Industrial farming in India, with its focus on monoculture crops and synthetic chemicals, has had far-reaching environmental and social ramifications. Aiming to turn the tide is Amrita Bhoomi, a peasant agroecology training centre which is shifting its country’s food system towards biodiversity and ecological sustainability, and has been recognised with a 2018 Lush Spring Prize Influence Award.
India had always practised organic farming right up until the middle of the twentieth century when industrial agriculture promised quick and easy methods to deal with pests and disease, and the increased crop yields were seen as the perfect solution for supplying a growing population. Yet today, after decades of being exposed to intensive chemicals by global chemical multi-nationals, the soil is ravaged and lifeless, forcing hundreds of millions of farmers to abandon their land and head to the city, often in the false belief that they’ll make a better life for themselves and their families.
What’s more, between 1995 and 2015 over 300,000 farmers are reported to have taken their own lives. “Latest figures show that one farmer commits suicide every hour,” says Chukki Nanjundaswamy, the Karnataka State Farmers Movement (KRRS) president and Amrita Bhoomi’s coordinator. “This is because of debt and loans from a style of farming that is dependent on expensive chemical inputs and proprietary seeds. We need to stop this. It is unacceptable. We need to make farming free from debt.”
Amrita Bhoomi was launched in 2013 in a bid to solve this problem by helping rural communities create models of autonomy in food and farming. Spread over 66 acres, the centre is located in the Biligiri Ranga Hills, Karnataka, surrounded by three national parks and has become a space where farmers, women, men, and young people go to learn agroecology and the principles behind farming ecologically.
“Over 40% of Indian children are malnourished and pesticide related diseases are rampant,” Chukki says. “We need to bring poison-free food to everyone’s plates, and put the livelihoods of farmers, workers, and rural communities at the heart of the food system.”
Along with a number of model agroecology farms, the centre also houses a livestock bank, a medicinal garden conserving medicinal varieties that currently face extinction, a 250-seat auditorium, plus the training centre with classrooms and dormitories. Amrita Bhoomi also provides access to local seeds - many varieties of which were becoming endangered - through a seed bank that supports a network, run and owned by farmers, who produce and distribute the local indigenous seeds.
The next step for Amrita Bhoomi is to imitate a Zero Budget Natural Farming policy initiated by its neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. The policy supports farming with nature without expenditure as a solution to farmer suicide, and works through grassroots farmer institutions and farmer to farmer training.
“The Zero Budget Natural Farming policy is such a lovely policy that is based on farmer initiatives, and when the state puts its weight behind agroecology then a lot can be achieved,” explains Chukki, who says the £25,000 Lush prize fund will go a long way to help introduce the policy in Karnataka. “We want to take our own state government officials to learn from this wonderful policy and implement similar policies in our state as well.”
To discover more insight into how Amrita Bhoomi operates and the great work it it doing, visit amritabhoomi.org
The Lush Spring Prize, hosted by Lush and co-operative Ethical Consumer Research Association, offers a £200,000 prize fund and other support activities, to help projects around the world that are working towards environmental and social regeneration.
Regeneration illustration by David McMillan.