Connecting Indian farmers to Western markets

Aneel Kumar Ambavaram has a Master’s degree in Organic Agriculture from the University of Wageningen in The Netherlands. After working with chemical multinationals for 8 years, he could have had a high profile career with a handsome package. Instead, Aneel decided to support farmers to gain respectable living while contributing to ecological wellbeing.

From selling to banning pesticides
During his trips across Andhra Pradesh, and especially cotton growing communities, Aneel realized that selling pesticides for multinationals made him successful, but it was not useful to farmers. He decided to relaunch Grameena Vikas Kendram Society for Rural Development (GVK), an NGO working for agriculture, sustainability and rural development, as its President in 2012.

Likeminded spirits
Sanne van den Dungen is a Dutch national who studied Organic Agriculture along with Aneel at Wageningen. Inspired by GVK’s vision, Sanne started supporting Aneel`s endeavor from 2012. Sharat Babu Gidda, a mechanical engineer, started working with GVK right from the time he was in college. The trio started a project called Anvita with the mission to uplift cotton farmers. “Anvita is a Sanskrit word which means ‘weaving’. Our project brings people together to form a social fabric. It‘s about global cotton supply chain wherein farmers in India and global consumers unite for a cause,” explains Aneel. Anvita has been renamed as RESET (Regenerate the Environment, Society and Economy through Textiles) in 2017.

Organic cotton going global
They ran awareness campaigns in villages, mobilizing farmers to adopt climate-smart cotton farming. Starting with 43 farmers in 2014, today RESET is working with 600 tribal women farmers in 35 villages who do not use GMO seeds and chemicals. Additionally, RESET farms strive to build soil health and capture excessive carbon from the atmosphere to store in the soil as a nutrient. GVK joined hands with Meta Wear, USA, to reach out to the American market and beyond. As a result, farmers’ household incomes and awareness of the public around organic cotton are increased, climate change is tackled and extra jobs for women farmers are generated.

Lifting female farmers
RESET is the first zero-budget, vertically integrated regenerative cotton farming project in the world, free of GMOs and chemical inputs. RESET lifts women farmers, providing them with tools, training and support to convert to regenerative (organic) farming methods. With an emphasis on female farmers, RESET farmers enjoy lower costs, greater yields, and higher profits.

Aborted sweet oranges source of income
The GVK team has designed a number of other projects towards the betterment of farmers, like “Hesperidin”, an innovative sustainable livelihood model for sweet orange farmers and labor workers. They found out that a bioflavonoid called ‘Hesperidin’ is present in early aborted sweet oranges, a natural compound which has a pharmaceutical value. Collection, processing, quality management, and supply of aborted small oranges can fetch additional income to the communities, especially women. GVK has signed an agreement with a renowned European pharmaceutical company to export sun-dried oranges that is bringing benefit to thousands of families in 200 villages.

The partnership
Women on Wings and GVK started partnering in 2016, mainly focusing on growing the Hesperidin program. Over the years the collaboration grew, now they also partner in scaling RESET. Women on Wings provides mentoring on a high level to GVK’s management. All with one aim; growing the organization so more, female, farmers can be uplifted. “Absolutes apart, we can move forward everyday by staying committed and demonstrating grit,” concludes Aneel.

Picture: Aneel (second right), Sarat (right) and Marci Zaroff, founder MetaWear (center), with RESET farmers