Almost every person, who has been online for a few years or so, is familiar with Farmville. Either they played the game, or they ignored the requests their friends have been bombarding them with.
For those not as acquainted with the online gaming scene, Farmville is a farming simulation social network game. It became a rage when released in 2009, as countless people took to ‘harvesting’ crops or visiting the farms of their ‘neighbours’.
Now, coming back to reality, Indian Superheroes, a Coimbatore-based social enterprise, has set up a platform where you can rent patches of organic farms to grow and harvest your own crops!
Wait, if you think we are kidding, the pilot batch that had a participation of around 22 members, took off last weekend.
At a farm in Kanuvai near Coimbatore, the batch had 10 groups. Each group had 1 participant who could bring along 2 more members.
Co-founders Vishnu Vardhan and Divya Shetty, ISH
In the past 2 and half years, Indian Superheroes or ISH has played an essential role in setting up an exclusive marketplace for farmers who grow and sell organic farm produce. “Towards the end of 2014, there was an awful lot of news about farmers ending their lives, but nothing actually being done towards it. Probably, the sensitivity towards the issue could be attributed to the agricultural background that my family has,” says Vishnu Vardhan, who co-founded ISH along with Divya Shetty.
Enquiring with his many farmer friends, Vishnu realised that the farmers who harvested organic produce had no separate platform for retail and were compelled to share the same market with non-organic producers. Also, most of the farmers were losing out heavily on the various value-additions using which regular MNCs and middlemen make profit.
Nor did the community have any say in the pricing process of their own produce.
“We wanted to change that and enable organic farmers and micro-entrepreneurs sell directly to customers without middlemen intervention. Not only would that mean better prices for the customer, but also better returns for the farmer and his family,” Vishnu adds.
Beginning with just a couple of farmers, ISH now has a network that links 823 organic farmers from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, including 650 certified organic farmers, to a common platform for not just selling their produce but also express their staking in the pricing policies.
“Depending to the region, we enable weekly meetings where these farmers have active discussions and decide upon a price for their harvest. Unlike the regular marketplaces where produce is brought from the farmers at paltry sums, we believe that the farmers should be given this right. They deserve at least that!,” Vishnu mentions.
Apart from the farmers, ISH also facilitates micro businesses, mostly involving the family members of these farmers. “Push-cart hotels, coconut shell earrings, millet noodles and biscuits…these are some of the businesses, that have been doing pretty well. As of the coconut shell earrings, this helps in ensuring that there remains no waste and something beautiful can be created out of something that would be dumped away otherwise,” Vishnu explains.
Millet noodles and biscuits, who thinks of that!
ISH has also collaborated with 10 NGOs that exclusively work with organic farmers.
Solar Dryer and Temporary Coconut storage shelter.
NESAM, SIMCODESS, CANDLE, and IRWO are some of the organisations associated with ISH. Working with the volunteers at these organisations, ISH has set up numerous solar dryers, coconut oil extraction and drip-water irrigation units for the farmers, as well as 10 warehouses to store harvested produce.
Pleased with the quality of available products, many customers are now actively volunteering and investing to support the farmers. “The network that connects the producers and the consumers not as just give and take but a lot more than that. When the customers wanted to actively invest in the farmers’ lives, it was more like the vision of ISH becoming more pronounced”, Vishnu says.
In fact, the farm rental programme grew out of multiple requests by customers who wanted to learn different organic farming practices, right from scratch.
Formerly an instructional designer at Akamei before he ventured into creating the Superheroes foundation, Vishnu imagines that the idea of gamifying the farming experience could have arose out of his previous work experience. Having two organic farmers Krishnamurthy and Prabhu, a father-son duo who practice integrated zero-budget farming methods as trainers, the pilot batch of farm rental initiative were subjected to a mandatory two-day workshop to familiarise them with crop selection, sowing of seeds, organic manure preparation, drip-water irrigation, etc.
The pilot batch at Kanuvai
“Starting from collecting cow-dung to various other practices, the batch, that had people coming from Punjab, Goa and cities like Pune, were taught the basics of organic farming”, he adds.
The rental duration for the organic farms range from one to six months, which may be extended, based upon your interest. Apart from growing your own crops and harvesting them, you can even make money selling your farm produce.
Earlier this year, an online store was launched by Indian Superheroes where you can purchase not only organic farm produce but also items like essential oils, cookies and noodles made of millet, among a wide assortment of products.