthungerhilfe