One of India’s richest temples goes organic with its laddus

Three years ago, Venkat Shobha Rani quit her job as a primary school teacher to help her husband tend their three-acre (1.2-hectare) farm, part of a growing number of rural folk in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who are moving to organic farming.
“It’s a lot of labour, but organic farming is a lot better,” Shobha Rani told Al Jazeera in Dugganagaripalli, a village in Kadapa district, 450km (280 miles) south of Hyderabad.
Shobha is now one of several hundred Andhra Pradesh small farmers who are part of a government-run, community-managed natural farming programme launched in 2015 as an alternative to burdening farmers with soaring fertiliser and chemical costs. The initiative is arguably unique in India.
Input costs for farmers are rising even as their incomes fall, pushing Andhra Pradesh, like many other Indian states, into a farm crisis. The project to help farmers go organic is seen as a crucial experiment, and other states are watching it closely.
The programme has spread across the state, aiming to sign up one million farmers this year to practise either partially or fully organic farming.
In mid-August, Shobha enrolled with a state agency to supply organic Bengal gram (chickpeas) again to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam temple, dedicated to her favourite deity, Lord Venkateswara, also known as Vishnu.
Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), one of the country’s richest temples, needs a steady supply of chickpea flour for its laddus, the round sweets produced in the temple’s huge kitchen.
The temple makes and sells tens of thousands of laddus to pilgrims and devotees each day, as they are considered a vessel for Lord Venkateswara’s blessings. Other inputs include ghee, cashews, raisins, cardamom and jaggery. Most of these, too, are now sourced locally from organic farmers.
India’s main farming season is at its peak now. Part of Shobha’s farm is flush with cotton crops. The chickpeas she planted on the adjoining plot in late October will be harvested early next year.
Laddus going organic
Across the state, new organic farmers like Shobha are being tapped to supply their crops, including chickpeas and rice, for TTD, in what’s being hailed as an “extraordinary decision” of the temple trust.
The temple, which receives 60,000 to 70,000 devotees every day, decided to go fully organic in May, inspired by a devotee’s donation of chemical-free rice to the temple in 2021, Jawahar Reddy, the temple’s former executive officer who made the decision, told Al Jazeera.
Source: Aljazeera

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