Empowering Indian Farmers: An Interview with Sneh Yadav
Sneh Yadav is a farm entrepreneur. Born to an Indian farming family, she pursued her love of agriculture to university with the intent of taking what she learned back to the fields. After graduating, she founded Tijara Organic Farm, in an attempt to do small-scale organic farming on her own. Noticing that Indian farmers did not often have the opportunity to sell their produce on their terms, she created the Delhi Organic Farmers Market in New Delhi, with the intention of empowering her producer community.
Food Tank (FT): What drove you to become involved in farming and farmers’ markets?
Sneh Yadav (SY): I come from a farming family and community, and farming was a big part of our family’s life growing up. When I moved away from my hometown to pursue higher education, I decided to study farming in more detail by pursuing a master’s degree in plant genetics at an agriculture university. I wanted to implement whatever I had learned in labs, on fields. Most of my peers in university also came from farming families, but none had any plans of returning to or practicing their knowledge on farm fields. Farming is not considered a very reputable or lucrative profession in India and is often left for those who don’t have the means to pursue other professions. I wanted to attempt organic farming in a small and genuine way, despite everyone else telling me I was foolish to do so. One of the biggest problems farmers encounter in India is selling their produce on their terms. Setting up our farmers’ market was our attempt to empower farmers as well our supporters.
FT: What does “organic” mean to you?
SY: According to me “organic” means pure, the way things exist in nature. Organic farming for me is a way of farming in a responsible manner, where a farmer cares for mother earth, for the environment, for animals and for the people who are using his/her produce.
FT: If you could sit down and speak with anyone in the greater India food community, who would it be?
SY: Farmers from our villages here in India are custodians of our ancient food and farming wisdom, from natural remedies for pest relief to traditional recipes for indigenous crops (many of which have been completely removed from city stores and vegetable markets). I’ve had the chance to interact with some fellow farmers and village community leaders from different parts of India, and have always been surprised by the wealth of their knowledge. I would love to have the chance to meet with and learn from them all.
FT: What are your goals for the farm in the coming years?
SY: I want my farm to be an example of biodiversity and sustainability. We are trying to expand our idea of sustainability beyond the farm to include economic sustainability by supporting our local community and artisans.
FT: Who has been the most helpful in getting the farm to where it is now?
SY: My family members, who are like pillars of strength, and my team at the farm, who are working hard at making our way of organic farming a success.
FT: What’s different about your farmers’ market from others in the region?
SY: This is the first market of its kind in India, and it is maintained by farmers and primary producers in a cooperative manner. This market was started to give a face to Indian farmers. Since most of the farmers who participate in this market are highly educated, their presence highlights that farming is not only a poor or uneducated man’s job. There is no beneficiary in this market except our supporters (customers) and farmers/primary producers. This market has set an example and has encouraged many farmers in other towns to start the same kind of set up in their town. At the same time, many educated young people have found inspiration to pursue farming. Another key focus of our market is to educate our supporters on organic farming and seasonal cooking, as well as to help them discover the tastes of indigenous but highly nutritious produce that may not be common in vegetable markets and kitchens.
FT: How has the community responded to those differences?
SY: We have received tremendous response from the community, so much so that we call them our supporters and not customers. We give all credit to the community for the success of our market. The community is there with us early morning every Sunday, both on hottest days as well as the coldest ones.
FT: How do you decide who can sell at the market?
SY: Since this market runs on trust and we believe that the consumer is the real certifying authority, we do a strict due diligence before someone is allowed to participate in the market. We restrict it to only organic farmers and primary producers of only organic food items. Most farmers’ markets in Indian cities are servicing traders who are disconnected from the realities of farming, and the real farmers are unable to connect with the actual consumers of their produce.
FT: What are the most pressing issues facing your farmers?
SY: Getting a permanent physical space to hold the market near our support base is a big problem for us. We are like nomads, shifting from one place to another, which causes our supporters lots of problems.
FT: What are the most exciting trends in India’s food culture?
SY: Few hotels and chefs are promoting organic, regional and seasonal food in India. People are realizing that food beyond serving hunger and taste, can also serve medicinal purposes. We try to introduce new indigenous plants, leaves, and herbs that are almost unheard of today but have high medicinal (and taste) values. Old crops are coming back in demand, so farmers are growing forgotten crops, bringing back biodiversity, and doing their bit from preventing indigenous crops from going extinct.
First published by FoodTank