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March 01

 

We need to upgrade the whole farm scene in Auroville

From an interview with Alan

 

Paul was educated as a biodynamic farmer in Holland. For twenty years he has been farming organically in different parts of the world. As a professional who has been farming in Auroville for the past three years, he gives his views about organic farming in the community.

"The first thing which struck me when I came here was the lack of a supporting structure - outlets, marketing skills, finance etc. - for organic farming in Auroville. This was a reflection of a certain neglect of agriculture in Auroville. This is still the case, although the Solar Kitchen has become a very important outlet and support for our products. They've proved, in fact, that it's not difficult to get Aurovilians to eat locally-grown indigenous food, so much so that we can't grow enough to keep up with the demand. Yet I discovered that certain crops which grow very well here were not being grown by our farmers because they didn't know about them, or how to grow them on a larger scale. In fact, I would say there is only a small group of farmers in Auroville who have developed a certain level of professionalism. For the rest we have a number of enthusiastic and idealistic farmers, but often they lack production and management skills.

"If the Solar Kitchen is to be supplied regularly with the quantities it requires, then crops have to be grown in a professional way. This means, if we are supplying vegetables, there have to be successive plantings of the same crop every few weeks in a very systematic fashion. But for many Auroville farmers this seems unattractive. They have strong ideas about monoculture, mass production and a capitalistic approach, so they do not want to work with nature in a way which involves intensive and volume production. The consequence is that, while we have more than enough land-an area of 40 hectares (100 acres) could supply all the vegetables we need in Auroville at present-we're not farming it in a way which makes the most out of it.

"There are other circumstances which make it difficult for the farms to become more efficient. For example, the farms are collectively owned by the Auroville community: the money that is put into them is not 'earned' by the farmer having to compete with other farmers. There are dangers with private enterprise and market economies, but I also see that everywhere in Auroville there is a definite relationship between the possibility of making personal profit and increased enthusiasm and responsibility. Profits or losses, after all, are a means of measuring how well you are doing, something which can be obscured in a subsidized farming system like ours. The reality is that most of our farms are loss-making.

"But attitudes are changing. More and more of our farmers are aware of the necessary changes to be made. The Farm Group office in particular has made big efforts to improve the quality of the farm scene through streamlining information collection, and the Farm Group now asks the farmers to come up with a proper business plan if they want a loan or a grant. Moreover, the Farm Group has recently decided to call upon the services of a professional external consultant to undertake a comprehensive and time-bound study. The objective of this study is to analyse the present farms and local consumption patterns, to identify necessary changes to be made (policy, pricing, farming methods, infrastructure, land, etc.), to prioritise these changes, and to detail an action plan for the future.

"Perhaps the key to upgrading the whole farm scene in Auroville is in understanding that becoming more business-like and efficient does not mean that we have to give up our ideals. In fact, it might even speed up the realization of those ideals!"

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