It was a matter of pride when the Rockefeller Foundation selected the Anand Mahindra backed Naandi Foundation, a non-profit based in Hyderabad as one of the top 10 visionaries in the world for Food Vision 2050 prize, announced recently in New York. The organization aims to provide food and nutrition for all, turn the local farmers into entrepreneurs, and develop a sustainable and circular agricultural model (based on traditional farming practices) that has no adverse effect on the environment.
With the onset of the green revolution in the 1970s and the introduction of Minimum Support Prices for crops like paddy and wheat, there was a significant shift from agriculture as a way of life to farming as a profit-making economic activity, leading to resource exploitation. The food system linkages gave way to mono-cropping, and cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane replaced food crops. This meant that the traditional agricultural practices became redundant, and the profit-making entrepreneurial farmers, who were in charge of the symbiotic food system, now became unskilled wage earners. With an increase in the number of farmers cultivating cash crops for quick profits, the cost of farming also increased, leading to indebtedness. The lack of biodiversity in food production has resulted in a food and livelihood crisis, causing malnutrition for masses across the country. In addition to depleting the biomes of the soil, mono-cropping has also led to the disappearance in the diversity of food that people consume, with most relying on cheap fast foods, resulting in an overall lack of nutrition. Farming has become a loss-making enterprise in India due to the depletion of soil, nutrition, knowledge as well as decreased resilience to climate change and pest attacks.
The future of farming looks bleak because of the scarcity of natural resources, unfavourable weather conditions, climate change, and soil depletion, which can increase the cost of farming further. These issues have led to the newer generation moving away from agriculture over time, and thus, an overall shortage in the number of farmers may occur.
Anand Mahindra backed Naandi Foundation, a non-profit based in Hyderabad, is working to address all of these challenges that the Indian agricultural system is facing. The organization aims to provide food and nutrition for all, turn the local farmers into entrepreneurs, and develop a sustainable and circular agricultural model (based on traditional farming practices) that has no adverse effect on the environment. The Rockefeller Foundation recently selected Naandi as one of the top 10 visionaries in the world for the Food Vision 2050 prize.
Currently operating in three geographically different regions in India, i.e., Araku (a tribal area), Wardha (the region with one of the highest no. of suicides by farmers) and Delhi (one of the biggest and most populated cities), the organization addresses the common agricultural issues faced by modern India (like climate change, soil depletion, etc.) through its ABCDEFGH framework:
1) Agriculture, Not Farming: Traditionally, agriculture was a way of life in India. The onset of the green revolution and the global competition resulted in its transformation into farming, a profit-based economic activity.
2) Biology, Not Chemistry: Before 1970, the approach to agriculture in India was based on life science- use of natural elements, activation of biomes and microbes, etc. The collapse of the natural agricultural symbiotic system was triggered when we moved from biology to chemistry.
3) Compost, Not Chemicals: Use of compost in place of chemical fertilizers has proven to enhance the productivity, reverse soil erosion, and mitigate the impact of climate change.
4) Decentralized Decision making: All of the farming practices and activities are decentralized and customized at the farm level.
5) Entrepreneur, Not Subsistence Farmer: A farmer, rather than earning subsistence wages and relying on subsidies, should be able to make profits through quality, value addition, and ownership.
6) Family, Not Male Alpha Famer: The effort and involvement of the whole family in the agricultural process make it a sustainable and viable option for future generations.
7) Global Markets, rather than Minimum Support Prices (MSPs): The idea is to empower the farmers to enter global markets. Araku coffee farmers get the highest price for their produce in the world.
8) Headstand: Addressing India’s food and agricultural system crisis requires that the current approach be turned on its head.
The organization’s approach has been to create agricultural clusters that focus on composting the waste, mechanizing the farm practices, and upgrading the skills of farm labourers. The Delhi model is called the 100-hectare cluster approach. As of now, there is one such cluster in Delhi that has a model one-hectare farm that serves as an agricultural open university for 20-40 farmers with a holding of 2-5 hectares of land on average. Thus, as a result of training the farmers, their marginal profit increases and leads to the production of local, tasty, traceable, nutritious food at affordable prices for the city’s consumers. The long term goal of this approach is to shift the focus from food prices to enhancing the quality of germplasm, creating good nurseries and seed banks of saplings relevant to cultural and climatic conditions.
Naandi is also focussing on regenerative agriculture, which brings back life to the soil below the ground. It all starts with the creation of new topsoil, which leads to the formation of favourable soil microbiome, resulting in an efficient biology oriented nutrient cycle for the plants. It also helps in eradicating soil erosion, creating disease suppressant, and water-efficient soil, which helps in climate change resilience. This agricultural model would result in re-emergence of community bonds around food and agriculture, and the producers and consumers would be mindful of their journey of food and future of their food security.
Rockefeller, in their citation, said, “…in your vision, we see a vision of light we think can illuminate the whole world. Your vision is inspired. If implemented, it can transform. It feels lofty yet feasible – audacious yet vital. It can reveal a path forward to a nourishing, resilient, sustainable, and equitable food system for 2050, if not well before. We think the global community can be activated to learn from and take ideas from your vision.”
About the Author
Shivam Rai (LinkedIn) is a sustainable and circular economy enthusiast. Currently pursuing his Master’s in Quantitative Finance at Pondicherry University, he developed a flair for the field of sustainability while preparing a paper on the Circularity of Oil & Gas Industries (with a primary focus on the circularity of plastic used in the industry) for the XVI International Forum Contest for Students and young researchers.