In Auroville’s early years, when most of the community was engaged in stewarding land, land-use patterns were mixed: along with planting trees, people cultivated vegetables, fruits and grains. Over the years, as growing food was not easy, there was a marked emphasis on afforestation. And as farms were turned into forests, grains were the first to fall by the wayside. The grain production of Auroville decreased.
Of the 15-odd farms in Auroville today only few grow grains anymore. New farms often grow some grains in the first few years but then abandon them. For, growing grains is financially very challenging, risks are high, and it demands special management skills. Besides that, grain farming needs its own special layout and infrastructure for irrigation, storage, etc. Grains require processing which means that it requires skilled-labor and machinery.
2011 saw a decisive shift in the functioning of grain farming in Auroville. Annapurna Farm took on the additional task to function as a central granary where grains are dried, cleaned, stored and processed. Since growing grains needs substantial financial input at the beginning of the growing season, Auroville created a crop loan fund within its internal financial organization so that a farmer has enough cash flow, in the form of a loan, to cultivate a crop. Once the crop is harvested, it goes straight to the Foodlink granary at Annapurna, where the crop is dried, cleaned, assessed and stored. The crop is stored in Annapurna’s storerooms until there is a demand from the community. This can be as long as one year later, and then, as per the demand, the grain is processed at Annapurna. It is then transported for further distribution to the Foodlink facility located in the centre of Auroville.
To improve standards the Auroville Grain Group was established. This team of dedicated Aurovilians meets once a month on a grain farm and discuss improvements in grain cultivation, reviews crop planning, determines prices, reviews crop loan applications, and tracks planting and harvesting.
Today these efforts are bearing fruits: as farmers have finances available at the right time through the crop loan system, crop yields are improving, and grain quality has become better because of improved drying, cleaning and storing facilities. Planning is more smooth because the grain group members meet regularly and peer review helps all farmers to learn and improve their standards.