Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) and International Green Week
The comeback of young organic farmers in Kerala
Young people are quitting their jobs in big cities and move to the countryside to become organic farmers. That’s what organic expert Shamika Mone is observing in Kerala, India. She herself was one of them and is now the chairperson of the Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers’ Organisations (INOFO). She tells how her organisation helps traditional farmers document their knowledge for the younger generation and why male and female farmers should work hand in hand. We met her at the International Green Week in January in Berlin.
Ms. Mone, for years we have seen farmers in India living a crisis because of debts – many of them also took their lives because they were so desperate. How is the situation of farmers today?
I am from Maharashtra, a central state in India. In its eastern part, we saw a lot of suicide cases not only in the past, but even currently. In the cotton growing area, genetically modified seeds were introduced many years ago. That has been the major reason for farmers getting into a debt cycle. I see this situation not only in Maharashtra, but also in other states of India where Bt Cotton is grown.
How is the situation in Kerala, where you live?
Kerala is very different. The number of farmers is very low compared to the other states. The main reason is that agriculture is not a profitable business. You are investing a lot, the costs have increased drastically not only now, but gradually over the years. But the price that one gets for the produce has not increased. According to a study by Dr Devinder Sharma, a Policy Analyst in India, salaries of university and government officials have increased drastically, around 200 percent, over the last years. But if you consider the minimum support price given to a farmer for a kilo of rice, it has increased only around 10 to 12 percent. The other costs have increased, but if we increase the costs of food, no one actually wants to accept that. That’s the reality.
How can organic farming be a solution? The production of organic, homemade fertilizers for example, can save a lot of costs.
Since many years there has been a first generation of organic farmers who are now in their older ages. Now, we are the second or third generation and we have learned from the traditional farmers that it’s very easy to make your own organic composts and formulations. In India, we use for example cow dung and cow urine. Traditionally, farmers were very clever, they knew everything. But now, we have to tell the new generation of farmers and the conventional farmers coming to organic, that it’s knowledge intensive. You have to get trained in doing it. We at INOFO have courses where we train farmers, newcomers as well as older people how to make the organic formulations.
So, there are young people trying to become a farmer – not because they traditionally were farmers but because they decide to become one?
Yes, I am also one of them! I’ve come from a city and I don’t have a traditional farm. But now I am on the farm, growing my own food. I see that many people are coming back to the land. There is also a group called “Back to the land farmers” all across India. Basically, they are not getting satisfaction in their jobs. They might be earning a lot of money, but that doesn’t distill into safe food for your family. Happiness and satisfaction are ultimately not there. I see many people are coming for satisfaction. Also, people see that organic is a big business opportunity where actually farmers get the right to decide a fair price for their own produce.
Where do these new organic farmers get the traditional knowledge from?
The earlier generation has already documented it in different formats in the local languages. We with the Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), Indian member of INOFO, also made efforts to document it by going into different rural areas meeting older farmers. We call a meeting in the night, everybody comes together, we have dinner and discuss. You have to make them feel comfortable. It’s a skill to take it out of them. We discuss on traditional seeds, traditional storage practices, traditional knowledge on many other nutritional aspects of traditional seeds. All that was documented. We write, take videos, do translations.
As leader of a farmer organization, what do you think can you contribute to transform this food system with regards to the current crisis?
Farmers have been contributing to the food system before the food system term was introduced. I have recently discussed with farmers about this Food System Summit that happened last year where we with INOFO participated. They asked me, what this all was about and why we were talking about it now. They saw that the global platform is understanding what we understood many years back. That’s important. Generally, during the COVID-19-pandemic, many people have become aware of organic and safe food. They were forced to stay inside and could not go to the market. But if they knew the farmer, the farmer delivered it to their doorsteps. Many farmers have got increased market access with a lot of demand for organic produce.
As a female farmer, do you think that women should be empowered more in agriculture?
It is definitely a requirement since generations. In India, the female power is acknowledged in all our old scriptures. Gradually, the power that women had was not recognized anymore – even in the families. Many times, women don’t recognize it themselves. That’s the biggest challenge: if we can make them realize the strengths they have, they can make a difference. There are a lot of other things in the system that you can try to change. There has to be a support from men in the families as well. But it also has to come from her. In my case, my husband has been very supportive. When I am traveling, he’s on the farm and when he goes out, I’m on the farm. There is a balance and everybody understands their own skills. Men and women need to acknowledge their skills. None of them should drop the work in agriculture. This would be bad for the society.
By Claudia Jordan
Background: Shamika Mone, a researcher from the Indian state Maharashtra, is an organic farmer and entrepreneur. She does organic farming on four acres of leased farm land where she grows traditional rice varieties and vegetables. Since 2017, Mone serves as Chairperson of the Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers’ Organisations (INOFO), a self-organised structure for organic farmers within the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting farmers’ organisations as INOFO on behalf of the German government. With the Global Programme on Strengthening Farmers’ Organisations for Sustainable Agricultural Development, GIZ together with its partners provides farmers’ organisations trainings in business skills, organisational development, leadership and advocacy.
Date 18 – 21 January 2023
Location Berlin Trade Fair
Claudia Jordan — Advisor for communication
Sector project Agriculture/Global Programme on strenghening farmers’ organisations