Rice was not the staple food everywhere in India

December 14, 2015
By Rang De Team
Bablu Ganguly

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Did you know that rice was not once the staple food in many places in South India? Did you know that the cost of gold has gone up 20 times since 1960 but the price of rice has only gone up by three or four times?

CK “Bablu” Ganguly, 59, presided over our latest Rangdezvous, a quarterly initiative to help individuals learn from inspirational leaders in the rural development space.

Bablu told us about his journey founding the Timbaktu Collective, an NGO that started from nothing and now works with 20,000 families from 170 villages, all of whom now lead improved and dignified lives in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.

“When I came to Anantapur in 1978 as one of the founders of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Unions of Agricultural Labourers when working with the Young India project, the minimum wage that farm labourers were getting was Rs 5/day which we helped raise to 25,” he said.

Last year, they also received the One World Award — Gold given out by Rapunzel, a notable name in the organic sector, as well as the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements.

One of the earliest Ashoka fellows from India, Bablu, who was selected in 1993, feels the pain of the farmer.

"The biggest challenge we face is that young people like you in Ananthapur are not in Ananthapur!"
“The biggest challenge we face is that young people like you in Ananthapur are not in Ananthapur!”

“It’s the farmer who does the work, the farmer who takes the risk when there is unseasonal rain or a drought. We want cheap food and we are not willing to pay the farmer.

“In India, food is cheap and that’s great. That’s the way it should be — available to everybody. But it should not be at the cost of the farmer.”

“We sell a packet of foxtail millet rice for Rs 100/kg — Rs 25 goes to the retailer, Rs 19 to Dharani (the organic branch of Timbaktu) and about Rs 55, paid upfront, goes to the farmer.”

“When we started Dharani, the farmers were getting Rs 5–10/kg.”


“In the arid villages of Anantapur, rice was only used for special occasions back then — funerals, birthdays, festivals. Different kinds of rice were used for different occasions.

“Otherwise, it was primarily millets that were eaten in different cooked forms. Rice was not the staple food everywhere in India.”

Timbaktu Collective are trying to put the spotlight on traditional methods of organic farming that, in Bablu’s view, “is the only way for climate change mitigation” and bring back traditional millet-based cooking.

We are supporting their 15 lakh loan request which will assist the capital needs of the 1,800 members of the Dharani Cooperative ahead of the coming harvesting season.

Dharani has taken five large-tranche loans and has completed all its repayments every time. They are now seeking 15 lakhs to plan ahead for their operations in 2017.

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