The new buzz word in the world of travel, voluntourism is a concept that aims to combine people’s wanderlust with their desire to make a difference. India has several voluntourism organisations that offer diverse and pocket friendly opportunities for community service combined with eco-friendly vacations.
One such enterprise is World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). This non-profit organisation works with tourists and organic farms to facilitate the barter of a few hours of daily volunteer work in exchange for accommodation, delicious food and a chance to learn organic farming techniques.
Many countries the world over have WWOOF chapters that help tourists and locals work with organic farms of their choice.
WWOOF originally stood for “Working Weekends on Organic Farms” and was started in England in 1971 by Sue Coppard, The aim was to provide city dwellers with a getaway to the countryside, while promoting the organic farming movement. The idea soon became popular with backpackers and now, more than 50 countries across the globe have their autonomous WWOOF networks.
WWOOF is now an international exchange programme. The organisation publishes lists of organic farms, smallholdings and gardeners that welcome volunteer help. Volunteer helpers or WWOOFers choose the hosts that interest them and make direct contact to arrange a stay, usually with the farmer’s family.
WWOOF India was started on August 15, 2007, by Harish Chander Tewari, a member of SEWAK — an Uttarakhand-based NGO that promotes organic agriculture and local handicrafts.
While initially there were only 14 hosts in India, WWOOFers from the world over can now choose to volunteer with any of the 217 farms (spread across 16 states) that are listed with the organisation.
These farms include tea and coffee estates, spice estates, fruit orchards, and vegan agricultural communities.
While most farms are certified organic, WWOOF India also welcomes small farmers, who cannot afford the process of certification. Host selection is done after an interview with the farmer about the organic practices implemented on the farm. Farms have to pay a fee of Rs 500 to be listed as hosts on the WWOOF India network. However, small and marginal farms (below five acres) are exempted from this fee.
Volunteers pay an annual fee to the WWOOF organisation of a country (in India, it’s $25 for foreign citizens and Rs 1,125 for Indians) for a subscription that comes with a booklet with a list of organic farms volunteers can choose from.
“This arrangement is beneficial to both hosts and volunteers. The volunteers can work anywhere. They can also choose the kind of work they would like to do and the duration of it. The farmers, on the other hand, get help tending their farms, composting, running the machines, and so on,” says Tewari, adding that WWOOF India focuses on sustainable livelihoods, promoting cultural understanding and community mobilisation around organic farming activities.
Some volunteers with WWOOF India donate street lights, pumps and benches to the villages where they go to stay, while others help with the maintenance work for hosts with eco-resorts and farms. Some have even helped in selling their hosts’ organic products while others have volunteered to teach English at the village schools.
Even as WWOOFing has become a popular way for discerning travellers to see countries, its core aim remains generating an understanding of sustainable agricultural practices. Towards this aim, WWOOF India has set up four WWOOF Global Villages (WGV) in India that are research centres on organic farming and climate change adaptability. The first WGV is in the village of Surajpura, near the world famous Khajuraho temples of Madhya Pradesh.
By 2020, WWOOF plans to expand its organic farming operations to 25,000 acres by including 1000 organic farms that would place more than 5000 volunteers and 200 interns in various projects.
By bringing together hosts and volunteers, WWOOF has been building bridges between cultures where people learn about more sustainable ways of living from each other and make a healthier world. It gives volunteers firsthand experience of ecologically sound growing methods, life in the countryside, and a chance to meet, talk, learn and exchange views with like-minded people.
As a regular WWOOFer says, “For a city-dweller, working on land helps you get ‘closer to your plate’ and understand what goes into the food you eat everyday. It’s an enriching experience.”
Here is all the information you need to go WWOOFing i.e volunteer on organic farms in India.
Contact Details of WWOOF India Director :
Director, WWOOF India,
A-46 Judge Farm, Haldwani, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India