Read full article By Sangeetha Devi Dundoo @ The Hindu Photo Credit: The Hindu
Beyond Organic connects urban consumers with farmers to encourage biodiversity in farming
There are more consumers of chemical-free food today than there were a few years ago. Beyond the organic labels, nudging consumers to think about sustainable practices that are good for farmers, soil health and the ecosystem, is Beyond Organic.
A collaborative initiative by Disha Collective and Deccan Development Society (DDS), Beyond Organic (confarm.mystrikingly.com) connects 100 urban consumers with nearly 100 farmers in Zaheerabad, Sangareddy district. The initiative began in 2017. Each year, consumers invest ₹12,500 to ₹25,000, which works as an interest-free loan for the farmers. In return, consumers get grains and pulses.
“Most farmers own not more than one or two acres,” says Tejaswi Dantuluri, co-founder and managing director of Disha Collective.
DDS guides the farmers, mostly women, in natural farming methods. The emphasis is on biodiversity, with farmers cultivating 15 varieties of grains and pulses — jowar, bajra, ragi and other millets, horse gram, green moong, toor, urad, sesame, lobia and more.
The consumer connect has guaranteed farmers an assured market.
“About 98 farmers from Arjun Naik Thanda of Zaheerabad no longer depend on loans with interest. They also don’t depend on outside markets to sell their produce. As for consumers, they could get uninterrupted supply of healthy grains even during lockdown,” says Tejaswi.
Beyond Organic also encourages urban consumers to visit the farms during festivals or partake in harvesting. The quantity of grains and pulses that consumers get to take home is decided based on yield and size of each grain cultivation, explains Tejaswi: “If a farm has 50% millets, 30% pulses and 20% vegetables, the consumer basket is in that proportion approximately.”
Tejaswi’s interest in food and health stemmed from her father Satyanarayana Raju, who has been an avid enthusiast of holistic wellness practices.
Years ago, when the family lived in Pune and lost a close relative in his 20s due to a health condition, it got them thinking seriously about health. “Gradually, our home became a place for deeper discussions on wellness; my father formed a study circle called Disha to discuss health, environment, stress factors and related topics,” says Tejaswi.
Once Mr.Raju moved to Hyderabad after retirement, the interest in agroecology and health became a mainstay.
Meanwhile, Tejaswi had taken up graduation in physics and enrolled into NCC’s air wing, wanting to be a pilot. In a year, she experienced what it meant to fly. When she thought she was working her way towards being a pilot, an accident grounded her. “I was bedridden for a couple of months,” she recalls.
However, that too became a turning point. The family’s focus on food, health and ecology had a bearing on her. “From wanting to fly, I got more interested in soil health and people dependent on it,” she says.
After completing her master’s course in communications, she began interacting with farmers when she took up a communications posting with the DDS.
Looking ahead, Tejaswi says Beyond Organic is keen to have more urban consumers on board to help more farmers take up traditional biodiverse farming: “We have nearly 500 farmers ready to be supported but we don’t have enough consumers on board. We are looking at organisations, schools and IT companies who can partner with farmers.”