on Cowboys and Indians (India), 10/May/2011 06:28, 34 days ago
Indiais not a good place to live if you don’t like eating rice. It is utterly ubiquitous, the staple of every meal from rice and daal for lunch and dinner, to rice puddings and rice sweets for dessert. I regularly get bemused looks from colleagues when I confess that I’ve cooked myself pasta or potato as an alternative. The idea of goingeven a day without rice is anathema to most rural Indians, and my fondness for sandwiches is regarded as a bizarre British eccentricity.With this in mind, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that when I asked the Fairtrade Foundation about what their partners here produce, the answer was invariably: ‘rice’. To find out more about the impact that Fairtrade accreditation can have in rural India, I took a look at afederation of small farmers in the Khaddar areaof Haridwar district in the northern state of Uttaranchal.Khaddar is a large flood plain at the base of the Shivalik hills, where the Ganges comes down from the Western Himalayas and meets the plains. This well-irrigated land is useful for growing rice, but it also makes it vulnerable flooding. For three days inSeptember 2010 Rajkallapur village was waist deep in water, with farmers losing up to 80% of their crops. As fields are alwayswaterlogged, rice is the only crop available to them. This means that the fortunes of the villagers are inextricably tied to that of the rice crop. For most it is the only source of income.However, over the last decade the federation has begun working with both the Fairtrade Foundation and Sunstar Overseas, anestablished organic agribusiness and one of the country’s largest rice exporters. Sunstar now buys almost 50% of rice produced in the Khaddar region. Together they have worked to certify the rice as organic, and an agricultural manager has been working to improve farming practices and increase crop yields.Increased productivity and the Fairtrade premium on the rice they sell has allowed villagers to invest in a number of infrastructure projects. An immediate concern for farmers was the construction of access roads. In the past farmers inSahadevpur village walked 1.2km to the nearest marking carrying their crops on their heads for the entire journey.One farmer, Sarmukh Singh, explained the need for the new road:“This entire area is low laying and marshy soil, there used to be small mud path here. We had to face a really big problem to reach our farms from the village. That is why with the Fairtrade premium we have constructed this road. Since joining the project in 2001 there has been a lot of improvement. Now we have no problem reaching our fields. We can bring back the paddy to our village by tractors or carts.”Additionally, Fairtrade farmers have used some of their premium money to establish the Rohalaki Club. This is a women’s sewing and craft centre, where up to 30 women at a time can come to take a six month course in sewing and embroidery. Fairtrade money was used to buy Singer sewing machines and employ their teacher, but in the long term villagers believe it will save them money by repairing clothes as well as opening up a new source of income. Similarly, Gordhanpur Club is planning to invest in a computer centre for their village, making eight computers available to people who have had no previous computer or internet access.Ajay Katyal is one farmer who has benefitted from the partnership:“The higher price received for our rice has helped farmers emerge from an exploitative eternal debt cycle... The vicious cycle has been broken by the Fair Trade mechanism, because Sunstar provides interest-free loans. The added income has infused confidence among farmers and their condition is not only improving economically, but also socially.”That little logo really can make a world of difference.