History of Auroville Farming
Farming in Auroville started with the beginning of the community itself, in 1969. Mother's purchase of farms for the Auroville (AV) community, already in the early sixties, clearly indicates that her vision of the city included farming. When asked by the first Aurovilians about chemicals for agriculture, she responded:
"Auroville should not fall back into old errors,
which belong to a past that is trying to survive".
Thus farmers, foresters and garden growers took to working with ecologically friendly means and tools, to cure nature. Many residents worked, and in return received their meals, in the production of food or in reforestation. The initial population of about sixty Aurovilians was far from self-supporting. But there was a definite collective endeavour, a cooperative spirit, in which a food depot materialised in 1970. In 1974, Pour Tous and its stall were set up in an attempt to forego the exchange of money. The farmer's depot partook in this shop and its goals, and it is to this day an outlet of farm produce.
Serious food growing began in 1976, when AV was faced with a decline in funds. Given this setback, the AV community became more aware of the need to become self-sufficient. Residents and farmers, sharing experiences and ideas, started the ‘Food Growing Cooperative' in 1979. This was network for the exchange of knowledge, which also functioned well for the distribution of produce from farmers to users. The group collected production figures till 1983 and shared them with the community.
The major vegetables and grains grown in the early eighties were: snake gourd, green papaya, tapioca, pumpkin and beans. Emphasising self-sufficiency, farmers were encouraged to produce local, inexpensive types of food. But over time the Pondicherry market became the purchase centre for many Aurovilians. At first, it was out of necessity, later more because of price competition and of a demand for western food that cannot, or only at high costs, be grown in South India . This trend of turning to Pondicherry as a source for food, opposed to growing in AV, has remained in AV up to today.
In 1979, the introduction at Pour Tous of the "Envelope" system (originating with Mother) had a large impact on food production. Under this system, development areas that were considered essential for the community were funded. Within this system of exchange, the farmers managed to return 69% in produce. But in January 1980 the weekly minimum Envelope allotment was reduced and by 1981 the Food Coop. was receiving only half of its minimum weekly budget. Meanwhile, there were times when the amount of money for food spent in Pondicherry was close to double of what was invested in AV farms.
From 1984 on the Envelope system could no longer be maintained. In its place were created individual accounts. Meanwhile ‘Pour Tous' expanded and most of the farm produce went there for distribution to the community. In the beginning of the eighties, the farmers started a loan fund and a major occurrence in the mid-nineties was the allotment of maintenance to farmers, by the ‘Auroville Central Fund'. This individual income guaranteed that the farmers had their own basic needs taken care of, as they tried to grow food for the community. The farmers gradually formed the ‘Auroville Farm Group' (AVFG). This group organized a loan fund of RS.50,000 that the group could loan out for capital investment.
Records kept by the AVFG show that, in terms of cash sales, over the years the dairy sector became by far the biggest sector, followed (in order) by fruits, poultry and vegetables. The development of the grains sector, as well as vegetables, is relatively small, partly due to inappropriate soil qualities.
The above is a condensed version of the history pages from the 2004 Assessment Report.
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