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 …
Better price for farmers, fair price for consumers!
Whatever the product is, its price is decided only by the producer. But for the agriculture products only the market decides their price. Farmers do not have the right to decide the price of the products produced by them. Farmers bear the debt burden as they are compelled to sell their products for the price imposed by the vendors.
As there is lack of government support, farmers involved in organic cultivation too are haplessly selling their products in the conventional markets that are deceitful. As the governments are not providing warehouse facilities the farmers are compelled to sell their products at the earliest. This leads the farmers to sell their products to accept whatever price is offered.
Food is an essential commodity. That’s why its price is expected to remain low. But how is it fair to make the farmers bear the brunt of it? Even if the income of consumers increases, the amount they spend on food products are lesser only compared to their expenditures on other products. Only because the food products are available at cheaper rate the farmers are invariably deprived of their profit.
Even though the organically farmed products are produced without spoiling the environment and their market has not prioritized excess profit, it should at least provide an assured livelihood for the people involved in the production. It is high time for those who involved in integrating organic farmers and their market to think differently. They should make the common people understand about this disparity and involve them in the agriculture production and marketing.
An outcome of one such remarkable effort by a few youngsters in Mumbai with the societal support is Hari Bhari Tokri (HBT). The name connotes ‘Green Basket’. It integrated the farmers belonging to North Kongan region and the consumers of Mumbai. Its primary aim is to restore the food products from the grips of conventional market and at the same time the products cultivated with ethical considerations as well as without harming the environment to be consumed at their respective places of production.
I personally met those youngsters in 2012. At that time, there were 35 small and micro level farmers from rural areas and four urban farmers working together in the group. Vegetables were grown in about 8 acres of land. Every week 250 vegetable baskets were supplied to the consumers from the weekly production of 500 to 600 kg of vegetables from the farm shares.
On an average, for a family of four members about 2 to 2 ½ kg of organic vegetables will be required, other than what is bought from the local market. That is the basis for their calculation for weekly supplies.
In order to serve as one of the shareholders of the group, before planting the crops, one should pay Rs 3,800 as an investment, and also participate in their meetings. The investment cost includes transport charges for supplying the vegetables to the consumers, the product packing charges as well as the product related instructions and culinary tips.
As soon as the harvest begins, weekly message will be sent to the consumers, enquiring about their vegetable requirements. A list of consumers will be prepared along with the specific collection points of the baskets by the consumers. At the time of harvest, vegetables will be collected from each village using vehicles. The quality and amount of vegetables supplied by each farmer will be recorded at the time of collection. Based on the records the farmers will be paid their due on weekly basis. All the vegetables collected from the farmers will be sent to a central segregation area. The vegetables will be segregated based on their types, quality checked, equally shared and filled in the baskets by the Women Self Help Groups.
In order to prevent same vegetables being supplied to the consumers, vegetables will be supplied on rotation, on a weekly basis. Each consumer will be supplied with 4 to 6 types of vegetables each weighing 200 – 250 grams. Based on the harvest, the amount of vegetables will vary. Vegetables will be sent to Mumbai, packed in brown paper bags hardy enough to hold the weight. They will reach the collection point the next day. Likewise, the trial was conducted for 16 weeks.
Those who involved in the effort are mostly volunteers. They did not work for money. Though this trial effort cannot be considered as economically successful, it can very well be treated as a noble effort of providing non poisonous agriculture food products to the consumers.
When I personally witnessed their efforts I could find out two important aspects. One is that those who wish to become a shareholder should compulsorily participate in the one day meeting held between the farmers and consumers, that too, before the advent of a particular season. In one of those meetings, a secretary to the Chief Executive Officer was present. At the end of the meeting, he informed them that he attended the meeting on behalf of his CEO. The members did not accept that. They unambiguously informed him that it is compulsory for the intended shareholder to participate in the meeting.
The group considered it a serious concern that the shareholders should have better understanding about the farms and farmers. They believed that if it does not happen so, then the consumers in the cities will not be able to understand the problems encountered by the farmers. The number of consumers having better understanding has been increasing, making the group swell up in size.
The second aspect that I witnessed was that only those vegetables and fruits seasonally available were filled in the green baskets. Instead of producing the vegetables based on the consumer needs, vegetables that could be seasonally grown only reached the consumers. For some of the country varieties of vegetables, not familiar with the consumers, culinary tips were provided to them.
Seeing the efforts, Mumbai Organic Farmers and Consumers Association (MOFCA) and ML Dawale Trust (MLDT) also joined hands with Hari Bhari Tokri. These organizations provided technical advice to the farmers, starting from plowing, seed selection, seeding, fertilizing the soil, rain water harvesting till product harvesting.
Urban farmers and consumers met the farmers in their own villages, during the vegetable season. The efforts of Hari Bhari Tokri remained unique by making the shareholders and consumers trust the farmers and, not simply relying on the participatory organic certificate and at the same time making them support the farmers directly.
The relationship between the farmers and consumers will not shrink merely with the trade matters. There will be an emotional binding between them when the consumers directly get involved with the socio-economic condition of the farmers, their farm lands and witnessing the impact of seasonal variations. The farmers in turn too understand the consumers. They never tend to take advantage of the consumers. Beyond the intended business, there emerges a fairly emotional link between them. That’s why such examples are very important.
Hari Bhari Tokri is non functional at present. Because those young volunteers who functioned behind the screen, like Ubayth Hussain, and Nisha started their own cultivation and initiated organic farming related services. Nevertheless, those seventy five organic farmers who were inspired by them have been supplying their agriculture products to ashrams, hospitals, hotels and organic shops.
(To be continued)
Community Supported Agriculture!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a kind of farming method closely linked with its community, gaining popularity in the western countries. It’s a method where consumers are directly connected with the farmers and a portion of the agriculture products is shared with the consumers. A few consumers join with a farmer, working together and the products from the cultivation are shared with the families of the farmer and consumers.
As the consumers work with the farmers to produce the crops, a portion of the yield is shared with the consumers. CSA is a method intended to create a neighborhood market by bringing together the consumers and the farmers contributing in its investment, labor and the cultivated products.
There is an assurance of investment on one side and there is assurance on the marketing, on the other side. It’s a self reliant method, functioning without any interference of the government, where the returns are shared with both the farmers and consumers, whether it is a loss or gain. By this method, farmers committing suicide due to debt is averted. This method of production that happens only to fulfill the needs will strengthen the socio economic relationships of the people involved. And the greed for profit is put behind. By this method only those crops that do not affect the environment and at the same time seasonally appropriate are cultivated.
Mostly, the CSA evolved along with the growth of organic farming. This method started spreading when Rudolf Styner’s bio-dynamic farming gained popularity. The method is very popular, particular in America. Though the CSA method is not popular to that extent in India trial efforts have happened considerably.
(This series of article written in Tamil by Ananthu has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)