RangDezvous is an initiative by Rang De that seeks to connect our community members with people who are doing important work and bringing change on the ground.
The ninth edition of RangDezvous was held on 25th August in Bengaluru. The speaker for the event was Ms Aruna Rangachar Pohl, the former Executive Director of the India Foundation for Humanistic Development (IFHD), a Bengaluru-based organization that works with farmers and the food value chain in India.
Ms Pohl was delivering a talk on the nature of the food crisis in India and the ways in individuals and organizations can mitigate the situation. Ms Pohl was speaking from her decades-long experience working in the food industry, first as a management professional and then at the grassroots, working with Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Farmer Collectives in India.
Agriculture and the food crisis in India
In her talk, Ms Pohl traced the problem with food production with the general disconnect that people have come to feel from their immediate environment. “The more I interact with the next generation, I find that the connect with the earth… the finesse in understanding is slowly vanishing,” she said.
She believes that India’s agriculture policy, which aggressively focuses on productivity, was the result of a different era. “The green revolution in the 60’s was a requirement of the time. The focus in high yielding crops was what India needed at the time.”
But this continued focus on productivity, according to Ms Pohl, has inaugurated a “vicious cycle” of resource-intensive farming that is destroying the delicate balance between communities and the land.
Throughout her hour-long talk, Ms Pohl provided statistics about agriculture in India, and used them to draw several interesting insights. “55% of the country’s agriculture is rain – fed. If you look at rain-fed areas and the poverty map in India, there is an overlap,” Ms Pohl said.
While a majority of the subsidies went to farmers with irrigated land, which is less than 30% of the total crop area, over 40% of the rice produced in the country comes from rain-fed areas. This disparity in distribution of resources was something that needs to be corrected urgently.
Ms Pohl also drew lour attention to the poor status of finance for the farmers. “On the whole as of today, 14 % of the GDP in India but receives 0.3% of the budget, which is around Rs 80,000 crores. All of this money goes towards farmers that have irrigated land,” she said.
One important way to change the situation is to focus on creating decentralized, sustainable solutions for agriculture, that moves away from an economic aspect to nature, social and human aspects.
The work done by IFHD
The IFHD primary works with farmer collectives and farmer producer organizations by helping them directly connect with markets and get better value for their products. Speaking about farmer collectives in India, Ms Pohl said, “Whilst 3,000 or 6,000 Farmer Producer Organizations have come up in India, over 90% of them are struggling for survival because of a lack of business sense and viability”. The IFHD focuses on working with communities and helping them become self-sustainable.
What distinguishes IFHD’s projects are that they are all time-bound. “We consider FPOs graduated when they get access to formal finance and when their operations are sustainable at scale,” Ms Pohl said. Once an organization is deemed self-sufficient, the IFHD team moves onto a different project in a new area.
Throughout her talk, the one thing that Ms Pohl reiterated was her belief that we need to re-look development, especially in agriculture. “The world needs a reset button. It needs to move from a ‘conquering’ approach to a ‘nurturing’ approach. And it is my belief that it is women who will lead this change”
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