At 14,200 ft above sea-level, surrounded by the trans Himalayan range, I was looking forward to seeing the yak, for which I had travelled from Mysore to Kibber village in Spiti during the summer of 2016. The walk from the village to the pasture was an arduous one, but I had two girls from the village Lobzang & Tenzin who were accompanying me on my quest. On our way, we crossed many agricultural fields where the villagers were growing green peas. It was unusual to see a cash-crop in such a harsh and remote region. They explained how agriculture had taken shape in the last few decades and opening up of roads and tourism brought many possibilities to these remote places. “For our own consumption, we still grow barley. Green peas are only for the outside market” they exclaimed. Barley, a cereal grain, which has been a staple in upper Himachal has been the source of nutrition especially during the long winter months when supply of any food produce is infrequent and unpredictable. However, due to lack of marketing opportunities, there is hardly any demand for it outside of Spiti. Discussion with these young girls led me to develop the idea of ‘Thapasu’.
Photo courtesy Thapasu
Thapasu is a for-profit impact company that closely works with farmers and other collaborations at multiple levels to make agriculture nutrition-rich and accessible to all. We hope to do this by working at ground level in protecting and preserving the agriculture knowledge and the biodiversity surrounding it. Our work began in early 2016 when, with the help of a few researchers and the Government of India, we were able to start this initiative alongside two farmers – Deepak and Poonam from Kullu valley. We began by cultivating and marketing Jattoo variety of red rice. It was a huge success. Since then, Thapasu has been working with tribal farmers to produce, add-value and market various native, heirloom and wild products promoting natural and organic form of agriculture. Some of these include Barley, Seabuckthorn - a wild berry, Black-peas, Rhododendron, Rose Hips and Tartary Buckwheat. Today, approximately 3200 farmers have joined us from three districts in Himachal Pradesh (Lahaul & Spiti, Kullu, Mandi) and two districts in Karnataka (Mandya & Hassan) along with few regions in Leh, Ladakh.
Thapasu works with a ‘Farm to Store’ Model by marketing these heirloom species with the help of institutional partnerships and Government schemes. Through institutional collaboration, Thapasu also engages in building newer technologies which are then transferred to the farmers and self-help groups in converting the produce to the final product. 10% of our profit goes back into the community through various agricultural services we provide for farmers such as soil testing, land mapping, semi processing subsidies from government, skill training and new technology introductions. We are a team of eight resourceful people who bring various skills to enable this work in the Himalayas.
Food habits have changed drastically over the last 5-6 decades, however, the importance of saving local food systems is only becoming apparent to us in the recent past. Biodiversity is the key indicator of the health of an ecosystem. But the extinction of wild, native and heirloom food grain species may have unforeseen impacts, sometimes snowballing into the destruction of entire ecosystems. Ancient products still continue to grow in certain parts of the country specifically where climatic conditions are harsh and rough because they are able to withstand drought, fix nitrogen and survive in the harsh climatic condition. Introduced crop needs external inputs to do the same. But we are experiencing this shift where traditional crop patterns are being replaced by newer varieties of produce even in the remotest regions of the country. The best way to save the little that remains is by unlearning modern agricultural practices, re-adopting the traditional practices and building a circular system that benefits the farmer, consumer and the environment.
Photo courtesy Thapasu
Photo courtesy Thapasu
Farmers growing ancient heirloom products do so mostly for self-consumption. For livelihood, however, they have to depend on introduced crops for which they may be using chemical based fertilizers and pesticides. This is harmful to the soil quality and health of the community in the long run. Thapasu ensures a market for the organically grown heirloom products and fills gaps which are prevalent in the conventional agro-marketing infrastructure.
How Thapasu works?
Any farmer/s who grows ancient heirloom products, organically, can reach out to us to help them sell their produce to the outside market. Once the quality and nutritional value of produce is assessed, we begin marketing and selling the produce as a Thapasu product. We buy a set quantity from the farmer which is mostly stored with the farmer and when we receive an order from our website (www.thapasu.com) we request the farmer to send the package to the address via India post. Bigger orders are managed by us directly.
How are farmers paid?
Farmers are paid when we buy the product from them. All the transfers are made directly to the bank account of the farmer. If the farmer does not have a bank account then the payments are made through our local champion who pays them in cash.
How much share does a farmer earn?
Of the total profits earned, up to 50% goes to the farmer as part of direct income and/or services provided by us.
Are there any other services provided by Thapasu?
Organic farmers or farmers looking to change to organic agriculture, can reach out to us for any grievances or consultation with regards to their fields or produce. In collaboration with other institutions, we also conduct regular workshops for farmers for transitioning to organic farming and skill building. We also do soil-testing, land mapping and support farmers to avail government subsidies.
How can farmers reach out to you?
You can give a call or leave a message with your name on +91 973 140 8844. You can also send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our office in Manali: THAPASU Centre, #83/7, Siyal Village, Post Office Manali 175131, Kullu Dist., H.P, India.
About the Author
The founder, Amshu CR has worked for the past 5 years in building a lean-sustainable agri-hybrid model for the tribal villages of Himachal Pradesh. She comes from a global marketing background with an MBA from Cardiff Business School. You can find out more about her work with the farmer groups at www.thapasu.com.