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December 2004

Conclusions from the farms assessment report

edited by Brooks

The survival of farming in Auroville depends on its ability to serve the community. Should we continue to invest in farms? Is farming going to continue to make an essential contribution to the vision of Auroville, or will it become increasingly marginalised in parallel with the growth of the city? What is required is a shift from a subsistence rural mentality to a determined effort to produce a surplus for the growing urban population, using the best methods available to us.

Is farming in Auroville viable? In the opinion of the assessment team, viability has three distinct aspects to be taken into consideration namely: economic, environmental and social viability. Without taking into consideration all three of these issues, long-term sustainability will be brought into question.

Regarding economic viability, a shift is required from what is largely welfare-funding to targeted start-up funding, with the ultimate aim of self-financing. External funding is still a key resource for the survival of the farms and is likely to be for the five years to be covered by the strategic plan: initially it is likely there will be an increased need for substantial funding. This means that the farms in the Auroville Farm Group are not yet economically viable, although it should be borne in mind that most of the farms are still establishing themselves. However, with increasing efficiency and, in the longer-term, improved quality and stabilized prices, there is no reason why this cannot be achieved.

Environmental viability implies the need for investment in terms of resources and knowledge. This is not an option. We owe it to ourselves and our customers to farm in the most environmentally-sensitive way possible. Whilst in the short term the twin needs of profit and farming organically may seem opposed, in the long term this is not so. In organic farming, the focus needs to be on ensuring a positive fertility cycle in the soil, followed by the efficient use of water. This is potentially a win-win situation; if we can improve the environment this will allow for an increase in the organic production of food and pave the way for profitability.

In the opinion of the assessment team, although significant progress has been made, especially when compared to local farming practices, a great deal more needs to be achieved to reach the win-win situation outlined above.

For the continued social viability of farming in Auroville the continued influx of people into the farming sector needs to be ensured. It should be recognised that many of these are likely to be Tamil, with fewer resources accessible to them than their predecessors. The AVFG should also continue to strengthen the connections between the community at large and the farmers. This is arguably the greatest strength of Auroville farms.

So, is farming in Auroville viable? As things stand, probably not. This is largely owing to an overdependence on external funding, high prices and relatively low output. However, by investing in the environment and building on the proven loyalty of the customers through improving the quantity and quality of produce and setting realistic prices, there is no reason why it cannot be a success story.

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