Out of 356 acres of land currently devoted to farming in Auroville (Farm Group), approximately 158 acres are irrigated, while the rest supports dryland fields, orchards and timber crops. It is estimated to cost 1 – 2 lakhs Indian Rupees (~ US $5,000) of initial investment per acre to convert a new area of land into high productivity farmland. Much of the existing farmland is peripheral to the designated Auroville area and was purchased in the earliest days of Auroville’s growth. With relatively large land holdings, and large annual investments (as seen in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram farms), it was planned that Auroville would focus the essential energy and resources needed to realize a solid foundation of self-reliance in growing food for its population. On much of Auroville land soil quality is poor. A primary focus has been continued research into natural soil fertility enhancement.
Some of the best potential farmland in our region is beyond the Green Belt to the West / North-west, where groundwater is relatively abundant. Investments in research, comprehensive cultivation techniques, and low impact irrigation systems require continuous resourcing. In 1996 State subsidised electricity was re-valued for “education and research organisations” (i.e. Auroville), making the cost prohibitive for Auroville farmers (while still free of charge for rural farmers). This has necessitated heavy investment into alternative energy technologies, most of which is relatively expensive in India, when available.
Markets & distribution
Auroville seeks to support ecological agriculture by providing a preferred market for its local organic produce within the community. Quantities are sold in Pour Tous food shop, while the new Solar Kitchen uses larger quantities to provide healthy and relatively inexpensive lunches for Aurovilians, school children and some of the workforce from the local villages. In the Auroville economic experiment meals are subsidised by the Central Fund (or “free” of charge), while the Auroville Farms receive subsidies and support for their ongoing financial needs.
The Farm Group maintains a direct sales outlet, Auroville Foodlink, where organic farm produce is available to the consumer at cost price plus a minimal percentage overhead cost. They also manage the distribution of goods to various shops in Auroville, and to the Solar Kitchen. Targeting of optimal demand is to the advantage of the farmers, and the economic linkage (i.e. centralised funding) between the need of the growers and that of the consumers furthers the healthy relationship between the two. In that office, statistical data are maintained on monthly and annual production figures, and on farm investments and overall finances. At present Auroville is self-sufficient only in milk and some seasonal fruits. It produces only 2% of its total rice and grain requirements, and less than 50% of its total fruit and vegetable requirements.
AuroAnnam has created a buying and selling co-op for organic cashew nuts, facilitating the processing of these and their marketing. This assists numerous cashew growers inside of Auroville (as it represents a peripheral activity for many land stewards) as well as providing an incentive for village farmers to cultivate organically and reduce health risks associated with use of pesticides. The fostering of economic incentives for local farmers to grow chemical-free food is at once of benefit to the grower and the consumer, increasing awareness of the danger of contamination of groundwater by fertilisers and pesticides. It is a healthy recommendation as well as an economic one. They have also recently begun to establish a network for marketing a variety of organically certified goods from around India under their own label.
Auroville Food Processing unit and KOFPU (Kottakarai Organic Food Processing Unit) also play an important role by developing food products made with organically grown fruits, vegetables and rain-fed millets and other crops. They produce a range of jams, syrups, pickles, chutneys and nut butters for sale in and outside of Auroville, and provide a useful outlet for surpluses of local seasonal fruits.
The risk of wasted harvests due to lack of storage facilities and marketing problems (surpluses) is a major disincentive for Auroville farmers trying to grow food for the community. Crop failures in the region are not uncommon, because the temperate growing season from December to March is short, while the summer and monsoon seasons are severe and fairly unpredictable. The low prices on external markets - based on exploitative labour practices and heavy doses of chemicals - also attract many Aurovilians away from homegrown organic foods. The technological impact of refrigerated transport and storage of food, creating the unnatural year-round availability of non-seasonal fruits and vegetables, and the popularisation of highly processed foods with long shelf life, have made a huge impact on dietary patterns and expectations.
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