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When all trees have been cut down, when all animals have been hunted, when all waters are polluted, when all air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money. - Cree Prophecy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pune – organic farms, distribution of organic produce

Pune – organic farms, distribution of organic produce
Pune is in many ways similar to Bangalore – climate, people, easy and quick access to naturally beautiful places, and more importantly has some close friends and hence inviting. Probably it was the right time of the year (September'11), all around Pune was beautifully lush and green. If one were to go a few kilometers away from the city it was even more attractive with an undulating landscape and waterfalls and green hills everywhere.
It was not friends, food and chitchat but also peeked into a couple of good organic farms and more importantly a closer look at collection (from multiple small organic farmers) and distribution of organic produce – especially perishables .
GORUS – Gomukh centre for rural sustainability
This is a small organic collective which branched off from their main interest of watershed management and soil conservation. Ashwin Paranjpe and his friends were appalled at the fact that these hilly areas of western Maharashtra had acute water shortage from jan to June inspite of heavy rainfall from June to jan! This was the need for the watershed management and soil conservation in a scientific and organized manner. These efforts of Gomukh were fruitful in the short run, increased the water availability and with it came sugarcane cultivation. This cash crop which is both water and chemical intensive replaced paddy. So the same story – common across India, cash economy, industrial, commercial and intensive agriculture, not growing for self consumption, killing bio-diversity, moving away from food crops resulted in a economical and ecological disaster. So instead of the water shortage being resolved, a new set of issues cropped up. Increased use of chemical inputs was a source of false pride and one was only responding to constant threats and challenges. It was only natural to go the organic way to not only respect and maintain nature but also to safeguard the farmers livelihood and food security!
So they started an organic farm in a rented 2 acre field- model farm of sorts in a village in the beautiful Kolwan valley, in 2007! This demo field show cased raised bed, vermin composting, drip irrigation and slowly the results attracted some small an d marginal farmers. Today it’s a good group of them growing various crops- vegetables and fruits mainly for the 700 families who are their customers in Pune! Of this 120 are regulars I was told.
Today they have 8 full time employees (3W, 5M) working to fetch from various farmers, clean and segregate all the collected organic produce and sort and pack for each of their customers in a separate tray, with the bill. Then these are all home delivered and cash collected instantly. The demand is growing though as Ashwin observes, the collecting and distributing of org produce/perishables is a nightmare. The logistics is very tuff and demanding. He feels retailing is better than this delivery model but having pioneered this they are forced to carry this on, now. Their prices are also attractive – fixed price for whole season for a range of vegetables. They pay the farmers too uniform pricing for all vegetables. On prices he has lots of observation to make- being an agri and Marketing student! He claims the agri university system places the cost of production of tomato at 1.75/kg! economics, social, environment should be the order of concern for sustainability and he shared how they collect and store various stuff for deliveries in the later months!

GORUS also organizes cooking work shop, field day (when customers come and work in the farm a full day and eat fully org lunch!)..
A very nice social effort by an youngster – motivating and heartening! Way to go Aswin! And Gorus!!

Vasudha Sardar!
For someone who saw her partner suffer and depart due to cancer going organic was not a choice or an option! It was the only way..
So she not only goes organic but trains many farmers around too. She has a solid room and hall to conduct regular trainings for farmers..runs regular courses too!
These organic harvests are then sold at Bazars at 2 different venues in the city! One is an exotic place on top a hill outside a temple- where many locals come for their morning walk..tap the conscious aint? Those who walk will obviously be wary of health and so sure to listen to the health benefits of organic produce.
When we walked around their farm, we could see how healthy their plants were and what profuse yield tomatoes, chillies, guavas were all offering.
She had an interesting math to offer..requirement of veggies per family is only 300gms and this shouldn't cost beyond Rs.1500 per month! Why cant one spend on this amount for their health and for the sake of farmers livelihood she question. She is indeed strong in numbers, I shud say..she even reduces the land requirement to numbers. Going by her order and sale of veggies in each bazaar she says she just has to plan(t) 5 kuntas..and plan it in cycles – in 4 plots (totaling to 20 kuntas) from which she can cater to one Bazaar each year. Today she runs 3 such bazaars at different locations in Pune!
She, the typical enterprising lady, also has lotsa value additions especially out of unsold veggies..they are sun dried, packed and sold..some are made in to pickles..many sold as cut vegetables too! Smart, eh?
It was great to see the efforts of her team but what lingers around in my mind is why only partial conversion of her large chunk of land? What ever the reason be (lack of labour, maintenance, large extent) it doesnt gel with the serious reason that pushed her organic! Still a laudable and appreciable effort.

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