Village Republic Organics
Transitioning to organics has the double benefit of reducing a farmers input costs, and giving him a competitive edge at the market. When Act Naturally takes on a farm to transition to organics through our Khet Jyoti Fund, we stay with the farmer, providing vital education either with our volunteer staff or through a local organic farmers association. We also provide seed stock, raw materials, and financial support throughout the four-year transition period to organics.
Whenever possible we work to transition several farmers within close proximity to each other, and encourage them to form a cooperative effort, adjusting planting and harvest times by a week to exchange labor and equipment. If an organic farming sangha or association is not already in their area, then we will help these farmers to set up their own sangha. Being a member of a larger organization helps to reduce risks, costs, and promotes solidarity among farmers. This is especially important when there is a large corporate farming presence nearby. Examples cited by Muzaffar Assadi, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Mysore, shows that farmers who had access to a support group, such as in the case of Sangathana in Maharasthragave farmers a sense of movement and belonging.
Act Naturally partners with local or regional farmers associations to provide workshops and organic extension services to farmers and sponsored farms. At every step the farmer gets what he or she deserves, dignity, support, encouragement, education and appreciation. Where the governments and corporates fail, we will succeed – when we Act Naturally.
When organic standards are controlled by the government, lobbyists can push for amendments and exceptions that will favor large-scale producers, and multinationals. The cost of mainstream government backed certification, such as U.S.D.A, is too high for small-scale producers and thus already gives cash crop farms, larger farms, and corporate farms an unfair advantage.
Any farmer who agrees to transition to organics can benefit from value additions like international organic certification. Membership into organizations with international reputation can take time, (sometimes up to three years) and be costly however. These certifications are useful when exporting to an international market. India, however, has trouble supplying enough chemical-free and healthy food to her own people. This is largely due to corruption, mismanagement and a misaligned policy toward cash crops. Act Naturally operates its planning from the belief that India should feed its people first, and her people deserve to have the best quality, organic food before anyone else. This is currently contrary to how the export market works. Export quality is a higher quality serving U.S-European markets first.
We pledge to assist and guide farmers through the process of transition. The ultimate decision on whether or not to export however, resides with the farmer and his or her intension for their produce. In the interim, Act Naturally’s Village Republic Organic certification will be a valuable first step in readying the farmer for international certifications, if he or she chooses, in order to gain more market access and higher prices.
Community Shared Agriculture
Act Naturally will organize community shared agriculture (CSA) groups in some areas. As an alternative to going to the market, a family can buy into a share of the farmers produce. The farmer then sets aside this produce for delivery or pick up at a separate location. CSA’s reduce the overall cost of food fo the consumer, and at the same time, stabilizes the farmer throughout the season because it gives valuable money upfront to help with production costs, minimizing risk. In other words the customer agrees to the risk for the monetary savings and quality of food. If there is an act of God, and the crop fails, the customer ultimately looses his/her money. CSA customers are encouraged to know their farmer, and volunteer time to work on the farm. In this way, people of all ages, can learn valuable skills and give the farmer free labor in exchange.
The Birth of Village Republic Organics
Village Republic Organic (VPO) certification will use a community enforced participatory system where sponsored farmers fill out a signed declaration, acknowledging that they fully understand and commit to VPO organic certification standards. They will declare what crops, and the nature of their land, (i.e. dryland, size, etc.), what size of non-ajoined organic space is ready for production and where. Before this can happen an Act Naturally representative, will have already begun working with the farmer to transition to organics.
We have two categories, Partial Transition, and Full Transition. Partial Transition means that not all arable land under cultivation has been fully converted, but is following best practices for chemical free growing including:
- Isolated raised beds with ground barrier;
- Cardboard mulching (where layers of cardboard laid above dry and wet organic clippings and then covered again with more organic matter to a layer of six inches);
- Infrastructure to remove contamination from groundwater, or new reservoirs, or catchment systems are in place to provide chemical-free water for growing; and
- Any other proven production method introduced between the time of writing this paper and actual implementation of a project.
With these best practices the farmer is therefore eligible for Village Republic Organics PT certification after the tract is verified free of chemical contamination.
Full transition is a full four-year cycle of remediation that adheres to international organic standards as well as Act Naturally’s recommendations.
After the declaration is signed, farmers will keep a log to maintain records of their daily activities, detailing what amendments, techniques or processes are employed in cultivation. When at all possible, we supply a digital camera to the farmer, and encourage he/she to take pictures.
In areas with multiple farms under sponsorship a cooperative farming group (sangha) is formed who pledge to work together and enforce organic standards among themselves. A multi-site sponsorship will generally be the case do to zoning, and needing multiple plots to grow enough of one crop or a variety of crops for a specific market.
As stated before, already operating NGOs or farmers associations will be consulted by an Act Naturally volunteer periodically to determine the progress and adherence to organic standards independent of the farmers group. Act Naturally volunteers will do up to two inspections every month, take pictures and write a progress report.
During the visit they will also interview neighboring farmers. We encourage farmers to take pictures with their donated camera to protect them from possible ulterior motives by neighbors and to tract the progress of the land in transition.
The report, as well as any supporting media will be sent to Act Naturally’s head office and kept on file to determine if the farmer is in good faith with his/her signed agreement Pictures are processed into progress reports for our generous donors and posted on Actnaturally.org
Market Research, Organics – Rising Up!
Act Naturally will work diligently to open or use already existing markets in India first. Our experience in India tells us that there is a growing need for organics, not only in cities, but in ashrams, resorts and popular tourist destinations such as Manali or Rishikesh which are visited by Indian and international peoples alike.
As a sign that the concept of organics is gaining visibility and popularity in Indias new economy, recently the Ministry of Tribal Affairs through TRIFED has placed organic products for sale in its show rooms. Also Fab India, an upscale shopping destination in metropolitan areas, now showcases organic honey, dry goods, cosmetics, and fabrics etc. for the middle class shopper. Small growers, self-help groups and NGOs in remote, tribal and hilly areas can sell to Fab India. There prices are extraordinarily high, but their products are profitable.
Our market analysis below cites three out of hundreds of very successful ventures, who are both ecologically and socially conscious and profitable. Each case reflects a willingness to be inventive and help in a multifacted approach.
Ramana’s Garden and Cafe
Ramana’s Garden and Cafe in Rishikesh provides “assistance to 68 rural mountain, below poverty-line villages, serving a population of 12,000.” The project consists of education, health care, organic farming, woman’s vocational training, environmental conservation and reforestation. The organic cafe and Himalayan guesthouse pulls in a majority of their funds after fundraising.
The restaurant is situated in the Himalayan foothills in the holy city of Rishikesh. It is packed with people from breakfast to closing eating organic kale and chard salads, seasonal organic vegetable enchiladas, organic eggs, organic milk straight from the cow in the court-yard. There is also a variety of sumptuous deserts. The children sponsored by the project, who are old enough and wish to help, volunteer after school at the cafe. They add a playful cheer to the whole establishment, playing with the customers and serving food.On average two people can eat there for roughly 500 rupees. This is much more expensive than roadside dhabas and local restaurants, but price doesn’t deter the patrons who are lined up past the door.
Ramana’s garden was started by Dr. Prabhavati Dwabha, after a spiritual awakening along the banks of the Ganga. She also created a mountain retreat center for paying guests. Here they also grow organic food, lead eco-tours and have a cafe called Kodiya Forest Cafe offering organic culinary delights. All proceeds go to benefit the children of Ramana’s garden Home for Destitute Children.
Cafe Ethnic in Zaheerabad
Cafe Ethnic in Zaheerabad, is a family owned restaurant in Andhra Pradesh run by the Deccan Development Society. This is an organic cafe famous for their organic hot millet drink with jaggery and many foods that have been forgotten in the modern India. On the menu is dishes made of foxtail millet, dosa sama or little millet, pearl millet, sorghum and ragi. These millets survive well in areas that are drought prone and even the poorest are able to grow their next meal.Cafe Ethnic is very popular and respected.
The Deccan Development Society states on their webpage that ” Since 1985, the women of DDS sanghams have used between them 1.2 million eco-employment days to bring back under active cultivation over ten thousand acres of degraded agricultural lands. Consequently they have been raising over three million kilos of grain every year, which is six times more than half a million kilos of grains they use to produce earlier.”
The Deccan Development Society has created a strong presence for their product at market and even has a van that delivers to nearby villages. DDS has also focused on educating the community and consumer. They employ local dalit women to make their own films and produce a community radio show. DDS also puts on mobile biodiversity festivals and workshops, night school and green education for kids.
Navdanya restaurant is located at Dilli Haat, an outside craft and food bazaar in Delhi, India. It serves organic food grown on Navdanya’s farm in Dehradun. In the shop by the restaurant as well as at other outlet stores you can buy organic dried fruits, honey, nuts, rare pulses, flours, rice, spices, pickles, seeds and tea. With a little preplanning and a phone call before Wednesday, you can also order seasonal organic vegetables and fruits delivered to the basement of a home near the Haus Khas market.
According to their promotional, “Navdanya has helped set up 54 community seed banks across the country and trained over 500,000 farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades and helped set up th largest direct marketing fair trade organic network in the country.”
Navdanya is set on a 8-acre farm, which rejuvenated the soil, “once left barren and desertified by years of eucalyptus monoculture.” It now “produces more than 600 varieties of plants, including 250 rice varieties, 30 wheat varieties and diverse varieties of millet, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables and medicinal plants.”
Navdanya’s Bija Vidyapeeth, or Earth University in partnership with Schumacher College in the UK is open to Indian and International students and teaches a variety of topics relating to sustainability, stewardship and organic farming.
Vandana Shiva, a well known activist, eco-feminist, conservationist and physicit founded Navdanya. She has authored hundreds of articles and books, given countless speeches all over the world and is well-recognized in the media. Recently she started leading Navdanya “discover tours” to connect the international community to India’s tribal land through eco-tourism. She advocates for the use of traditional farming practices and against the use of biotechnology, such as genetically modified seeds. She is responsible for taking on Monsanto and reversing some of their patent filings of Indian crop varieties in Europe. Her NGO is both successful and profitable and because of this she has had access to tell the world bout biopiracy, the effects of globalization, unfair trade policies, and the plight of the Indian farmer. Volunteers interns, and the curious come from around the world to visit and work at Navdanya’s farm.
Many People = Many Buyers
Though there are hundreds of examples of reviving organic agriculture as a way to promote social justice, stabilise the ecosystem and increase profit for farmers, the concept of organics is still in its infancy. There are over 1.25 billion people in India however, and every one of them it, goes without saying, has to eat. People who have the economic fluidity to choose their food, are seeking healthier alternatives more and more as the media exposes the dangers of chemical agriculture, godown fumigation and vegetable dying. On the flip side, those who don’t have the economic fluidity deserve access to healthier food that can only be gained in part by educating and opening markets that rapidly expand and influence food production in total so that the supply of cheaper organic-in-practice food is readily available. The other option is to work with well-defined distribution/farm networks that can supply the food through a not-for-profit operation.
Each organization that decides to enter this market has the revolutionary task of educating the consumer and marketing directly. The good news that India’s urban centers are knit together neighborhood by neighborhood with dense population. For example in Mumbai, up to 27,000 people live per square kilometer. Having a strong presence in just one neighborhood, can mean many customers, with word of mouth and reputation only as the primary means of advertising.
A good example of this is the Sureka store in Sector 27 in Noida, a suburb in New Delhi. This unassuming store is along a bumpy non-paved road at the edge of a popular market. The only sign is a board on the street pointing into a badly lit hallway. The store, at the end of the hallway by a puja supply store, is just a counter and storeroom, big enough for two workers. The organic products here come from Morarka Organics line of Down to Earth products in Rajastan. They sell jaggery, spices, tea, dal, beans, coarse wheat, seeds, oils, and puffed rice. From the outside appearance you would never guess they sale an enviable amount of products, just to those who live in the neighborhood! Their flyers are modern, glossy and full color with page after page of pulses and spices. This is one example, of many, of organics showing up in the most unlikely of places.
Organics and Ashrams
Because faith-based organizations, those run by ashrams, mosques, gurdwaras, churches, etc., have prominent respect and visibility all across India, ideas that cater to India becoming more healthy, stress-free, non-violent, food secure, and more independent from outside influences, have vast appeal. Take for example the well-known spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravishankar. His public mission is bring about a violence and stress free world through peace initiatives, yoga, spiritual living, and self-help courses. He also frequently tours India to promote the transition from chemical agriculture to organics. His foundation inaugurated the first Art of Living agriculture college in Harthi, offering a Diploma in Organic Farming. In February of 2011 he visited Bagalkot and inaugurated a “Farmers Resource Center” to help farmers develop their own resources and become independent. He encourages his followers to eat organic food and support organic movements. He was quoted as saying,
“Our country is a country of farmers, if the farmer is happy the country is happy. The youth along with the experienced will come together in our Agriculture College in Harthi. Our sole purpose is to make our youth grow as farmers and become the wealth of our nation.”
India is the birthplace of a spiritual system called Yoga with disciplines ranging from Hatha yoga, the well-known movement of postures performed in unison with breath awareness and control, to meditation systems such as Kriya yoga that direct energy and thought with intent and awareness through various energetic conduits in the body, to karma yoga, an intrinsic base to many other parts of yoga which prescribes the proper attitude of perfecting and offering ones actions to God. In between there are many interpretations and “schools” of thought, more or less eluding to similar goals – a healthy self-reliant life, both physical and spiritual, and a healthy planet. At the core of many of these teachings is diet, what is proper to eat, in what portion, at what time, and what attitude will be most reverential.
In Hatha yoga, and in Hinduism, one of the major suggestions for a successful practice and life is to practice Mitahara/Mithyahara. Mitahara is a proper moderated diet, avoiding all the well-known intoxicants and certain culturally specific foods that can disrupt ones practice with ill effects in the body and destabilize the mind. While the serious yogi abides by this knowingly, the tourist industry in India has capitalized on hatha yoga to attract more westerners. Signs outside of ashrams of all shapes and sizes advertize “ashram living” with “sattvic” (food) as part of the proper diet. Those who serve organic food, ultimately have the most attendees. And those who do not, quickly learn from a loss of membership that even the least serious students from the west are now conscious of India’s chemical laden and overly cooked ashram food, and want a different choice. The chance for India’s spiritual community to herald a new age in dietary awareness along side of their ancient traditions in yoga that already attract so much attention worldwide is here. Some gurus or teachers have are already “hip” to market trends.
Swami Sivananda was a medical doctor before renouncing worldly life for the spiritual path. He left his surviving students with guidelines on what to eat and how to eat it. He presents five points of yoga, the forth of which is proper eating, which includes a vegetarian diet.
Swami Sivananda Yoga Vedanta teacher training courses charges $3000 dollars for a month-long hatha yoga teacher training course in the Himalayas with emphasis on mitahara.
His ashram also presents “Yoga Vacations” a popular getaway with Indians and foreigners alike. These type of situations in one of India’s dominant industries, spiritual tourism, are presenting themselves in vaster and vaster numbers. The problem remains however, that in areas like Rishikesh India, a key pilgrimage site and home of Swami Sivananda’s Ashram, organic food is not readily available.
Act Naturally in Rishikesh, a Guaranteed Market
Swami Sivananda Yoga Vedanta center for example, frequently patrons thePundir Market owned by Kewal Pundir. The Pundir family are well-known business owners in Rishikesh. Owning several hotels and restaurants. This market is one of the only market in Rishikesh with “organic” anything. Their products range from rice and millet sold by S.O.S organics to Organic India teas. Kewal explains that quite often the Ashrams catering to westerners will buy everything “organic” that he has but he doesn’t have organic vegetables. If he did, he would sell them.
Kewal and his brother also own a popular tourist destination in the Himalayan foothills at the edge of town called the Green Hills Cottage. The Green Hills Cottage was the first hotel in the quiet-relaxed Tapovan area, and offers a wide variety of food from Indian food to pizza in its restaurant.. Most of their patrons fall in between spiritual and adventure sports, such as rafting seekers. There is an mix of Indian and foreign guests with a wide variety of taste. The Green Hills Cottage uses ingredients from the Pundir market and make their own tofu. Millet is on the menu and homemade granola made with organic nuts. If organic produce were available, it would be on the menu as well!
Act Naturally has already made contact with major markets in Rishikesh, including the Pundir family and are assured a place for our products. Our organization and it’s volunteers are already a success story do to the diligent efforts of our founder to connect with the community and understand its needs.Rishikesh is ready to Act Naturally.
Act Naturally has made the strategic decision of working in saturation zones. We believe our first zone has to be one with decent and stable market access as to help us build a strong fiscal foundation for our outreach, give us visibility and assure placement for our certified organic produce. Without the assurance of a place to sell the fruit of the farmers labor, the program will fail for both Act Naturally and the farmer.
All zones thereafter are prioritized by need, and are then delineated by social and lingual boundaries. Act Naturally will not move to another zone until projects in current zone effectively by local volunteers, or there is only need for occasional advisory visits or ongoing education.
Zones are effective because they:
- Require fewer resources to manage
- Workshops provided for a group of farms within a manageable distance will get more attendees and use fewer resources
- Volunteers will have more time on a farm, and less time in transit
- Less distance to distribution centers and from distribution centers to customers
- Help us better understand the overall community needs as well as social and economic pressures, that are influencing the farming community
According to a census in 1961 there are 1,652 languages spoken in India. Some languages are local to one village only! There are 29 languages with over a million speakers alone. Many marginalized agrarian communities are tribal in nature and will deviate in language and culture vastly over a span of just twenty kilometers. With this in mind Act Naturally will be more effective building zones based on language.
Village Republic Organics, Why We Chose the Name
Mohandas Ghandi, was a political and philosophical leader during India’s struggle to independence. The core of his teaching was resisting tyranny through civil disobedience, that was based upon ahimsa, or nonviolence. He led nationwide campaigns to liberate people, particularly the untouchables, from the oppression of the caste system. He promoted women’s rights and advocated Swaraj or self-rule through community building as a way to be free from foreign domination.
The village republic was Gandhi’s vision of an agrarian society with a vibrant subsistence economy, where the village is cooperatively owned, and managed by a village council run by women or with an equal representation of women to men. Land or wealth accrued by individuals or a collection of people benefited the whole village. In other words, in a village republic, collective ownership was cornerstone to making sure everyone had enough to eat, had access to shelter, and could make for themselves a fulfilling life. He believed traditional, “old-style,” chemical free agriculture with minimal technology was the best way to feed Indias people! His vision of a self-reliant, always nourished, healthy and productive village is encapsulated in the vision behind our mission.
We believe that organic food production when left to the skilled hands of India’s farmers and the naturally intelligence of the seed, will feed the village, and when each village is fed, the extra blessing of a peaceful and guilt-free abundance can be sold to further the prosperity of the village. Village Republic Organics is not another corporation cashing in on a problem, which will create further problems. We are not a mainstream certification system that charges money in exchange for a certificate. We are creating a template, patterned after a relationship that once existed as the norm – community enforcement of natural and healthy methods of farming for the farmers and community. Our goal is to disconnect the greedy hands of the biopirates operating from a distance, and give the farmers back the satisfaction of managing their own lives and lands. We are a network of people, who shares the same common vision for humanity that we share with our own families, – that all creatures may be happy and free to Act Naturally.
In Hindi Act Naturally translates to kundrati karma, which literally means nature karma. When you act in accordance with her laws and not mans, everyone can eat. We can share and conserve the gifts that this sacred earth has given us, – nonviolently and in respect of her natural right to life as well.
Gandhi said that the nonviolent revolution which is based on morality should start from our own self. The members of Act Naturally are not only committed to the self-reliance of India’s farmers but to our, and everyone else’s own right to personal and spiritual transformation, with creator-God sacred-earth giver-of-life motivating our hearts and intentions. We believe that Gandhi’s vision still applies today.