Increasing Disillusionment of Urban Dwellers with Farmers & Farms; What's the Reason

Abhinav Upadhyay, Founder, Better Foods166 million of India’s workforce is employed in Agriculture and yet it isn’t attractive anymore for the urban populace. Farmer Suicides, Constant demand for loan waivers,Incessant fights and demonstrations, Unrest in villages, Increasing poverty in villages All these are symptoms of a deep seated malaise that is setting into the agricultural ecosystem of India which still has approximately 60 percent of its populace dependent on agriculture and allied services.

While the 'Annadaata' of our country puts food for a 1.3 billion strong nation and even on the places of millions outside of our country, our large urban population is becoming apathetic towards their plight. While economists & agriculturists are better suited to dwell into technical reasons and solutions, as a management professional who led various aspects of organizations in this country and beyond, I am going to give a very simple recipe of changing apathy to empathy. But let's first look at an incident that got me thinking.

I walked into a school and asked a young child if she had had her lunch. The responses shook me:
Me: Did you have your lunch?
Kid: Yes.
Me: What did you have?
Kid: I had chapati,daal,vegetables and salad. (To be honest I was quite happy so far)
Me: Do you know where the Daal comes from?
Kid: Yes. Cafeteria.
Me: But do you know where does it come to the cafeteria from?
Kid: Yes. It comes from 'Food****'
Me: But do you know how it reaches that store?
Kid: In a truck. Duh!
Me: But how does it reach the truck?
Kid: From a factory.

I was shocked when I heard from her that the Daal she ate comes from a factory. The fault lies with us. She had never seen the plant of ‘Arhar’ that gives the daal that she had eaten so joyfully. She had never had access, awareness or empathy towards that side of life. So why this apathy about farmers and farms? Why are the farmers still depicted in text books as this “nude guy with a dhoti” when the reality is different for most.

Reasons for our apathy towards farmers & farming:
• Lack of Food Education for our children: How many kids have you heard who had say ‘I want to become a farmer’.
NONE. It is no surprise then that people from the cities look down upon the farmers and do not see farming and allied services as a profession that they want to take up. Research studies globally have shown that Food Education curriculums once implemented have an impact on child nutrition, learning of science, mathematics knowledge, life skill development, empathy and care, academic performance, attitude towards school and learning and many more.

The most crucial impact will be seen in improving health outcomes & in educational outcomes in children while we shall also see rising awareness about sustainability and empathy for farmers

• Lack of access for farmers & farming to consumers and children: This is predominantly a result of the 'gateway' called APMC that were established across India. What the Farmers Markets do is to enable a community space which is built on 3 core principles -

1. Access: The biggest challenge in my view has been the absolute disconnect between growers and consumers, specially the children. This has led to a generation that is clueless about farms, farming, farmers and their true impact on their own lives, that of the society, the nation and the world at large. One of the ways to create greater access for farmers as well as for consumers is to host farmers markets with interesting innovations in a hyperlocal fashion. Lots of children and adults get to see produce in their raw form with their producers for the first time and get to engage with producers and ask questions. This is the first step towards creating access.

2. Awareness: There are curated workshops at some of the Farmers Markets, enabling people to gain knowledge about Organic Produce, products and a healthier & sustainable way of living. Greater awareness that too in an engaging fashion leads to stronger recall, affinity and action for the cause amongst our children who need to be the saviors for the future of this planet and that of all life in it.

3. Advocacy. The third leg of the efforts needs to be about Advocacy so that more and more people from the Urban communities become advocates of clean, Organic and sustainable way of living while also developing empathy for our farmers. As greater advocacy happens, farms and farmers will become part of mainstream conversation thereby bringing about a sea change where by apathy will turn to empathy amongst our children.

The most crucial impact will be seen in improving health outcomes & in educational outcomes in children while we shall also see rising awareness about sustainability and empathy for farmers. We shall also start seeing a massive shift in perception of farming thereby leading to increased numbers of young, educated city-dwellers pick up agriculture or allied services as a profession of choice thereby driving growth, innovation and impact for our farming sector.

This movement has the power to change lives and add a new aspect to education. It is indeed a shame that a country like India which has approximately 40 percent of our children being malnourished/stunted, over 25,000 farmers committing suicide in Maharashtra alone in last 16 years and over Rs. 2,000,000,000,000 (i.e. Rs 2 Trillion) being spent every year on Food Security and over 30 percent of Food Produce being wasted, doesn’t have a Food & Sustainability Curriculum. It is time to change that through efforts like The Better Foods.

Let us build better world for our children, our farmers, our own well being and that of the pla-net?