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The Farm Worker Fund - Update 1

Farm Worker Fund - man leads ox through a field with a hazy horizon

We started the Farm Worker Fund in Nov 2022, and this is our first update!

Kumud Dadlani

Written by

Kumud Dadlani

Diaspora Co. Sourcing Manager

Hi community, 

This is Kumud Dadlani, Diaspora Co. sourcing manager :) I'm writing to you'll today to share an update on our Farm Worker Fund and the progress we've made so far.

Firstly, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you who have contributed towards this fund. With your help, we raised $22k for the inaugural fund last year! The FWF is so important to us because it allows us to make an impact (big and small) in the lives of the people who work very hard to grow our delicious spices and play a direct role in the future of regenerative agriculture. To help us achieve our goals, we recently brought Reema Sathe on board as a social impact consultant. She is a social entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in rural development and gender equity. Reema and I have spent the last three months on the ground, meeting with farm workers and getting a firsthand understanding of their challenges and needs.

It was important for us to start from the ground up and not go simply by our understanding of what should be improved upon. We chose three farms that represent a diversity of workforce, environment, and culture. At Aranya Farms in Thirunelly, Kerala, we met with the Aidyar, Kurma, and Kurichiyan tribal communities who have been working closely with the Parameswaran family for generations. At Baraka Estate in Udumbanchola, Kerala, we learned about the changing nature of the labour force in the state and the challenges faced by migrant workers. Finally, at KVR Farms in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, we spoke with women and elderly workers who are mainly employed there and grow our Pragati Turmeric. 

Reema Sathe & Kumud Dadlani

 

Through our conversations with farm workers, we learned about the nuances of each geographical state and the various challenges they face. There's so much to take into account beyond simply increasing wages, such as seasonal versus permanent workers, skilled versus unskilled labour, and state laws. We also learned about the personal struggles workers face, including alcoholism, unnecessary debts, and unclear information on how to manage money. It's a sensitive issue, and we're taking our time to understand their world and work at a pace that is respectful to them.

Reema conducted approximately 80 interviews with farm workers in an effort to gain as much knowledge and insight as possible. Data was collected through surveys, interviews, and observations. The largest portion of feedback we received was focused on literacy, nutrition, and health. These will serve, directly or indirectly, as our targeted programs for the fund. To outline how to approach this work, we developed the following framework.

FRAMEWORK FOR DEFINING SOLUTIONS:
  • Every farm site is unique and requires tailored solutions.
  • The state government has existing socio-economic development schemes which can be used as a basis for new programs that we will put together.
  • Medical camps need to be designed with a focus on the medical needs of women, which often overlooked.
  • Change must be implemented with caution and sensitivity to ensure it is successful. But also learn from the attempts made previously by the farm partners.
Farmworker on the Baraka Cardamom farm

LITERACY

Literacy is an all-encompassing term, including not just academic knowledge, but also medical and financial literacy. When it comes to medical literacy, workers often lack the information and understanding to ask the right questions about their health, especially when iron, calcium and vitamin A deficiencies are rampant and these can be tackled easily. With regard to financial literacy, many are unaware of how to manage their money in order to grow and be secure, often taking out loans to meet emergency expenses, which can lead to further debt. Many families also lack the funds to continue education after basic schooling, leading to a halt in their educational journey*. This has by far has been the most constant (and emotional) feedback highlighted by farm workers, who seek a better future for their children. To support these individuals, and to help break the cycle of debt, there needs to be more focus on literacy.

 

* "It breaks my heart to think that many parents don't want their children to take up farming, as they view it as a lowly job. Despite the backbreaking effort and hard work that goes into farming, it doesn't always provide a decent wage or a basic standard of living.This really makes me stop and think: who will be growing our food in the future? We must make agriculture profitable and equitable again, so that future generations can find a better life in farming." - Kumud Dadlani 
NUTRITION
Our main objective was to comprehend the dietary habits and food sources of the farm workers. In considering nutrition as an integral part of one's health, we found that the daily food plates of the farm workers could be improved. This is especially true for migrant workers as their diets have been altered due to their new environment. To combat this, we should ensure they have access to a variety of nutritious foods. We should also focus on bringing forth their traditional knowledge around food - there is much power in it.

 

HEALTH
Very specific to Prabhu's farm area in Vijayawada, we found a wide occurrence of the same set of diseases among the farm workers and their family members, such as thyroid, diabetes, blood pressure, and cancer that cause extreme emotional and financial hardship. To better understand this anomaly, we are looking for a local NGO to partner with us in implementing an informed health and nutrition program.

 

Aranya Farms  
Kumud posing with farmers at the Baraka Estate
 
Reema talking to the farmers while seated in the KVR Farms
 
Women sitting by a field outside, one with a young kid in her lap

 

In partnership with our farm partners, we are currently developing the timeline and implementation of our short-term and long-term goals. I'm defining the success of this initiative as allowing farm workers to save and expand their earnings, have access to nutritious food, and ultimately have the security to know their children will have a bright future. At Diaspora Co., it’s always been about ensuring the supply chain is equitable which means EVERY person within it should benefit.

 

This is just the start of our journey, and we are excited about the potential of the FWF. Reema and I, along with our amazing farm partners, are looking forward to spending the next 3 months exploring this land and all it has to offer. We can't wait to come back with fresh perspectives and learnings! If anyone has experience with social impact initiatives in South Asia, please do not hesitate to reach out - we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. Stay tuned for updates!

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