In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Emmaus Kudumbam has helped landless peasants to overcome extreme poverty. In doing so, the group has used environmentally friendly practices and contributed to new environmental standards in an agricultural sector challenged by chemical inputs. At the same time, they have trained hundreds of farmers in alternative farming techniques.
India has long been a global laboratory for the most harmful practices in the agricultural sector. In the 1980s, the damage of the so-called ‘green’ revolution became apparent, as in reality this depended on the mass use of agrochemicals, often leading to the resistance of crop pests to pesticides. Yields declined and the land lost its fertility. In Tamil Nadu, Kudumbam decided to engage in a broad participatory process with the communities, including people living in extreme poverty: together they collected traditional skills that were environmentally friendly. These techniques were then tested on plots of land in order to qualify them, measure the benefits on the soil and ecosystems, and then disseminate them to as many people as possible, primarily through farming schools. These revitalised plots should be able to accommodate larger crops. Kudumbam has therefore capitalised on many alternative practices to replace chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. This has led to better water management and restored fertility to the soil. Seven villages in the region have now abandoned agrochemicals altogether and are moving towards organic farming, proving that the alternatives supported by Kudumbam are sustainable and replicable solutions.
The group has also been involved in activist networks operating in Asia-Pacific and elsewhere. Through campaigning and training, they aim to transform community farming practices in areas such as preserving farmers’ seeds, rejecting GMOs, raising awareness of the risks of pesticides to ecosystems and health, strengthening local innovations for food sovereignty, etc. Many of the people supported by Kudumbam were previously in such dire straits that they had to resort to working for large multinationals. Here too, the organisation is on the front line: the fight against Monsanto’s transgenic Bt cotton, introduced to India in 2002, is one of the major battles in which the Kudumbam group is involved. At the global and local level, the group has proven that promised yields fell far short of the mark. This has not prevented the invasion of Bt cotton. However, Kudumbam achieved a victory in 2010 in the case of Bt aubergine Brinjal: the government finally gave up introducing this GMO variety, after fierce criticism by farmers.