Journey to Food Sovereignty by the Sangham Farmers in Sangareddy district, Telangana
Sangham is a collective of 5000 women farmers in the Sangareddy district of Telangana, which was conceived with the purpose of achieving ‘Aharasarvabaumatvam’ or ‘food sovereignty’ by reviving traditional agricultural practices. These practices include multi-cropping and conserving indigenous varieties of seeds through community seed banks.
Need for the Initiative
Over the past decades, traditional agricultural practice lost its foothold in the region mostly due to standardized crop varieties replacing native ‘landraces’, leading to cultivation of mono-crops and cash crops and use of inorganic fertilizers. This led to a rapid erosion of crop diversity in the district which was once home to a large number of traditional millet varieties. The socio- economic structure was such that the upper caste had vast landholdings while the majority, comprising of the Dalits, mostly had small (0.25 acres) landholdings which eventually became rocky and infertile as the community members abandoned farming for daily wage labor for their sustenance. This resulted in extreme poverty and hunger.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
Concerned about the rapid depletion of millet diversity in one of its centers of origin and the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of the Dalits, the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a local NGO, began its endeavors to revitalize the traditional varieties and uplift the poor economic status of the communities. It encouraged a few Dalit women farmers to lease small portions of land from their landlords and practice traditional farming. Thus, a small collective of few women was formed as the very first Sangham. The success of the first produce itself was such that it encouraged them to rejuvenate their own lands. DDS provided them with cattle and goats for ploughing and manure. Traditional varieties of seeds were collected from the elders of the Sangham families and the traditional knowledge and customary practices associated with cultivating traditional varieties, such as achieving ‘Ideal crop mix’ on a particular type of soil and climatic conditions, were revisited and revived. Since millets require very less input and thrive even with little water, varieties of millets were sown by the women along with other crops such as safflower, gram peas, jowar etc. Owing to the high yield from the harvest of their traditional farms, the women decided to establish a Community Public Distribution system (PDS) which is based on distribution of grains as per the needs of each family. Further, since the idea of achieving quantity and quality in the produce was associated with diversity, a Community Seed Bank was constituted where all women collect few seeds from their harvest and deposit them in the seed bank, thus ensuring food security through seed diversity. The Sangham farmers have two generations of farmers comprising ‘Mothers in Law’ group and ‘Daughters in Law’ group. The Mothers in law train the second generation of farmers when they marry into their villages, thus disseminating and carrying the traditional practices forward into the future generation. The Mothers in law collectively manage and monitor Sangham activities with support from DDS. Traditional and organic farming may be one of the most sustainable and environmentally compatible way of agricultural land use which provides ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, regulation of soil and water quality and supporting biodiversity that also secures sustenance and livelihood of the communities. In the present day, the Sangham women have successfully transformed an area of nearly 1500 hectares of land in the Deccan Peninsular region, which either lay barren or degraded, into a haven of thriving agro-biodiversity with nearly 70 varieties of 22 traditional crops. In addition, Sangham, with the help of DDS, has created its own range of organic products under the brand name of ‘Sangham Organics’, which not only provides a market platform to sell the primary produce but also the various value added products such as Jowar flour, Safflower oil, Jowar nachos, flakes and spices from Flax and Niger seeds. Sangham is now spread over 75 villages across Sangareddy District. It has opened a restaurant with organic dishes prepared from the agricultural produce called, the ‘Ethnic Café’. DDS introduced another unique model with the purpose of creating conscious consumers who provide financial assistance in agricultural activities of a farmer right from the stage of sowing till harvest and are paid back via organic produce for their daily consumptions. Until 2019, this model had upto 94 conscious consumers. In order to spread awareness regarding the conservation initiative, a month-long annual festival is celebrated, where women parade a bullock cart decorated with a variety of seeds across villages, encouraging the farmers to take up millet cultivation for a food secure future.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
The Sangham Women’s Farmer group won the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Sustainable Use of Biological Resources’ in 2018. Contact -P.V.Satheesh Tel. +91 8451 282785 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org