A visit to the sustainably managed farms in Narayanpet linked to the supply chain of big retailers.
On our first project visit as an IWitness group from IKEA Germany, we travelled to the little village Thimnapur, 70km outside Hyderabad. A rural area for generations, agriculture is the main source of income for the inhabitants of this village. Here, Project Disha supports women farmers who work very hard in the fields to produce vegetables such as tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and cabbage.
Disha trains the women farmers in sustainable agricultural practices and provides them with knowledge to change their farming techniques and move towards organic farming. It also links these farmers with retail buyers such as Metro, Big Basket and Wyn Farms which supply the IKEA Store in Hyderabad. The goal is to fetch premium prices, use optimal resources and reduce costs.
We walked with Akkaraju Vijaya Laxmi and her family to a big load of just-picked cucumbers ready to get graded (into A, B and C), bringing 20% more profit.
We also met the vibrant and very bold 56-year-old Dandu Bhulaxmi who cultivates tomatoes and uses organic pesticides to increase her yield. In fact, IKEA uses tomatoes cultivated by Dandu in salads in the store. This is how veggies are making it from farm to the shelves and to our plates.
As farmers receive better prices for their produce, their families are better taken care of and they are able to convince their children to take on traditional livelihood such as farming. With the support of Disha, farmers don‘t mind staying in rural areas because they see that farming can generate a decent income. The farmers now experience their work as a sustainable business with future. “My land is everything for my family since generations,” Dandu said. “My wish for my sons is to have a better life like I had. For that I work hard every day and I like it.”
The Disha team told us that the biggest challenge is the change in mindset. Young farmer Lavanya reflected about her change in thinking: “The Disha trainer came, they told us about organic farming. But we did not take it so seriously. We thought, it‘s only another training of farming. Then I observed a group of women doing organic farming very successfully. I joined the group and have being do it now for a year. My crops are not infected with pests any longer. My yields have much improved. We are now selling to big organised buyers, like Big Basket.”
The most fascinating moment was when the women farmers started to dance and sing a traditional folksong, devoted to Disha. We did not understand the words, but the rhythm invited all of us to dance. A great gift to the Disha team, who were very touched. It was good for us to see how Disha was so appreciated by the whole community.
In the afternoon, we met the board members of Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (MACS) at Village Gowaram. This cooperative was founded one year ago to strengthen the women farmer producers, increase their volume and help them access big buyers. The board and members take responsibility of carrying out different activities pertaining to collection and distribution of their vegetables such as procurement, grading- sorting and supplies.
Due to their success and the female strength to share knowledge and learning, this collective is creating a real movement – from 60 members at the beginning to 1,120 now, after one year. “Only men keep the knowledge, but women share it,” joked one of the women farmers with a twinkle in her eye to the few men participating in that meeting.
To meet these women farmers was a breathtaking moment. Most of them started very shy and with no business knowledge at all. Now they are the first female earners in their families. They are breaking traditions and gender sterotypes. We will always keep the picture of Shyamala, the president of MACS, in our minds: breastfeeding her baby while talking with us about profits and business ambitions. To get to know her vision was also very impressive: to be as big as the IKEA store in Hyderabad. Their only wish was to see how their tomatoes and cucumbers turns into salads for the customers at the IKEA restaurant. We left the group very sure that this powerful, multi-tasking and fast-growing group of women farmers will manage this and grow big.