A week ago, I thought “organic” produce was just fruit and veggies that had a higher price tag and you didn’t have to wash before eating - now I know it is so much more than that. It is a vehicle of hope, and a means to escape the cycle of poverty. Sound a little exaggerated? Well, it’s not. Let me tell you why.
India has the second largest population in the world – over 1.2 billion people. That’s quite a mind-bender for us Kiwis. In the 60’s, knowing that the population was increasing and with it the risk of famine and mass starvation, India commenced what is known as the Green Revolution.
The Green Revolution introduced high yield seeds and agro-chemical fertilisers to cope with the increasing demand for food. It stopped the famine! But years later, much of the soil is robbed of its nutrients, resulting in lower yield, and lower nutrition. The soil needs more fertiliser to grow the crops and generations of knowledge on how to farm without chemical fertilisers has almost disappeared.
Small scale everyday farmers must take loans to purchase more fertiliser but cannot even grow enough to feed their families let alone make the repayments. No income, less food, deteriorating health...the cycle of poverty begins. Sounds grim and hopeless, but that’s not where it has to end.
I visited our local cbm partner in Uttar Pradesh, the second largest state in India with the highest number of people living below the poverty line. Most people in Uttar Pradesh depend on agriculture for their income.
For the last 4 years, through the New Zealand Aid Programme cbm has funded our local partner to train marginalised farmers in how to farm without needing to purchase costly agrochemicals.
Techniques for soil preparation, biological pest control and crop management are time consuming and require planning and higher engagement in the field. However, their efforts are providing farmers with higher returns and a sense of social inclusion.
The difference organic farming has made to the 3,654 farmers trained to date is so great that we are continuing a further 4 years to really make sure the results are felt for generations to come. My visit was to talk to the farmers to discuss how the next 4 years should look.
Maya shows us how she transports her stall and produce to the market independently.
Thirty five year old Maya doesn’t need any encouragement to continue either – she joined the project 3 years ago after her husband died and she was left to meet the needs of their 3 children. Now, through selling organic spices at the local market she can take care of all their needs and give them the proper education that she missed out on.
I also met Pramod – a budding entrepreneur. Not having any land to cultivate didn’t stop him from engaging with the project! Through this project he started his own flour mill business and now employs 2 other people keeping profits in the community where it is needed most.
Pramod showing us his packaged flour – very proud!
Selling the produce is not difficult – it tastes better! So with savings from not purchasing fertiliser, higher profit margins for selling organic produce, and savings from fewer medical expenses, all of these farmers are providing for their families.
What’s the special thing about Maya, Puneeta and Promod?
They all have disabilities. This cbm project purposely trains people with and without disabilities alongside each other to help break down the barriers and stigma attached to disability in India. All three had polio as children which left them unable to use their legs and shunned from society.
Puneeta and her mother telling us about how to make mustard oil
People around them now call them by name and smile as they go past. For them, they have the same opportunities as everyone else and that cycle of poverty has just been broken! The smile on their faces is testament to the hope they now have for the future.
So what is the next 4 years going to look like?
We’re going to develop connections to bigger markets and train even more farmers. Exciting!
There are many more people like Maya, Puneeta and Promod. Stay tuned and I’ll share their stories with you too.