a magazine on ecological agriculture
a one stop treasure of practical field experiences

Growing organically: Enhancing knowledge through cultural exchange

To impart organic farming education to the new generation that heavily relies on chemical farming, WWOOF INDIA is making an attempt to link young professionals across the world with the organic farms in India. Through its various programmes, WWOOF is not only helping farmers adopt organic farming practices, it is providing hands on experience on farming and organic production for the students, also facilitating cultural exchange among various countries.

Volunteers learn organic farming working on host farms.

Volunteers learn organic farming working on host farms.

Increasing consciousness about conservation of environment as well as of health hazards caused by agrochemicals has brought a major shift in consumer preference towards food quality. Global consumers are increasingly looking forward to organic food that is considered safe and hazard-free. The demand for organic food is steadily increasing both in developed and developing countries, with annual average growth rate of 20–25%.India has a lot of scope for organic farming. Organic farming has been an integral part of Indian farming practices. India is bestowed with considerable potential for organic farming due to prevailing trend of integrated farming systems of crops and live stocks, high bio-diversity on account of diverse agro-climatic conditions and large number of small and marginal farmers.

Besides, inherited tradition of low input agriculture in many parts of the country, particularly in hilly and rain-fed areas too, is an added advantage and augurs well for the farmers to shift to organic farming and tap the steadily growing domestic as well as overseas markets. Imparting organic farming education to the new generation that heavily relies on chemical farming is the need of the hour.

Genesis of WWOOF India

In India chemical farming methods have dominated for so long that there is very little useful information available on non-chemical or organic farming methods and few qualified specialists capable of providing the needed know how. Conventional agriculture extension system promotes mainly conventional agricultural techniques and knowledge. In most situations, all government policies still promote the use of chemicals in agriculture very effectively, but do not promote the techniques of organic farming.

Established in 2007, Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms India (WWOOF INDIA) is working towards filling this gap by providing technical support to farmers interested in starting Organic Farming. In the above context WWOOF INDIA is gradually involving more and more organic farmers into WWOOF India network. From just 14 organic farms in 2007 it has now more than 180 organic hosts farms (including many NGOs) under its network. The WWOOF India Network has now spread across 16 states in India.

The objective of WWOOF is to help farmers adopt organic farming practices, to provide hands on experience on farming and organic production for the students and facilitate cultural exchange among various countries. Main purpose of WWOOF India is to create an interest and understanding for organic and biodynamic ways of living. It does this by producing a list of suitable destinations and making this list available to world wide volunteers, also known as ‘WWOOFers’, thus encouraging people to travel to other countries and increase their knowledge and understanding of other cultures, people and ways of life. It operates on the basis of exchange, boarding and lodging for help, and so allows its members to accomplish this as economically as possible.

To support the continued growth of organic farming practices and volunteer networks, WWOOF set up 4 WWOOF Global Villages (WGV) in India which are envisioned to become research centers on organic farming. The first WGV has been set up on 4.5 acres of land in the village of Surajpura, Madhya Pradesh. It is near the world famous Khajuraho temples and adjacent to the Ken River and Panna Tiger Reserve.

Farm Education Programmes

A volunteer helping the host farmer in land preparation.
A volunteer helping the host farmer in land preparation.

There are basically two ways of getting involved for learning organic farming – Volunteering and Internships – either on host farms or in the WWOOF Global Village.

Volunteering

Volunteering is done either on host farms or in WWOOF Global Village. These volunteers come from various countries across the world. These volunteers are mainly youth who are interested in green living and sustainable agriculture practices. The volunteers learn local organic farming procedures and issues while helping in farming.

These volunteers are trained on host organic farms which provide them an opportunity to live and learn on farm. The host farms grow food organically, live sustainably and generally try to live a low impact life. They share knowledge and experience of organic growing, producing organic products and/or experience in more ecological and sustainable methods of living. They provide healthy meals and a safe, clean place to stay. The volunteers help on the farm for 4-6 hours per day and thereby benefit by ‘hands-on’ learning.

The Internship Programme

The WWOOF India internship program has been created with the goal of providing a stimulating environment and professional and academic resource network for students interested in researchbased activities in organic farming, sustainability and environmental issues. Interns are mostly final year students from various Universities of different countries.

WWOOF India internships are project-based and are undertaken by either individuals or groups. Longer 12 week internships are better suited to those wishing to research, plan and implement their own projects, while the 4 and 8 week intern options work better for those who are prepared to research and implement a project suggested by WWOOF India advisors.

Internships comprise of three phases. Phase I focuses on Conceptual Understanding and Orientation.The internship begins at home; by learning about the internship process and the values and guiding principles of WWOOF India and host farmers, interns establish a meaningful and fruitful connection between themselves and WWOOF India hosts. The projects are identified during this period. During Phase II, the student’s time is reserved for more specific research as the project gains definition. Mid-term reviews are done which provide an opportunity for feedback and constructive criticism. A final presentation of the project proposal define the end of research and the start of action.

In the Phase III, the interns actually implement their projects on host farms. Some interns are also placed in WWOOF Global village for learning. Rural farmers of the adjoining villages along with volunteers and interns have been involved in various activities like growing nurseries using organic methods, construction of check dams, construction of shaded beds for nurseries, construction composting units etc.

By the end of the internship period, interns are expected to deliver a completed project based on the conceptual, practical and researchbased curriculum evolved during the three phases. Documentation of the project from the initial to the final phases is also required for the benefit of the intern and the program overall. Upon internship project completion, WWOOF India provides a certificate highlighting what was learned and accomplished.

The journey till now

The number of volunteers and interns coming to join WWOOF India is increasing each passing year. Their knowledge on organic methods/practices has increased. For example, they are now more aware of practices like crop rotation, resistant varieties, composting, mixed cropping, no tillage crop production and pest prevention, green manuring, mulching, nutrient cycles, resource recycling etc. They have designed and implemented a pest management system where observation, prevention and monitoring are the main components. Important requirements for careful organic processing have been understood. They discussed issues of contamination with non organic substances, non organic products. They also now, understand the structures of potential markets of various organic products produced and marketed by WWOOF India host farmers. They have learnt to differentiate marketing channels (direct marketing, farmers markets, specialised shops, retailers etc.) and to characterise them. They also had opportunity to analyse the certification process and understand the different issues to consider when developing an export marketing strategy.

WWOOF India has helped many farmers to convert towards organic farming by linking volunteers to their farms. More than 50 new organic host farms under its network across the country were started through this process. In the next 5 years, WWOOF India plans to include 1000 organic farms for placing more than 5000 volunteers and 200 interns in various projects and learn.

By bringing together hosts and volunteers, WWOOF has been building bridges where people help each other to share more sustainable ways of living and make a healthier world. In the process, a lot of cultural exchange is also taking place.

Harish Tewari and Poonam Tewari

Harish Tewari
Director, WWOOF India,
A-46 Judge Farm, Haldwani, Nainital, Uttarakhand, India
E-mail: sewak1@rediffmail.com
www.wwoofindia.org

Poonam Tewari
Junior Scientist, College of Home Science,
G.B.P.U.A.&T.,Pantnagar University,
Uttarakhand, India.