The Commons of Dantewada
Updated: Sep 21, 2022
Parindey: Akash Badave
Alivelihood: Organising Organic Farmers
Region: Dantewada, Chhattisgarh
The official site of Dantewada district mentions it as one of the oldest inhabited places in India and has always held on its way of place. True to its sense, and witnessed as well, the people of Dantewada have stood together to demand from the political and economic forces, for the safekeeping of their natural resources. The legacy of taking decisions at the community level on matters that impact the commons continues to be in practice. Bhoomgaadi is an outcome of such initiatives.
Akash Badave is one of the few people working towards this common belief in this community, passionate to set everything right on humanitarian grounds and towards a sustainable society. He is the third generation of a family believing in active social work, following the ideals of Sarvodaya, the development of all based on equality and liberty.
From his school days, Akash immersed himself in acts that helped identify thoughts and norms that need to be altered for a better world. While pursuing engineering, he became more aware of what he did not want to be a part of; he craved more human-centric and ground-level efforts that did not solely depend on technology.
He gained an understanding that though there exist multiple solutions for social and environmental issues, they were not being followed or implemented. He indulged in readings and research on the same. Soon, he was able to define sustainable development as “satisfying one’s own needs while being in harmonious coexistence with the rest of nature”, hitherto it was just the start of his further exploration.
Shodh yatra was his first pitstop; a journey to rural India in the search of knowledge, creativity, and innovations that paved him to relate to issues and their solutions with better clarity of thought. The experiences and reflections culminated in him applying for the Prime Minister’s Fellowship in 2012, which allowed him to explore sustainable livelihoods at Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, his assigned location as a PM Fellow. Along with the District Collector at that time, Akash collaborated on several initiatives aimed at the betterment of the farmers such as the revival of organic farming and training on new techniques to improve yield. These training sessions by the Agricultural Department and Akash’s team initiated conversations among farmers on how they reimagined their land and community. After some sessions and reflections, the farmers were in a place to be able to question the agriculture department about their earlier stance on using chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Continuous imparting of knowledge and learning from experiences led to a historic moment in 2016 where the farmers as a group demanded the then agriculture minister of Chhattisgarh deny permits to private stakeholders on the sale of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in their region. It was a moment of solidarity among farmers, their questions were non-ignorable considering they came from a group that had always been non-confrontational.
This brought to the fore other issues: how to ensure stable productivity? Who would buy organic produce? How would the farmers get out of the middlemen circle?
Previously, certain farmers had been slowly losing the urge to continue organic farming due to the onset of the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS). Only white rice and lentils would be procured by the government for inclusion in PDS, thus turning the farmers away from the other variety of rice and vegetables that they conventionally grew. Furthermore, farmers who did not depend on the government to sell their produce had to depend on middlemen who paid very low rates to the farmers while making huge profits in outside markets. To ensure that the farmers continued organic farming, introducing them to new locally relevant and sustainable technologies along with continuous handholding was necessary.
These issues prompted resolutions; In 2016 Akash with a group of farmers decided to set up a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO), ‘Bhoomgaadi’, in the name of the local tribal festival celebrating yield and harvest. The structure of Bhoomgaadi was designed to increase food security and sustained income for the farmers along with a potential market. In addition, the organisation offered employment for those skilled in documentation, accountancy, mechanical works, etc.
Akash has been the link between the Government and the people. His experience with government stakeholders eased out the setup, and functioning of the organisation. It was also incidental in allowing for collaborations and resource mobilisation: Vacant government buildings are used to store produce before the sale, and women self-help groups under National Rural Livelihood Mission were collaborated with to clean and sort the produce. Partnerships have also been built with NGO Nirmaan, for supporting the farmers on the field, through their field team called Jaivik Karyakartas.
Bhoomgaadi ensures that the farmers are supported from sowing to the sale process and their efforts are rewarded in a fair market space. Every year, Bhoomgaadi does market analysis on Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the prevalent rates which is then discussed with its board of directors, who are organic farmers from the region themselves. The farmers are also supported by providing diverse native seeds such as oilseeds, vegetables, millets, varieties of paddy, etc. and encouraged to exchange these among themselves. They are encouraged to grow vegetables and keep a share of the harvest and seeds for their consumption and safekeeping. To restore the connection with traditionally cooked meals, Bhoomgaadi also runs Café Aadim which is managed completely by members of the local community.
“Food is a core cultural aspect, which is not easy to influence. A lot of it has to do with identity, caste and culture. The region where you come from, the geography, agro-climatic conditions, etc. influence the food systems.”
- Akash Badave
The region’s population consists mainly of tribal communities- the Maria and the Muria who depended majorly on forest produce. Other communities like the Halba and Gondi have been agriculture-oriented along with the non-tribals like the Dhakar, Raut, Kalar, etc., people from Scheduled Caste communities, and a few people from Brahmin communities. The diversity of the population is reflected in the food practices- a mix of forest produce, cultivated food and meat-based diet. However, with the influx of urbanised educators, missionaries and government officials, the food system has changed gradually. There has been a sense of inferiority among the locals with regards to their language, food, clothes, and culture since the co-habitation of people placed and institutions established by the political players and missionaries.
In such a context, it became imperative to relearn self-reliance in communities that have historically been frontline protectors of forests and livelihoods. Bhoomgaadi believes in collaboration between the locals and well-meaning outsiders to turn it completely farmer-run. The indigenous stories, songs and dances of the Devtas (gods) and Devis (goddesses) had to be remembered, tales of river Indravati satiating the land and the air-breathing life into them had to be retold.
For years, the communities have practiced the virtue of “if I put anything bad on my land, it will harm my neighbour's land and harvest”, stated an organic farmer who along with a few farmers had continued to practice organic farming even after the implementation of schemes pushing toxic chemical-based farming. These farmers were instrumental in bringing up conversations about the shared land, water, and air of the community, which constitutes the commons. This awareness and learning of the rules of commons that support their life have led to the farmers uniting towards building resilience and sustaining themselves and the rest of nature around them.
Even though the market that Bhoomgaadi connects the farmers to is part of the same system of profit-making, it becomes atypical in the autonomy and decision-making powers of everyone involved in the farming and value addition process from start to end. Akash has immersed himself to foresee all aspects at Bhoomgaadi as interconnected activities and invested in creating a vibrant community-based organisation.
Soon, the plans for Bhoomgaadi will include more emphasis to make the organisation more self-reliant, and free from any external market control. Regular training, conversations, interactions with the larger context is intended to expand the skill base of the farmers and increase their participation in administrative work. Furthermore, it is hoped that the 120 villages that Bhoomgaadi works with would become the catalyst to get Dantewada district to be declared as organic; while still ensuring transparency and authenticity during organic certification. The possibility of neighbouring districts receiving support for organic farming, setting up farmer producer companies, and getting organic certification is also being looked at.
Akash can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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