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A close up of a woman in a lab in India Completed In Their Lifetime project in focus

EcoVeg, India

This project sought to equip people living in poverty to take advantage of the growing demand for organic food in India.

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By 2021, India’s organic food market is set to treble, as disposable income and consumer health consciousness rise. This is especially true in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, home to India’s second largest economy.

Though the food market is flourishing in Tamil Nadu, opportunities are limited for the 12% of the population living in poverty.

Our ITL EcoVeg project sought to equip these people to take advantage of the growing demand for organic food, while increasing the consumption of healthy food across the region.

The challenge

In non-organic agriculture, costs of chemicals are increasing and soil quality is diminishing, leading to lower production. Farmers’ profit margins are therefore falling.

The challenge – and opportunity – for the EcoVeg project, as with many ITL projects, was to connect farmers with consumers.

The Sustainable Agro Alliance (SAAL), a network of organisations, was formed to improve interaction and mechanisms between farmers and consumers. SAAL introduced a functioning production and sales process, working in favour of the farmers.

How it works

Watch this short video to find out how it works, and the role of technology in sharing data to make this process possible.

Key results
  • The 3,000 farmers who participated in the project saw their income increase significantly. A total of 36% of these farmers were from excluded communities including Dalits, and 47% of the farmers were women.
  • The uptake of organic farming has had a wider impact on the local economy, by creating a demand for organic inputs such as cow’s urine. Unemployed young people from excluded communities have been trained so they can sell to local farmers.
  • Photographic evidence captured by farmers through the Farm Field app has helped all farmers to become certified as organic food suppliers.
  • By the end of the project, the SAAL organisation was running at a profit and is now strengthening its marketing arm, with a view to attract outside investment to grow the business in the future.  
Muthiah Ganesan sorts through his harvest of organic tomatoes
James Hutchinson

Muthiah Ganesan had been growing vegetables using chemical inputs - however the costs of these had been increasing over time. Eventually he had to take out a loan from a local lender to ensure his family could make a living.  

Learning

The project had initially set out to adopt non-pesticide management (NPM). As the name suggests, this involves farming without any pesticides, and using more natural means to reduce pests. However, it quickly became clear there wasn’t sufficient demand for NPM products and organic farming was employed instead – where natural pesticides are used.

Another barrier was a reluctance among a lot of the farmers to adopt organic farming; they were worried about the production levels in the first year. In response to this, the project used ‘model farms’ in each of the participating villages. This showed farmers first-hand the opportunity to successfully grow organic vegetables.

The EcoVeg project finished in December 2017, but the work continues.

SAAL is profitable and is looking to expand to impact a greater number of farmers. They are looking to shift their business model to sell directly to consumers rather than to retailers. This has proven to be more profitable and avoids inconsistent payments from retailers.