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Learning lunch with nature

Working lunch is in vogue but ‘learning lunch’ is a novelty, connecting city-dwellers with food-producers with an aim to let each farmer-find-a-friend for renewing rural-urban relationships.

Bullock-cart ride amidst greenery. Photo: S. Sharma

Bullock-cart ride amidst greenery. Photo: S. Sharma
 Visitors learning to transplant rice. Photo: S. Sharma
Visitors learning to transplant rice. Photo: S. Sharma
Water sports hold special attraction. Photo: S. Sharma
Water sports hold special attraction. Photo: S. Sharma

How do you get your wonderful lunch? Is it because you can afford it or because somebody had worked to produce it? Where do you think your food comes from, and where from it will continue to come in future? Far from intimidating, such questions attract hundreds of weekend tourists to Saguna Baug, the agro-tourism hub that is a little over two hours drive from the cosmopolitan Mumbai and the metropolitan Pune, located in Karjat taluk in the state of Maharashtra.

Ever since it shot into limelight almost two decades ago, the 50-acre farm has been getting a steady stream of an average 400 city-dwellers every weekend in the quest of understanding the multi-functionality of farming, combining leisure with learning. A team of over 60 youngsters, drawn from nearby villages, provide back-up services to the hordes of men, women and children who descent on the farm week after week.

Once known for the variety of captured snakes that attracted the first set of visitors to the farm, Chandrasekhar Bhadsavle has since then transformed the barren landscape into a learning laboratory. Over the years, it has emerged as a platform where leisure, learning and amusement merge to create a rural-urban interface. “Saguna Baug combines the tangible (farm produce) with the intangible (rural environment) as a unique payment for environmental services model“, explains Bhadsavle. From bird watching to water sports and from catching fish to learning farming, visitors not only learn the intricacies of food production but are also exposed to external pressures which demean farming as a vocation.

To reverse the continuing decline in agriculture, restoring farmers’ confidence in farming and a turnaround in ruralurban migration is crucial. A visit to Saguna Baug works in two ways. While bringing visitors close to nature, the interactive discussions help the farmers earn appreciation from unrelated quarters as well. ‘Appreciation not only ignites confidence but restores dignity too,’ quips Bhadsavle. Restoring the dignity of farming as a vocation has been the key behind setting up the farm as an agro-tourism hub. Saguna Baughas been able to uplift the social status of farming, which in the recent past has taken a beating and is considered a lowly profession.

Saguna Baug has demonstrated that methods and approaches for participatory learning and action can help re-connect farmers and citizens with the biodiversity that sustains their livelihoods and culture. It further reflects that not only can sustainable agriculture practices be promoted by engaging farmers in extension activities; its economic value can be enhanced through eco-tourism as well. Agro-tourism share in total income at Saguna Baug is 40 per cent.

It is important for the farming community, who is staying in deep interiors of the country, to interact with their counter parts from the urban areas. Agro-tourism offers the best stage for this interaction and mutual happiness. Farmer’s surplus capacity on the farm is used over the weekend, leaving a good time for farm development during the week. Thus farmer has a change in his routine hard work, something to look forward to over the weekend. By directly engaging with farmers, urban counterparts learn how food is produced and in turn re-shape their own eating habits. Their involvement ranges from direct purchase at the farm, to talking with farmers about what to produce and how, to providing inputs such as labour, knowledge or finance.

Having established its niche in agro-tourism, Saguna Baug is now moving to the next stage of its engagement with urban tourists. An innovative new concept ‘Find Farmer Friend’ (3F) has been launched, enthusing interested visitors to connect with farmers for building long-term trust and confidence in each other. It is a fresh start to building a new rural-urban relation, to see a reaffirmation of ‘learning lunch’ amongst urban dwellers and the peasants.

For more details on Saguna Baug, visit www.sagunabaug.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma works at The Ecological Foundation in New Delhi, India and researches and writes on agriculture and related development issues.
Email: sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com