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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

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: