Greetings from the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA) and its project on Living Farm Incomes: Civic Action, Equity and Sustainability (LFI).

This is the third issue of our newsletter, covering our activities over the months of July 2021 to March, 2022. Over the past 9 months, the team has been engaged in several activities which promote equity among agrarian communities through civic action. We have been involved in responding to the various emerging challenges in the agriculture sector. In 2021, IRMA was also celebrating the birth anniversary of Dr. Verghese Kurien, and as part of the celebration we were able to highlight some our ongoing work which are aligned with the ideals of Dr. Kurien.
As you are reading this, a twin crisis of economic and ecological distress is tearing through the heart of rural India. The NRAS report indicates how the present agricultural system is adversely impacting the environment, and could make farming an unviable activity in the near future. Drawing attention to another side of the same issue, the farmers’ protests indicate the high reliance of farming communities on financial support from Minimum Support Price (MSP) and other economic institutions which incentivise unsustainable farming practices. Our activities focus on these aspects of agrarian life, through both institutional and knowledge lenses, to create possibilities of sustainable transitions in agriculture.
We have been engaging with key stakeholders across the agrarian and farmer collectives ecosystem to understand and analyse challenges and opportunities existing in the dynamically changing scenario. Whether it is the formation of the new ministry of cooperation (MoC), changes in ecosystem of FPOs, or the push for Natural Farming in Gujarat and across India, we have actively sought the perspectives of farmers about their experiences and insights. Through our activities under the following themes, we aim to further the cause for sustainable and equitable agricultural livelihoods.
Farmers’ institutions and collectives
To commemorate the birth anniversary of Dr. Kurien and his lifelong struggle for establishing self-sufficient cooperatives in India, we arranged a National Consultation on Autonomy and Independence of Cooperatives. The event saw the presence of various veteran corporators from various sectors from across India. The event was also followed by the release of a brief document titled ‘Anand Declaration’ summarising the key points of alignment among the participants.

The document is available on the
event page of our website, along with the videos of the various events.
Our team has also been working on editing a book of case studies, authored by several academicians and practitioners involved with promotion of FPOs. The cases highlight the opportunities and challenges facing FPOs across the country. The book is at the final stages of publication. The edited volume is an outcome of a collaborative and participatory process with several rounds of online and offline workshops.
Following an online authors’ workshop on Aug 5-6, and a physical workshop on Oct 8-9, we were able to release a compendium of 23 blogs, titled Fields of Change: Managerial Insights on FPOs in India during the Kurien Centenary celebrations at IRMA on 25 Nov, 2021. Additionally, a collection of blogs by Emmanuel Murray who is a financial consultant, and involved promoting FPOs across the country was also released.
The national workshop on “Reimagining Farmer Producer Collectives” had the participation of key stakeholders from the FPO ecosystem – officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, NABARD, Ministry of Rural Development, NAFED and subject experts from across the country. Prominent among the participants were the CEOs of the FPO federations from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat who shared their challenges and learning with the participants. The insights of the fifteen cases, including the FPO Federations, are slated to be released as an edited volume in 2022 with a reputed academic publisher on board.
Managing Sustainable Transitions
The imperative of “Managing Sustainable Transitions” in agriculture has been of considerable interest to the team. Transitioning towards sustainable and equitable food systems requires systematic shifts in collective values, public policies, markets and knowledge systems. India has a unique advantage in leading the transition in agriculture given its large farming community and knowledge base. These socio-technical transitions need to be initiated at various levels, to change the practices and decisions of farmers in their fields to state and national policies.

Towards this goal, we want to promote a “Learning Alliance”, an action-oriented dialogue process which will allow peer learning among various actors, from both the dominant formal institutions as well as practitioners and activists from civil society, who are engaged in sustainable agriculture.  Such a forum would help in documentation, and dissemination of ground-level initiatives, as well as foster institutional innovation to make space for diverse actors.

Building on these ideas, we conducted a webinar on “
Opportunities for Scaling agroecology in Gujarat” on 27th October. This was followed by a National Workshop on “Rural Transformation through Agroecology” on 27th November.

Both these events brought together practitioners, academics and activists working in the sphere of agrarian change. We were also able to engage with the participants for carrying out action research on institutional designs enabling sustainable transitions in effective ways.
Through our research we found, it is important to look at agricultural educational institutions in greater detail. This led us to start working closely with institutions like Anand Agriculture University, Gujarat Organic Agriculture University, Lokbharti Gramvidyapith etc. We also conducted a webinar on “Agroecology in University Curriculum: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Transition”, and plan to reach out to more experts in the field
Engagement with youth and
development practitioners
To engage young students with the activities of the civil society, we have designed an internship program. The program intends to introduce students to various dimensions of agrarian and rural development-related issues, importantly exploring civic action in agricultural policy. To facilitate this process, and create awareness about this opportunity, we formally titled the internship programme as the Verghese Kurien Rural Internship . A web interface and application platform was also created to further streamline the process. Our first intern, Ayush Vani co-authored a working paper based on his internship research titled, ‘Public Irrigation Systems in Drought Prone-Bundelkhand: A Critical Review’.

Another intern, Joshua Lobo interned with Punarchith and did a case study on 'Dry Grain Complex' in Southern Karnataka. He wrote about his experience as a
blog and co-authored a working paper titled, ‘Dry Grain Complex: A Case Study of Chamarajanagar District, Karnataka’. Later, seven young people from different universities were accepted under the internship programme with civil society organisations such as National Coalition in Natural Farming (NCNF), and Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM). We hope to expand on the internship process by involving students from local universities.

Despite the pandemic that seriously affected academic calendars, the project was able to engage several CSOs and connect them with youth from universities. Through facilitation and mentorship the project also sought to get them to document their findings with CSOs through working papers and blogs.
We have also recently started the “Learning with LFI” series. This is a daily discussion that brings in the stories from the field as well as new findings in the academic world related to agriculture and agrarian change. This platform tries to bridge the gap between academia and practitioners by engaging proponents from both the sectors in a regular discussion on various relevant issues.

Apart from this, the project has enabled significant links with ongoing networks on agriculture – Agroeco 2050, RRAN, NRAS, Asha - Kisan Swaraj, NCNF, Odisha Millet Mission etc. This links has not only enabled us to make our research more representative, but has also helped create better interface between these alliances.
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