This is a series of deliberations about the politics behind popular market and the opportunities for successful organic agriculture markets as well as alternative markets …
Most of the farmers think that their duty ends what they have cultivated is sent to the commission agent. They never think of marketing their own cultivated products by themselves. They feel that it is enough to get a vendor who can give better price for their products. And most of their lives end only by searching for such an ideal vendor.
It is essential for the farmers to market their own cultivated products by transforming into honest vendors as well. But these formers tend to believe that it is not practically possible. ‘Not at all, farmers can transform themselves into vendors’ vehemently state the farming members of Organic Food Club (OFC) who live around Belgaum city, North West part of Karnataka district.
Few of the pioneers in organic farming and biodynamic farmers, Abhai Muthalik Desai, Basavaraj Chithappa Kapsi, Suresh Desai and Ashok Dubachi who had turned their farmlands to organic cultivation persuaded the neighboring farmers too to switch to organic farming. Besides, they turned themselves to be vendors, selling their own cultivated products directly to the consumers. This is the way the Organic Food Club was created. This Club functions in Yamaganmarthi village as its centre nearby the Belgaum city.
The Organic Food Club procures the organic products such as vegetables, fruits, gram varieties, sugarcane and other organic products directly from the farmers in Belgaum district and it brings value addition to the products or directly sells them to the consumers. This association was initiated in 2002, bringing together 25 farmers farming along the borders of Karnataka and Maharashtra districts. This was registered as an association in 2004.
The primary objectives of the Club are that the organic farming members of the Club should get fair pricing and their products should reach the consumers directly without any mediators.
This Club markets the organic products directly to about five hundred families in the Belgaum city. But, only 45% of the total cultivated organic products is bought by the five hundred families of Belgaum and the remaining products are sent to organic shops in Mumbai and Bengaluru. However, those organic products are never sent to the usual markets.
At the time of initiation of the Club, each of the 25 members invested Rs 10,000 as a corpus. In 2003, the organic products were directly supplied to 84 members belonging to Rotary Club and Lion’s Club of the Belgaum city. In the next few years, with the contribution of the farming members three warehouses were built by the Club. Similarly, a jaggery production unit was also established by the Club at the cost of Rs 18,60,000. At the beginning, the government itself paid the fee towards the participatory organic certification for the first three years of the Club.
Keeping the Organic Food Club on the one side and the consumers on the other side, the Club continuously facilitated dialogues between them. Once in every three months on the second Sunday, the consumers with their family members were encouraged to attend the meeting organized at the Yamaganmarthi village. And there was also monthly meeting for the farming members of the Club. The profit from sales increased up to 40% because there were no mediators in between. Those products that are stable received 25% more profit than the market price. Prices for the products are regularized based on the production cost rather than the market price. Consumers paid an advance amount for eight weeks before the supply and farmers were paid their money within 15 days of procurement.
Other than onion, potato, chili, garlic, ginger and coriander, four baskets of vegetable varieties (two vegetables for salad and two leafy vegetables) amounting to 12 kg were sent to each consumer on weekly basis. Besides, wheat, grams and, country maize were also supplied based on the booking in advance. The farmers cultivated thirteen types of vegetables with mutual consensus among themselves. A basket of 12 kg vegetables is sold for Rs 200. The consumers of Belgaum city were supplied with 30 tons of vegetables, weekly. Other products were sold up to 4 tons. Six private vans were rented for transportation. In a week, the sales reached Rs 4,80,000. Any loss was only due to the natural calamity. Due to recurrent loss, the Club has been managing to supply the organic products through different means.
One of the founders of the Club, Abhai Muthalik Desai spoke about the current operations of the Club and the same is presented here.
“In 2005, there was a deluge in our area. The crops were destroyed due to flooding. We were not able to supply the organic vegetables and other products as agreed upon with the consumers. They were disappointed about it as they had already paid eight-week amount in advance. It took a while for us to recover from that loss. Therefore we switched to a different mode of sales. At present, every week, on Mondays and Thursdays we sell our products at a particular place. We send the details about our products to the consumers through WhatsApp. The consumers can also book the products in advance through WhatsApp.
Sales continues from 3 PM till 9 PM. So, the consumers who have already booked the products in advance can come by their preferred time to get the products. Weekly, 15 to 20 varieties of vegetables, amounting about 2 tons are sold. Cereals and gram varieties are sold about 200 kg in a week. Whatever the type of vegetable, it’s only Rs 40 per kg. That remains the same throughout the year”.
Through the Club, awareness programs have been conducted on the harmful effect of chemical cultivation. Thousands of participants were trained on the organic farming methods. However, only 25 organic farmers from eight families are able to continue as its members due to stringent quality control measures. The Club bears the expenses towards maintaining the participatory organic certification program.
The organic jaggery produced by the Club is certified by the ‘Control Union’ functioning from Mumbai. Currently, the jaggery with its powder form is exported to European countries.
Having realized that ‘the quality or the true nature of the organically grown products cannot be measured through rules and regulations and it’s only possible with the moral commitment by the farmers’, the farming members of the Club have been functioning sincerely without losing the trust of the consumers.
That’s the reason that the Organic Food Club has been successfully continuing to be a role model, proving that the farmers can themselves turn out to be honest vendors, marketing the products cultivated by them. Nearly after fifteen years, it has been a shining star, exemplified as an alternative market.
Let us review some of the successful efforts likewise in the weeks to come.
For contact: AB Dubachi, Yamaganmarthi village, Mobile: 094481 26953; Abhai Muthalik Desai, Suthagathi (Belgaum), Karnataka district, Mobile: 099007 75633
(To be continued)
The members of the Organic Food Club, Abhai Muthalik Desai, Suresh Desai and Ashok Dubachi have also been serving as experts in organic farming. Abhai Muthalik Desai and Suresh Desai were the recipients of ‘Krishi Pandit’ award given by the Government of Karnataka, for the year 2005-2006. This title was awarded to Ashok Dubachi for the year 2006-2007. They provide training to government and non government agencies, universities and cooperative societies in the districts of Karnataka and Maharashtra. They provide training also through National Horticulture Project. They also played a key role when the government of Karnataka drafted the organic farming policies in 2004.
The founders of the Club will serve as the permanent members of the Decision-making Committee. Besides, there will also be seven members selected annually to serve the Committee. This Committee will make decisions and implement them. All the activities of the Club, issues deliberated during the meetings and decisions agreed upon during the meetings will be documented. Auditing of financials is also conducted transparently.
“Government support is needed”
Ashok Dubachi, President, Organic Food Club, states, “Free space should be allotted by the government for the organic farmers to preserve the organic products, facilities and infrastructure for value addition and space for selling the products. If the government itself procures the organic products that have long shelf life, the marketing of organic products will be easier”.
Abhai Muthalik Desai
As there was severe continued drought for three years at the end of 1980’s, the family of Desai who had been cultivating sugarcane trapped into heavy debt. Desai was serving in the Department of Engineering during that period of drought. As the family was suffering from continuous loss in agriculture he resigned his job in 1992 and got into agriculture in order to recover his family from debt. He became a full time organic farmer after being guided by Anand, one of the pioneers in organic farming in Karnataka district, considering him as his teacher and mentor. Desai, in turn, has made many farmers switch to organic farming.
(This article series written in Tamil by Ananthu for Pasumai Vikatan has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)