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 …
With the current situation, the life of farmers revolves around the market, starting from seed to selling. As cash crops encroach our lands, there is a large need for chemical fertilizers. But most of the farmers are not in a position to buy them. Therefore the farmers are forced to sell their agriculture products at a lower price to the local shopkeepers who lend money for them to procure fertilizers. In most of the villages, the owners of fertilizer shops procure agriculture products.
Similar situation prevails with consumers, as they too are forced to depend on the market for all their needs. Even in the small shops of villages, all products like milk packet, curd packets, idly batter packet have been sold.
Till recent times, food production, processing and utilization were in the hands of the society. But they have gone into the hands of the market, currently. We have created a heartless market by copying the production and marketing strategies of the Western countries. Because of this, besides losing our good health, our land, water and environment have been polluted. Instead of believing ‘Food is medicine’ we have reached a pathetic condition of asking ‘Which is the non toxic food?’
It has become very common to mix chemicals during processing and value addition in order to increase the longevity of the products. Chemicals have penetrated the processing and value addition at the time of production, killing us gradually. Many of us are not aware that we kill ourselves through this process in our own money.
The basic reason for this is the growing gap between the producers and consumers. Capitalizing the gap between the farmers and consumers the market spreads its net of conspiracy. Instead of helping the small producers and consumers it helps the brokers more. There is a huge difference between the price received by the farmers for their products and the price of the same product when sold in the market.
Once I went to Kambam region of Theni district to analyze the price of grapes. One kg of grapes sold in Chennai market was Rs 45 which was procured in and around the villages of Kambam for Rs 3 only. It was sold for Rs 8 at the Kambam market. The same grapes were sold in Madurai for Rs 18. It is the same fate for all other agriculture products. If that is so, one should think where the money in between does go.
As mentioned in one of the Tamil film songs, ‘Only the limbs remain for the farmers who toil day and night’. Democratizing the markets is the only alternative for the conspiracy bound popular markets. That means, the markets held in the hands of the huge companies should be given in the hands of farmers and consumers. That is why it is essential to construct the alternative market today. That too, it is important to have organic farm products.
Before constructing that kind of alternative market, the challenges involved with it should be understood. The amount of organic products required for organic agriculture market is very less. Further, the organic products required for us will not be available in one place. As organic farming is continued only by those who are interested in it sporadically dispersed method of production only prevails. The biggest challenge is to ensure the availability of all the products throughout the year.
It cannot be assured how long the currently perceived trend of ‘premium price’ offered to organic productions will continue. If there is increase in organic production methods the prices will come down. It is a fact that only when there is decrease in price there is a possibility for people from all walks of life can afford to buy them. Further, there is a problem with the reliability of the products. The organic certification is still unaffordable for the small and micro farmers. Considering these facts we should be marching towards alternative organic agriculture markets. The alternative market should not be focusing only on the money aspect as found in Western countries, but it should be founded on honesty, transparency and sustainability.
Most of the farmers are not aware that chemical fertilizers and pesticides cause deleterious effects. Only a few deliberately use them. They are of the mindset that it would be consumed by someone else. In this situation, when an alternative market is established, trying to bring the producers and consumers together, one will not be willing to betray the other who is closely known.
The consumers and the farmers should discuss about the means of production, their quality, problems faced during production and, traditional agriculture practices. By this way mistakes can be averted. Human relationships will blossom beyond trade.
‘Every farmer should follow the basic principle of ‘only what is surplus should go to market’. Keeping for their own needs and the needs of neighbors, the products should be sent to urban markets or distant markets. Further, while sending out only the nearby cities should be considered first. It should be realized that the neighborhood market is an inseparable part of alternative market. There is nothing better than locally procuring the products grown in the same locale.
If attention is given to the production of organic products locally the rural economy will flourish and we can consume non poisonous products. By this way, the burden of input cost imposed on the farmers will also come down. Importantly, our money will rotate among ourselves. Local economy will grow ,as the travel distance of the products gets shortened due to neighborhood market.
The farmers can themselves decide the pricing through the alternative organic agriculture markets. Only when the farmers are able to get fair price by this method, agriculture will continue to thrive for the next generation. In order to fix the price of their commodities, it is essential for the farmers to be able to calculate income-expenditure statements and also work together in cooperation. Through neighborhood markets, rural women and youth can play a key role in processing and production of farm inputs, thereby increasing employment opportunities.
Not only with food production, but also in processing, value adding and packaging we should follow non poisonous and environmental friendly technologies. We should grow crops that suite our agro-climatic conditions. A question may arise ‘These things are good to speak about. But how are we going to implement and spread these things?’ It is possible, if the organic farmers work as a team instead of working in isolation. Social organizations, non governmental agencies, farmers’ consortium can serve as a bridge between the farmers and consumers, integrating the services such as production, processing, value addition and marketing.
Continuously disseminating the information about organic agriculture products and their markets, speaking to consumers, creating links with traditional medical practices and organizations, conducting festivals to share seeds and farm products, are the services that we need to carry forward.
Considering the conditions of current agriculture, importance should be given especially to the small and micro farmers, and rain-fed agriculture. And with that intent, it is essential to construct the market and shape our strategies of functioning.
(To be continued)
(This series of articles written in Tamil by Ananthu for Pasumai Vikatan magazine dt 10th Sept 2017 has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)