URVARASA (“Procuring Fertile Land” in Sanskrit)

Urvarasa is a project that seeks to partner those farmers who are voluntarily implementing and upholding a set of guidelines established by Jeeva Bhavana (see below) to grow their crops with conscious consumers who are seeking fair-trade, sustainably-grown, cruelty-free, healthy food. By fair-trade, we mean that farmers are duly compensated for their know-how and their labour. By sustainably-grown, we mean that farmers take seriously their role as guardians of seeds and soil health by using neither chemical inputs nor any other type of input coming from outside their farm (in other words, by practicing “natural farming techniques”), as well as using minimum, or even better no heavy machinery. As well, crops must be adapted to the soil and climate of each farm, and low water-intensive crops are privileged. By cruelty-free, we mean that if any animals live on the farm, they are not bred or exploited or sent to slaughter when they become old, but instead live alongside their human caretakers who ensure that their basic, species-specific needs are satisfied until their natural death. Natural farming techniques often make use of cow manure and urine as fertilizers; there is nothing amiss in making use of waste to maintain soil fertility as long as no animal is exploited. And by healthy food, we mean whole plant-based food that is as good for human health as it is for environmental health.

Transparency is the foundation of trust. To that end Jeeva Bhavana will ensure that those farmers who adhere to the Urvarasa charter, and sell their produce under the Urvarasa label, firmly comply with the guidelines. For each farmer interested in joining our ranks, there will be an in-depth interview and an initial review of the farm and farming practices.  Every so often a team member will visit the farm to make sure that the farmer is continuing to respect the guidelines, not to police the farmers, but to unveil errors or oversights that may unintentionally take place. Honest mistakes are bound to happen but will be reduced to a minimum as farmers learn the value of the conscious, nurturing and holistic approach embodied in the charter.  It goes without saying, however, that any farmer who knowingly disregards the charter will no longer be able to sell his produce using the Urvarasa label. 

In its initial period, Jeeva Bhavana intends to launch Urvarasa with a select group of farmers in a relatively small area of Maharashtra to ease the coordination with farmers and to work on establishing suitable and reliable distribution channels for their produce. Jeeva Bhavana can thus stay closely in touch with the farmers in the group and be able to troubleshoot the snags that may arise during the project’s initiation. After the success of this first phase, we plan to fan out to other parts of Maharashtra and then finally to other states throughout India, as we are quite certain that the benefits reaped by farmers adhering to Urvarasa’s charter will be such that not only will they enthusiastically continue to pursue this natural and ethical practice of farming, their inevitable success will attract more farmers’ groups to adopt Urvarasa’s guidelines.

Concurrent to establishing the Urvarasa label, Jeeva Bhavana is actively working with the public to inform them of the benefits of consuming products that are both healthy and ethically produced: products that are good for themselves, the farmers, animals and the environment. We will inform consumers that this multifaceted added value to their food choices comes at a slightly higher price than what they have likely been paying, but we are convinced that many people will appreciate that the price is more like an investment and worth paying in order to participate in a healthier, more sustainable and more ethical food system, and that they will be very willing to make that choice.

Jeeva Bhavana is an abolitionist vegan environmental NGO. We aim for a world in which animals are no longer bred into existence for human purposes and where all animals can live free from exploitation, harm and death at human hands. However, we are completely aware that attaining that world requires a transition period and recognize, thus, that today in India, many farmers rely on animals (specifically bovines) in their agricultural practices, for manure and urine, and also for traction. In the latter case, though Jeeva Bhavana advocates for no-tilling techniques, we understand that we cannot ask those farmers who currently rely on bullocks to labour their field to stop overnight, for that would mean that those bullocks would likely go to slaughter and they would be replaced by machines (tractors) that are particularly harmful to the soil and would require staggering bank loans, 2 things that Jeeva Bhavana stands firmly against. At this moment in time, cows and bullocks are an integral part of natural farming practices and so we must ensure a healthy, safe and non-exploitative relationship between these animals and the farmer. As long as the farmer does not interfere with the animals’ natural functions and needs, and treats the animals with the respect due to all individuals of any species, the farmer is a candidate for using the Urvarasa label.

At every step of the way in the elaboration, creation, implementation, etc of the Urvarasa label, Jeeva Bhavana will be working in close collaboration with Punarbharan Foundation, a registered non-profit organization. Since its creation in 2013, Punarbharan Foundation’s prime focus has been on soil and biodiversity health; water conservation and harvesting (Punarbharan means “replenishment” in Hindi); and moving farmers away from toxic practices and into natural farming, with an  emphasis on cultivating native varieties of crops. To this end, Punarbharan Foundation has already established a robust, dependable direct-market for a number of farmers by creating a demand within the urban community (in Pune) for farm-produce grown using “nature friendly” farming practices. 

By integrating a pillar of Jeeva Bhavana’s vision – the elimination of animal exploitation – Punarbharan Foundation is moving closer toward the essence of environmentalism, which seeks to protect and conserve all elements of the Earth’s ecosystems and natural environment.

Punarbharan Foundation’s history of interacting with farmer communities; their proven skill in assisting farmers to establish a cyclic, independent, self-sustaining model of farming; and their track record of creating dependable consumer circuits for farm-produce are invaluable assets for the success of the Urvarasa label.

 

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the guidelines for farmers:

 

● Farmers will understand their role as caretakers of the animals currently living on their farm and treat them with respect. This means:

  1. The animals, though domesticated, will never be exploited (for their flesh, their eggs or their milk). They will be able to live their lives as “naturally” as possible: untied, no artificial insemination or forced breeding, access to plenty of food and water at all times.
  2. If bullocks are used to labour fields, they will only work four to five hours per day, in order to keep them active (which is a need of their species). The rest of the time, they will be left untied and have ample food and water at all times.
  3. Cows present on the farm will never be milked. 
  4. Calves will never be separated from their mothers.
  5. 1 cow or bullock is sufficient for 30 acres of land if the farmer is using dung and urine for fertilizer. There is no problem if more are present, as long as the previous guidelines are followed.
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  • ● Farmers will understand their role as caretakers of the ecological balance on their farm and treat it with respect. This mean 
  1. Farmers will reduce to a minimum or (even better) eliminate heavy machinery, such as tractors.
  2. Farmers will use absolutely no chemical inputs, nor any inputs coming from outside their farm.
  3. Farmers will replace water-intensive crops with crops that require low water usage.
  4. Farmers will put into place rainwater harvesting systems under the guidance of Punarbharan.
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  • ● Farmers will understand their role as caretakers of their own and their family’s nutritional health. This means:
  1. Farmers will learn the basics about nutrition and the importance of good nutritional health for themselves and their family.
  2. Farmers will dedicate one acre of their land to plant and grow a food forest, ensuring the perennial availability of seasonal fruits for their household. 
  3. Farmers will dedicate a portion of their land (minimum 2000 sq ft) toward cultivating a home garden with a diversity of nutritional crops for their household. 

 

Jeeva Bhavana and Punarbharan, as partners overseeing Urvarasa, will be responsible for putting in place market and consumer channels for Urvarasa farmers. To that end, we will educate and inform consumers about the importance of:

  1. Supporting natural and ethical farmers. 
  2. Consuming foods that are healthy and nutritious, grown with the greatest attention given to environmental sustainability.
  3. Striving towards a waste-free lifestyle.
  4. Participating directly in farmers’ well-being and positively impacting agricultural communities. 

 

Aside from regular onsite check-ins (for monitoring, testing, etc) Jeeva Bhavana and Punarbharan will oversee a number of programmes for the betterment of farmers, farming practices, etc:

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  • ● Online Workshops:
  1. Financial Management
  2. Health Talks
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  • ● Onsite Workshops:
  1. Training on good soil, water and crop practices
  2. Crop resource management: green manure, biochar, green manure crop covers, no-till farming, plant-based alternatives for disease control, etc.

 

We will also create personalized calendars for farming activities, and we will be a resource to find channels of distribution and marketing for transformed products. As well, we will organise farm visits to encourage direct relationships between consumers and farmers, creating a precious link between what we eat, how it is grown and who provides that vital service.

Finally, we will document each step of the process so that the Urvarasa model can be replicated in other farming groups in Maharashtra and subsequently across the country.

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