The idea of Terra Madre is to link people who are in the 'food chain', so to speak - the producer to the vendor, the vendor to the consumer - in such an interconnected way as to realise the equality and dignity of all within the larger context of protecting health, the environment and maintenance of biodiversity.
While all such events are, to an extent, stage managed, at least some of the participants came directly from rural food communities and could reevaluate their work within a global context.
It has become increasingly evident that alternatives to the mass food production system exist, and it is an alternative many might want to pursue. Initiatives made in this direction are small but significant ones.
Vachan Shah and Srinivas Kulkarni both worked for multinationals for several years, when they met, employed as they were in distribution of products in the rural sector. They had seen and realised the effect of pesticides directly, and slowly began to make a network of about 150 farmers who used neither fertilisers nor pesticides, with a view to encourage them and to promote healthier ways of eating and living.
"Several other cities have exclusive outlets for organic food, in Delhi, in Bangalore, Hyderabad and in Chennai. We felt that such an initiative could be made in Pune.", says Vachan. Three years ago they started a shop for organic produce in Pune called 'Organic and Naturals'.
Srinivas says "Many small farmers are organic by default, meaning they cannot afford fertilisers or pesticides, especially in areas like Nandurbar in Dhule district and the tribal areas in Bhor."
This could turn into a blessing if they can benefit by continuing to keep to traditional methods and farming practices, in the realisation that small yield does not necessarily mean lower income. However the government must help in some ways.
"The government in Karnataka has done a great deal to encourage the growth of organic produce.", says Vachan.They have done a lot to promote the concepts and thinking behind organic food among the populace. As a result, the number of consumers have grown, and they are willing to pay a bit more for such produce. "
In Maharashtra, the government has been involved mostly at the producer level. An equal effort to promote by advertising amongst consumers would do much to increase volumes and then the cost of such an enterprise would become viable.
The organic movement in India has also been side tracked considerably by the concentration on export and therefore on international certification. As P.Satheesh director of the Deccan Development Society and a grassroots worker on food security and organic agriculture says "It's a sobering thought that the farmers producing the best and cleanest food must pay extra to certify, instead of inorganic foods being certified as potentially bad for our health ".
If the focus were shifted to domestic consumers it would add power to the elbow of organic farmers. Consumers here would be content with APEDA's Indian National Organic Standards certification, as they would know the produce would be less contaminated than what is currently available to them. In the initial stages of this movement in India it would serve to revalidate traditional farming practices, especially among the small farmers, where natural ways of controlling pests and enriching soil through crop rotation have been the norm.
Many people who wish to invest in organic food outlets think the supply chain mechanism and storage facilities are the two big critical issues for the organic foods segment to grow.
For Vachan and Srinivas this is not the main problem as they have farmers in the vicinity who supply them with vegetables and fruit as well as grain. They also have contacts with producers further afield in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and of course Maharashtra.
These include Om Prakash Mor Eco Farms in Yavatmal who grows several different types of lentils, cereals, oilseeds and fruits.
Organics and Naturals also stock Black jaggeryand honey, spices, Jawar and Bajra, Nachani and Soybean flour. They sell a wide range of indigenous rice varieties such as Ambemohar, Hatsadi, and Indrayani.They have coconut jam !, a fine rock salt, tofu, seasonal fruits and fresh vegetables.
I came away from O&N with a bagful of interesting food stuffs which friends and family have enjoyed, with hope, and with the realisation that every effort counts in the marathon that is ethical development.
Organics and Naturals, 1 Kamaljia Apartments, 1306 Shivajinagar, Bank of Baroda Lane, J.M. Road, Pune 411005
Tel: 20-2553 6835, Open 10 a.m-2 p.m & 4 p.m-8 p.m, Closed on Sundays, email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for a list of organic outlets in India.