Sreejan A Story

An experiment in sustainable eco living  


Our aim is to make Sreejan a crucible of learning for local eco farmers.  We train selected youth in how they can achieve economic success by utilizing micro parcels of land (approximately 1 acre or less) in a natural, ecologically sound and socially responsible manner.  A 3 year apprenticeship turns these people into a group of energized and enthusiastic eco-entrepreneurs which in turn leads to a thriving local community.
For 3 years, these apprentices or ‘Sreejan Kartas’ as we call them, are groomed and nurtured so that they learn the art of integrating what we call the 5 L’s- Living, Livelihood, Learning, Laughter and Love while working at Barkheda
A ‘Sreejan Karta’ could choose to engage in any land based livelihood e.g., farming or eco tourism or fisheries as an example. All ‘Sreejan Kartas’ live and work on the 150 acres of privately owned land and are supported by a group of passionate people (called ‘Sreejan Hiteshis’). “Sreejan Hiteshis’ voluntarily offer land, knowledge, appropriate technology, financing and  mentoring to the ‘Sreejan Kartas’ because they all share a common set of ‘Core Beliefs’. 
This alternate model of community regeneration was sort of invented because we, the core Sreejan Hiteshi’s realized that piecemeal/short term fixes have failed to address the challenges faced by the current farming/rural community. We also realized that something fundamental at the structural level needs to go hand in hand with so called external interventions for a lasting impact.
Understanding the current ground reality
Farmers have a complex problem at hand:
1. The marginal/small farmer is desperate, helpless and hopeless.  Being a farmer is his last resort, a vocation he did not choose and given a chance would rather do anything but farming. With that state of mind, there is hardly anything that this farmer can be expected to think, create or achieve for himself or for others.
2. Over the years material inputs for a farmer which ought to have been abundantly available and mostly free have become scarce and expensive. The natural resources like water, seeds and biomass (for manure and energy needs) is far more expensive and cumbersome to collect and use while the subsidized, soil-unfriendly petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides are easily available and fiercely promoted by a cartel of vested interests. The government is subsidizing ‘slow poisoning’ of both the land as well as the consumer in the name of helping the farmer and increasing his productivity.
3. The demand side for a farmer is again heavily pitied against him. The middlemen and their distribution system pass on all risks to the farmer without duly compensating him. The toll due to vagaries of demand supply gap or the unpredictable weather is mostly borne by the farmer alone.
4. Farmers return on his investment of time and energy is mostly negative. At best he survives and is able to just feed his family while in worst years he is drowned in debt.
5. At the societal level, farming is not seen to be a respectful vocation anymore. It is meant for uneducated, illiterate people. Successful farmers send their children to schools and colleges in the hope that they could do something better in their lives.   
Under these circumstances, just training existing farmers on new farming techniques, giving them subsidies or easy loans or educating them in adopting newer methods seems grossly inadequate. 
We wanted to create an operational model based on a philosophy of “Plenty for all for Ever”.  

Our Approach
We understand that in the past many different methods and ways have been adopted to organize farmers e.g., Cooperatives, Unions, Associations, Companies under section 25 etc. However, our challenge was a bit different. 
On one side we have our farmers (Sreejan Kartas) who do not ‘own’ the land and mostly are young, inexperienced village boys and girls who possess nothing but a dream and a determination to stand on their feet. 
On the other side we have our Supporters (Sreejan Hiteshis) who deeply resonate with the whole concept of Sreejan and who are willing to offer whatever gifts they can including part of the land that they own at Barkheda. Their deep wish is to ensure that these young people help themselves into becoming proud farmers and micro entrepreneurs of our future.
So we came up with a unique ‘Four Petal Flower Model’. Each petal representing an independent entity serving a specific need of the ‘Sreejan Karta’.
The Four Petal Model
Our intervention by design needs 4 key supporters to surround our ‘Sreejan Karta’. Each stake holder contributes one piece of the puzzle and takes away something valuable in return. These five co creators work together on a given land mass for the results to unfold effectively. 
a) ‘Sreejan Karta’-An Eco Entrepreneur who wants to produce organically grown food on his/her allotted 1 acre plot and thereby generate a sustainable means of livelihood. The SK would latter have an option to lease the same piece of land on long term basis at the end of 3rd year.
b) ‘Shashwat’-A Trust funded by Sreejan Hiteshi’s/individuals who are inspired by the idea and would want to mentor as well as help part finance these eco entrepreneurs on a long term basis.
c) ‘Shrishti’-A Socially Oriented Land Bank Fund/Company (which holds common rights to the land otherwise privately owned by individuals, thru a Special Purpose Vehicle) which is ready to lease the land to the SK under certain conditions e.g., of improving soil fertility and natural resources while farming.
d) ‘SEED’-A Cooperative Society of which all Sreejan Kartas and Sreejan Hiteshis are its members.  This cooperative society is mandated to a) Seek appropriate technology b) Seek appropriate knowledge c) Restore and create surplus water in the whole watershed d) Restore and create surplus bio mass in the whole watershed e) Create seed bank to exchange with other communities f) Ensure energy surplus for the whole community for all its energy needs g) Build a resilient and interdependent community of SK’s
e) ‘Navankur’-A Producer Company owned by all SK’s which connects them directly to the consumer. A for profit collective bargaining entity that is responsible for bringing economies of scale, eliminate exploitation by middlemen and be a business arm for the community.