On a recent visit to Farm 2 Food Foundation, Rebuild’s Ekansh Gupta reflects on the success of the organization in defying conventional motivation theories, demonstrating the profound impact of purpose-driven work in nurturing hope and revival amidst adversity.
‘Reclaim agency over our foodways’, and ‘Promoting Indigenous farming methods as an act of resistance’ are different articulations by A Growing Culture to highlight the importance of preserving indigenous culture and natural systems in order to attain food sovereignty. This is also the core philosophy followed by Farm2Food, a not-for-profit organization based in Jorhat, Assam. This was our port of entry into north-eastern India. A crash course on the conflict-marked history of Assam informed us about the ethnic strife that the state has witnessed. The communities and their parched economy have craved growth and looked outwards towards popular modes of development instead of the indigenous ways of sustainable, ecological and anthropogenic balance. The region, thus, has seen a staggering number of dead indigenous varieties of rice and other crops and fast fading knowledge of natural and organic farming.
The theory of change, therefore, is to rejuvenate indigenous systems of agriculture and crafts to restore this balance with school children as agents of change. Inculcating the idea of Farmpreneurship is Farm2Food’s key intervention that nudges the community to build an ecosystem that would make traditional organic farming a potential and viable profession for the next generation. The entry point is a nutritional assessment in a target school, where the poor results create the intention to improve the nutrition levels of the students. Continuous interaction with children leads them to the need to consume local fruits and vegetables. In continuation, often the students themselves come up with the idea of growing their own food – after all, this has been the life world for most of them.
Somewhere, in the deep rural pockets of Jorhat, a little girl came up with the idea of asking their parents for seeds to kickstart their school Nutri-garden. Over time, this became what is now known as ‘‘Beejdaan Yatra’. What we witnessed was a string of young boys and girls holding placards going around the village asking for local varieties of seeds. But then the elders did not limit themselves to sharing the seeds but also shared snippets of traditional wisdom on how to cultivate those seeds. This extension, called ‘Gyaandaan’, made the children learn the gradually disappearing traditional practices and created a sense of ownership for the community members towards this little project of school children. With the help of Farm2Food’s community experts, the children then push the intervention to the next phase of ‘Shramdaan’ where they ask the elders to support them in land levelling activities and in preparing the garden.
While this movement brews slowly, Farm2Food ensures that they build an ecosystem around the community to keep up the momentum. Interested women of ‘tea tribes’ (one of Assam’s most vulnerable groups of tribal migrants from Jharkhand who historically migrated to work as labour in Assam’s tea gardens) also get trained as paravets or ‘Pashu Sakhis’ which is a local version of barefoot veterinary doctors pioneered by the Goat Trust. Others get trained as ‘Solar Sakhis’ or solar engineers with expertise flowing in from Barefoot College. They also support local crafts like the handloom products one would find in each household of this region. The idea remains to restore/ create stronger relations between the community (especially the new generation) and the local ecology. The aspiration is that if not as a sole source of livelihood, farm-based livelihoods must survive as an additional source of income.
The intervention and the constant community dialogue around it have led to a plethora of innovative ideas around indigenous farm practices. In some villages, the idea of a school garden has been extended to children starting kitchen gardens in their homes. While in other schools, children can be found vermicomposting and selling their produce. Success stories of children consuming vegetables like bitter-gourd and ridge-gourd talk about the ownership that can be created via a sustained community interaction. One can find children saying “I have grown that bitter gourd, who will eat it if I won’t?”. For students of class 6th, earning rupees 20 by selling vermicompost or fresh indigenous herbs can be a matter of incredible boost to self-confidence while building a solid foundation for future farmpreneurs.
Factors of success
A promise is based on trust. And trust is based on the relationship. This is the premise of how Farm2Food builds an ecosystem. A lot of the communication around Farm2Food’s work revolves around the promise to share a rejuvenated ecology with the next generation. School teachers absorb it in the articulation of holistic education and development for their students. Parents absorb it in the form of improved nutrition. The community in general adopts it in the form of an additional source of income. The outcome of all of these is a strengthened relationship between community members and their ecology. But still, is that a reason enough? Also, all this incredible work is delivered by local experts who are part of Farm2Food. What could be the reason behind their deep involvement and continued obsession despite the limited consideration one gets in the social sector? Could there be other motivations for the teachers to sustain the momentum around school gardens?
A local veteran speculates that these individuals, teachers that sustain the farmpreneur programme and the local experts/mid-management of Farm2Food who ignite it, may have a sense of realization of the ‘self-actualization’ stage of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This motivation theory, however, predicts that an individual can attain a higher level of Maslow’s needs only after the lower levels have been attained. Therefore, the experience of Farm2Food would then follow the alternative (read disputed) explanation of Dr Abraham Maslow’s theory that one can achieve higher levels without necessarily having realized the lower ones. Perhaps, this could be the reason why many in the social sector passionately continue to contribute despite being overloaded and not being adequately compensated.
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