My whirl winding journey in the so called “notorious” region of Vidarbha (Maharashtra) began after an unforeseen departure from my previous startup Krishi Star. My entry into the world of agriculture was an accident in March 2014, when my passion to work with low income communities pulled me to the dream of working with small and marginal farmers. The idea of Happy Roots was initially as messy as my desk below while I was wrecking my brains over several ideas which can potentially benefit the farmers of Vidarbha.
I soon decided to take a trip across the region (Akola district to be specific) and the journey introduced me to some eye opening facts about the state of agriculture here. Vidrabha, like I mentioned before, is notorious for rising number of farmer suicides (as per data in the last decade, an average of 10 farmers commit suicide every single day). Some say that it is the endless loop of cash credit crisis the farmers’ face that forces them to end their lives while some blame it on weather conditions and lack of right agriculture infrastructure in the region. There is a study of psychiatry conducted by The Department of Psychiatry, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Sewagram and Wardha district administration that throws some light into the deep rooted socio-economic challenges farmers in Vidarbha face. Few thought provoking points are listed below:
- Absence of adequate social support infrastructure at the level of the village and district
- Uncertainty of agricultural enterprise in the region
- Indebtedness of farmers
- Rising costs of cultivation
- Plummeting prices of farm commodities
- Lack of credit availability for small farmers
- Repeated crop failures
- Dependence on rainfall for farming
- Lack of political will and insight in the region
The points in BOLD are the ones I believe are the most pressing and need immediate attention not only from the government but from corporates, NGOs, entrepreneurs and agriculture experts. My own field research and interactions with various stakeholders, gave me a glimpse of all the problems listed above. Vidarbha is a rainfed area and like other regions across the country has seen some drastic changes in weather condition in the last few years. Cotton and pulses are the main crops the farmers grow and orange is the other horticulture crop. I realized that diversification of crops along with finding a source of income for these farmers which doesn’t highly depend on weather conditions is something that I wanted to focus on. Thus started our first ever project into backyard poultry farming for small and tribal farmers in Akola district.
It’s been six months into this project and the learning has been tremendous. I learned about the on ground challenges a food business faces and about the ones I never predicted. Poultry farming has its own set of technicalities in terms of bird health, bird productivity, bird feed, bird raising etc. along with identifying the right breed you want to raise. At Happy Roots, our long term vision is to not only support small & tribal farmers but also revive indigenous birds and plant breeds that belong to India, which for various social and economic reasons are soon disappearing from our food basket and food chain.
We are trying to bring Indigenous, cage-free, tan-shell eggs in the market which are free from antibiotics and chemicals of all sorts.
During my market research I have come across various malicious practices used in the poultry industry like excessive use of hormones, antibiotics and chemicals fed to the birds to increase their productivity. The birds are literally treated like an egg producing machine. There is a whole set of research which states the ill effects of such rearing practices on bird mental and physical health. The antibiotics fed to the birds stay in the food chain for more than 25 years. Some of these antibiotics are the ones which are usually fed to humans!
My goal is not to taint the industry but to bring out the facts about the food that we eat. As a consumer of poultry products these facts make me worried and I believe that these would raise concerns for many others too. The question of food productivity and thus food security is still remains for indigenous bird breeds and my work is also to combine forces/institutions to research on this subject.
Happy Roots today has reached a milestone and that is what made me write my first blog post about our awesome journey (we have been on a rollercoaster ride). We have produced our first batch of eggs and our food tests show that our product beats most egg brands in the market, in terms of nutrition, hands down! My journey is supported by an excellent team at Chetana Organic foundation, which works relentlessly for the livelihood improvement of 5000 small & marginal farmers in Vidarbha. As our partners they not only share our vision to generate higher incomes for this farmer group but also share our principles of trust, honesty and integrity. I have found equally awesome customers in Pune (Chefs, restaurant owners) who believe in serving the best safe food to their customers and want to bridge the gap between the industry and farmers. I would probably need another 1000 word post to appreciate my partners and customers 🙂
Last but not the least I just can’t thank enough the farmers I am working with. The farmers in Vidarbha are enterprising, bold and our passionate about working for the upliftment of their fellow farmers and their village. One thing that the farmers need here is people like us who can take a lead and leap of faith to disrupt the status quo. The potential is huge and the opportunities are tremendous in areas that can directly touch the lives of million farmers.
We are soon conducting our pilot in Pune. We still do not know how things would shape up but Happy Roots, Chetana, our farmers and our customers truly believe that whatever the case maybe we will keep turning stones on the path we are walking and try make a difference one-step at a time.
Want to send wishes, love and hugs or just want to connect with us? Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s always wonderful to hear kind and encouraging words or receive a helping hand J