Ananthoo's updates

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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weaving livelihood through organic cotton

see this :

let me produce the original write up that inspired this piece in the Hindu:

Weaving livelihood through organic cotton
The route was green and serene. One found very few vehicles on the roads. There was even a cycle repair shop on the roadside, which is such a rarity these days, unfortunately. That is interior Odisha for you. We were headed to a unique village in Odisha’s Kalahandi district.
As soon as one enters the village, there is a hand pump with a concrete base around it. This is one of the busiest spots of the village. All infants and toddlers of the village, placed in big buckets of water, were getting scrubbed by mothers and grandmothers at the same time, with much fun and frolic all around.
There was a small shop, the likes of which directors like Maniratnam would portray. That cute little shop with innumerable diversity of products was bustling with activity. The fences of most houses made from bamboo were a picture of intricate design and art. One could see vermi-compost beds strewn here and there.
That is the hero of our story today -Tentulipada village in Bhawanipatna block of Kalahandi district, a village that is completely organic! While there are still villages in these parts of the country, which are “default organic” so to speak, Tentulipada made conscious efforts to come back to being fully organic.
This predominantly rainfed village went organic since 2007, when initially 39 farmers took to sustainable practice. It took two more years for all the farmers to shift to organic in toto. They all recall with so much bewilderment how in 2001 American bollworm infestation was very high and even 15 sprays of toxic chemical pesticides wouldn’t help. Today, this village does not worry about pests on its crops.
These interior parts of Odisha known for their poverty and hardship have very uncooperative climate for agriculture. Enabling economically and ecologically sustainable agriculture and ensuring a dignified and improved livelihood for farmers here is indeed an uphill task.
However, this was made possible with committed effort and intense dialogues with and amongst farmers. Tentulipada had moved into a certain kind of gambling by shifting towards cotton cultivation a couple of decades ago. The gamble on the crop was accompanied by a baggage of external, expensive and often toxic inputs in the form of pesticides and fertilizers.
This is when Chetna Organic, an organization based in Hyderabad, came into the picture. The organization dialogued with the farmers and began the shift towards organic cultivation of crops. While initially the focus was on cotton, today, all crops are covered. Chetna Organic brought in much more than just sustainable agriculture. While mixed cropping, integrated approach, crop rotation, sustainable and biological practices and self-consumption-first were the focus, they also brought in very valuable principles like natural resources management, food and nutrition security, seed sovereignty, child welfare & education. Thus the whole idea of improving livelihoods with sustainable agriculture was approached in a holistic fashion.
The value chain development for instance is very impressive.
Most of the changes came about due to institutional changes created. Farmers were federated into groups and were involved in the whole process of the value chain. Cotton being cotton, the value chain was long and the monetary gains were appreciable too!
The production of healthy food happened due to mixed farming that was considered and professed as sacred by the NGO. That it resulted in self-consumption of healthy food was not incidental but planned. I could really count dozens of vegetables, pulses and other grains that these farmers were growing, as they narrated to me. What’s more – the local administration bought organic dal from the farmers’ federation to feed such safe food to children in the school. Safe food for the poorest happened so easily, meticulously!
What also showed was the palpable self-esteem and confidence. Almost all of the farmers carried the same conviction and interest. They were very proud of the fact that their own local cooperatives and national level producer company employed management graduates by paying really good salaries. Their CEO, an employee, hired by the farmers’ cooperative is paid on par with the private sector/ MNC paychecks. Please note, my dear readers, that cheque is being signed by two farmers (as board of directors)! I was also told that all their groups and cooperatives function very democratically.
It was very invigorating to see the huge storage spaces and local processing units built by the farmers for their own use. The processing centres are specifically for the food crops (like dal processing).  It was so heartening to see the women partake in both manual and mechanical processing of the organic food produce.
The well-thought-out and trained village institutions work on both social and technical arenas, as the work with women’s self help groups shows.  The organisational systems that have been developed for planning, monitoring, documenting, building institutions, addressing issues of women farmers, setting up the resource centres are very impressive and highly functional.
Then there is the ‘Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company’ that works on training, certifying and establishing sustainable market linkages. The latter is the backbone as it is essential to have a successful market to bring about sustained interest and more farmers to join in. The produce goes into branded garments in India and abroad.
The next day, after driving through a breathtaking forest, we went to their crop research & conservation center -experimental farm & nursery in Lanjigarh. This farm had a number of cotton seed varieties being conserved and multiplied, in addition to various Pulses, Mustard, Ragi, Maize, Niger, Paddy, forest plants, fruits and vegetables. This 4.5 acres plot has more than 450 varieties of cotton under observation/trial, including many Herbaceums, Arboreums, Barbadense and Hirsutums as well as some hybrid varieties. The ones that perform well here are then taken to the farmers’ fields. The demo sites, nursery, compost yard, mixed cropping trial plots all are as real as they get. No wonder that so many visitors ranging from agriculture students, professors, DOA officials throng to this research centre.
Chetna Organic works with farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha. In Odisha alone, Chetna works in 5 Districts, having 5 Co-operatives, operating out of 132 Villages impacting 5,683 farmers who in turn are in the form of 411 SHGs!  Arun Ambatipudi, one of the founders and pillars of Chetna is so modest, one can hardly get more information about him or his perspiration and successes. Talking to the farmers one can make out how much he and his team have strived and the path he has travelled this far is amazing.
We all know collectivization is the key for improvement of livelihood for small farmers. Here the functional producer companies – ‘of the farmer, by the farmer, for the farmer’ stood as a solid proof.  The other major point established out here is that sustainable agriculture is the only way out for small and marginal farmers. How the whole cycle of sustainable production, integrated farming system, livelihood, social aspects, seed sovereignty fall in place is captured in this invaluable success story.
Some of my friends argue that sustainable agriculture itself to survive needs small farms and small farmers. How true that is, we shall see in coming weeks.
While the Government of India is busy “bringing green revolution to Eastern India”, It is best that Eastern India learns from such models that leverage on its strengths than copying the mistakes of elsewhere. One sincerely wishes that the Odisha government, which is making the right noises about organic agriculture, seriously scales up initiatives like this and takes up organic farming promotion meticulously and successfully.
For more information on Chetna Organic, visit ; 9959300330
Ananthoo-  Food and organic farming activist, runs a volunteer- run, not-for-profit organic outlet called ‘reStore’ in Chennai; is co- convener of ASHA- Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and coordinator of Safe Food Alliance, TN. mail:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jaivik Haat – best organic shop in Delhi!

Like Restore in Chennai or Adi Naturals in Bangalore, one can easily pick the best out of all the good organic shops in a city by applying a few parameters..
For me, it shud be genuinity, conviction, transparency and giving back to the organic movement.. The last one is very important and that brings the social angle and seriousness of one’s involvement in to cleaning the food system- production and consumption end..
That way Jaivik Haat tops the order in Delhi..
I was there last week and am happy I made it..Ashish Gupta also plays an active  role in the organic movement, being an active member of OFAI (organic Farmers Association of India) and so I have a soft corner for him..
He is (also) a farmer himself, trying to pursue more in to farming..he is also a part of a farmers cooperative that has been floated in the upper Himalayas..He wants to plan a ‘krishi ashram’ there which will be model farm of sorts show casing all sustainable practices..

Another of the IT guys in to organic farming:-) So what bug bit him I asked..he said the ‘bugs’ of IT was getting on him and he was not up to the rat race nor the life style imposed..
incidentally he has been scaling his lifestyle down so much and even has done away with the rented house he was living in Delhi..Interestingly when he mooted the idea of Joint family to his parents and in laws they laughed it down..very clearly they have all moved away so much from the old customs and are thinking this is so out of place..
Memory plays such convenient games, that they have even forgotten that it was their generation that lost the joint family, among many other things..No, Ashish didn’t try to argue or convince them..the intelligent operator that he is, he simply did away with his (rental) house and now alternates (living) between his parents and inlaws place..

This shop is in Rohini, middle class outskirts in North west of Delhi..packed with so many housing societies, this area is yet to realize the potential or benefits of Jaivik Haat..
I found his shop vey cute and packed with whole range.. though this shop has lots of ‘branded’ items, that is due to lack of labour availability he claims!  Wish he gets the right people soon and go about selling produce of farmers directly (packed by Jaivik Haat)..
Once that is done and if the locals start understanding the importance of such organic produce and shop, it will be self sustaining and Ashish will be able to pursue his farming interests and help more farmers in the upper Himalayas..
Like most good hearted organic shops across India, he is bleeding- spending his time, energy and money for a passion, for a cause..
Wishing him all the best and hoping he does breaks the shop operation even soon and gets going on his next bigger passion..
Way to go Ashish..we are all with you..

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kisan Khet Mazdoor MahaPanchayat at Delhi

A historical Kisan Khet Mazdoor MahaPanchayat has been sitting in a dharna since March 18th, on the Parliament Street in the heart of India's capital, Delhi. has more information.

This is historical because organised farmers' unions and peoples' movements (NAPM) joined hands together to defend land rights of farming communities and a set of demands for protecting agricultural livelihoods including a minimum guaranteed income to all farm households (which perforce has to take up a basket of measures for making the interventions of state show up/result in these minimum incomes), fair and remunerative prices in addition to promotion of ecological farming (NO to GMOs and agri-chemicals and corporate takeover of farming through various inputs like seeds). This is also a fight against those policies which are going against farmers, whether it is related to seed, or free trade agreements or FDI in retail.

Its a shame that 1000s of farmers are there assembled in new Delhi and protesting..I was there the last 2 days and its amazing that most farmers who came for just a days panchayat decide to stay on till the PM/GOI respond to them..
but sadly, the govt and media has chosen to ignore them.. 
It is indeed historical in one sense that farm labours, peoples movement and all farmers unions have come together!

( Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, Government of India. Fax: 011- 23019545/23016857 )

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ironing out some qustions..

recently a friend asked if  the dress sported was crumpled and if that shud be ironed!
asking me was surely a mistake..

I have stopped ironing clothes for more than 6 years was just one piddly reason..

But this friend got in to launching a tirade..asking me if i was being righteous..and what if one need not take such stance (on everything) and then added 'after all this is helping a livelihood for some one!'

this last one is used by many so frivolously for many things, i really cant take that..
hey..IMO any of these menial jobs is just not any favour..not helping them or enabling livelihood..
lets all think for a sec:
we outsource such jobs that are so menial and for the fact that just cant do it! like cleaning toilets, even cars,washing dishes or clothes, cleaning floor, driving for long distances or in city traffic, ironing clothes, etc

These persons who are doing it for us/on behalf of us are doing it for a piddly money we throw at them..not because its honourable! not bcos its liked by them!! not bcos its enabling any livelihood..
These people who come to do such menial jobs on our behalf come from some distant village and live in the city ghettos/slums and there is no dignity in that- either in the job or place they live!

so next time if we think we are 'enabling livelihoods' pl think hard..may be you are unnecessarily retaining one more fellow in the city by showing hims some carrot (few green backs) and letting him rot in a it is no life either..
its just cushioning our social responsibility..actually escapism argument!

coming back to ironing: Lemme first confess : I have for sure ironed - even my inner wears! But first the energy factor hit me..that was when i was slowly correcting all my ills..consumerism, waste generation, energy consumption, poison in my food and all those..
Why shud my dress have those creases and correct frills? for some one else out there!!
why shud i bother about what some one in that party or in the bus/train or office think about my crumpled shirt?
why is that more important than my presence or action or help in that place?

Have u ever thought about this? a man (or woman!) standing from morning to late night and ironing so many clothes bcos we all think we need to be presentable- for that other person who is jobless and 'seeing' if ur creases and frills are right!
I have spoken to many of these ironwalas from years..most of them drink! like all hard workers tell the same reason- that they cant sleep otherwise..But i can empathise..their body shud ache..imagine the heat generated - physically around them and inside the body..phew..and to see that many of them operate in street sides and in Madras summers!!

oh dear!! there is so much to it than the livelihood we all enable by giving a few bucks for ironing our clothes..

really sad scene..I know there are some things we just cant change easily..
but ironing of clothes?
its the easiest of all the outsourced menial jobs..
also if all of us do- non-ironed clothes become the norm isnt?

post script: From the time i visited sevagram the 1st time, I dont allow any one to clean my toilets. I do it myself. just to say its not just the easy ironing i stopped or the stupid plastics..