If you’re on Facebook, you’re likely to have played the farming simulation game Farmville at least once (or secretly cursed all the people on your friends’ list who keep sending you requests for the game). Either way, you’ve most likely heard of it as it’s one of the most popular games on Facebook.
Here’s how it works: You start with an empty farm and some in-game currency, then you grow your own farm by harvesting new crops and raising livestock until it’s thriving.
A social enterprise called Indian Superheroes from Coimbatore is facilitating people to play Farmville in real life by letting them rent organic farms and grow their own crops and harvest them
Now a social enterprise called Indian Superheroes (ISH) from Coimbatore is facilitating people to play Farmville in real life by letting them rent organic farms and grow their own crops and harvest them. You can even make money from selling your farm produce.
“The Superheroes Foundation has been active for nearly two-and-a-half years and we’ve been involved with organic farmers. With this initiative, we wanted to give the urban population a hands-on experience of organic farming and zero-waste farming,” says Vishnu Vardhan, who founded ISH along with cofounder Divya Shetty.
The first pilot batch of the project with 10 participants started earlier this week at a farm in Kanuvai near Coimbatore.
“The idea of gamifying the entire farming experience partly came from my instructional design (ID) background,” says Vardhan, who previously worked as an instructional designer in Bangalore.
To start with, you can choose a rental plan for one, three or six months. These plans can also be extended based on the participant’s interest level. The projects are run in monthly batches.
There are three plans currently available a monthly, quarterly and half-yearly cost Rs 4,200, Rs 12,000 and Rs 23,000 respectively. In addition to farm rental, water, electricity, equipment, transport and facilitating sale of the produce, this cost also includes food and accommodation for the participants.
Before you roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in your farm, ISH will get you to attend a two-day Zero Budget Natural Farming experiential workshop to familiarise you with crop selection, sowing of seeds, organic manure preparation, watering, integrated farming technologies etc.
“The two-day training helps participants get hands-on experience with things like choosing the right seed, laying out drip irrigation, planning waterways and making vermicompost,” says Vardhan.
Once the batch begins, participants have the option to visit their plots at their convenience or stay at the farm throughout the rental period. If the participant chooses not to stay at the farm, ISH will provide ‘farm hustlers’ to take care of the day-to-day running of the farm in your absence.
“The idea of gamifying the entire farming experience partly came from my instructional design background” —Vishnu Vardhan, ISH cofounder
Once the rental period is over, participants can harvest their crop and take it home or sell it to ISH at the same rate as other organic farmers.
The game does not end with the harvest — the team at ISH will also help you setup your own organic farm if you like the experience enough to want one.
“If the participant is interested in starting an organic farm on their own, we will also help them acquire farmland and start the process of farming on it,” says Vardhan.
The next batch of 10 participants is set to start in Coimbatore later this month.
Connecting organic farmers
Indian Superheroes helps farmers convert to organic farming methods. It started with just two farmers in 2014 and is currently working with over 820 organic farmers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Of these, 650 are certified organic farmers.
The organisation has partnered with around 10 NGOs and self-help groups to connect with farmers in the region to help them with organic and zero waste farming methods and certifications. The farmers can communicate with each other on a WhatsApp group set up by ISH or else through an email network run by ISH with the help of the partner NGOs.
“Organic farmers in India are forced to sell their products in the market along with their conventionally grown counterparts. We wanted to build a platform where they can network and sell their products at a price decided by them,” says Vardhan.
ISH helps these farmers get organic certifications and also sets up systems to help them produce value-added products from their harvest. In one such instance, the group has installed a vapour distillation plant for farmers in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, to help them extract essential oils from plants like lemongrass and rosemary, which are grown in the region.
ISH helps these farmers get organic certifications and also sets up systems to help them produce value-added products from their harvest
“Once the farmers harvest their crops or the value-added product is ready, we help them with packaging and retailing the produce. Earlier in February, we launched our online store for our products,” adds Vardhan.
The real-life Farmville initiative comes at a time the government is actively trying to push organic farming in india. The ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare is promoting organic farming under the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).
In the Union budget 2016-17, finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced a provision of Rs 412 crore for promotion of organic farming with the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna (PKVY) and Organic Value Chain Development in the northeast region. The government also plans to bring 5 lakh acres under organic farming over a three-year period under the Parmparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana.
With sustainability being the only way forward, has the time finally come when we will start getting responsible about how we produce our food?
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