Deshonnati, a popular marathi newspaper, Krushakonnati, a popular marathi agricultural weekly and Ecocert India, an organic certification body in south Asian region had jointly organised a three days 'Organic Food and Taste Festival' in the city of Akola, Maharashtra. The festival witnessed a remarkable success.
"The total revenue of this three days festival in such a small city was around 0.6 million rupees, which is surprising and encouraging as well!", says Dr Amol Nirban, Business Development Officer at Ecocert India. "The festival offered the rarest opportunity to buy diverse food commodities, processed food products, traditional cuisines and agricultural inputs - all organic!"
The objective of the event was to offer the region of Vidarbha a sustainable solution for its problems. The never-profitable agriculture, regularly occurring farmers' suicides, weak local economy and failure of other measures to uplift the small farmers' situation in the region forced Mr Prakash bhau Pohare to think of a lasting solution and a mechanism which can help stand the once self reliant farmers on their own again. He was also concerned over the increasing rate of ailments like cancer and several other disorders in the society after having continuously exposed to food from chemical agriculture.
"Organic and low budget farming! I couldn't think of anything else than to promote organic farming among the debt-ridden farmers suffered by chemical agriculture"
"And it wasn't enough. Even the consumers around were required to be made aware of eating organic food. My recent interactions with officials of Ecocert India grew in the past two months and we together were of this firm belief that its only the local market availability for the certified organic food and trade opportunities in domestic market which can instill the feeling of self reliance and confidence among the minds of small farmers in Vidarbha.", said Pohare.
In Vidarbha, there are many organic farmers' groups, co-operatives and contract farming projects active in the field of organic cotton cultivation for past many years. The farmers associated with these projects also possess several other food commodities in organic (for which however there isn't any recognised market.) The organic farmers associated with PGS (Participatory Guarantee System) movement and pioneering movements in organic agriculture like VOFA (Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association)
"Most of the projects were cotton and export market oriented and hence affected by the vagaries of uncertainty in the same.", says Dr Selvam Daniel, Managing Director of Ecocert India. "It was required to create an opportunity where they could sell their certified organic and toxin free food produce locally to the consumers in their own region and get an assured market."
"There is a larger section in the Indian society who is in desperate need of safe food with authentic claims of endorsement. This emerging market, just around the organic fields, presents an opportunity wherein certified organic small farmers can sell their fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, spices in the nearby cities and do not have to worry for the market trends in US, Europe and Japan. This food and taste festival did exactly the same. It did the much awaited ice breaking. It told the people of this city that the safe and harmless food they are looking for is 'certified organic' and demonstrated really well to the organic farmers that in a city like Akola certified organic food could be sold in big quantities."
"Most of the farmers like those in my group did not have to travel for more than 100 Km from their fields to this venue of festival. I am amazed by the response to organic food in my own region. The food stalls selling only traditional cuisines made with organic food commodities were receiving overwhelming response as well. I can see that my society is getting prepared enough for the organic as well as 'slow food' movement.", says 29 year old Ashish Shinde, a graduate in agricultural sciences, an organic farmer himself and the owner of 'Organic Farms' a 4000 organic farmers' group in Vidarbha region.
"The experience gained and encouragement received from this experiment is certainly important for us.", says Rahul Motiyele, communication strategist from Ecocert India. "We have planned to undertake similar organic food and taste festivals in the major cities in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra in near future and thereby cultivating the habit of eating organically grown certified food among the consumers in Vidarbha and thereby creating a sustainable demand for food commodities from sustainable agriculture in the very region. We are hoping for a day when the suicides in the region stop completely by means of this market mechanism and the farmers regain the contentment once ever-existed in their hearts."