Nirmala cannot afford to carry out her household chores in a leisurely manner even on Sundays. She has to hurry to the Sunday market to buy papayas, her son’s favourite. This has become part of her Sunday routine from the last three years.
“The papayas available in the regular fruit and vegetable market cannot match the taste of the fruit at the Sunday market,” she says. Nirmala’s is one of the 40 families which have been regularly visiting the weekly organic shandy held in the front yard of Gandhi Peace Foundation in Dharwad.
This market was initiated by a group of organic growers in response to the interest shown by people who want to buy safe produce thanks to the several programmes that have been organised to enlighten consumers on food adulteration and rampant use of hazardous chemicals in agriculture in the city.
The market starts around nine in the morning on Sundays. There is a mad rush, especially in the first half an hour. Ashwini and Jagadeesh Naik have been regularly visiting the shandy from the last six months. “Once we get used to the taste of organic vegetables, it is easy to forget the flavours of vegetables available in the regular market.
The vegetables bought here stay fresh for long,” they explain. Then, there is that personal touch. “Last summer we had to go out of station for five days. The growers were kind enough to give us assorted mangoes that would ripen by the time we returned,” Ashwini recalls.
Grower Rajesh More who has been selling vegetables and fruits grown on his farm from the last three years feels it is important to acquaint himself with the customers. His wife Lata says, “We get feedback about taste and quality.”
Treading the Gandhian path
As many as 100 people visit the shandy of which forty are regular customers. The location, which is in the vicinity of the District Court Complex, a busy place in Dharwad, has helped in promoting the bazaar. The Gandhi Peace Foundation’s help has brought credibility to the attempt. “We are following the words of Mahatma, who said good food and health are important for personality development,” feels Prof. S K Bhasme, President, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Dharwad.
The bazaar is not run by growers who have an organic certification at hand, but people are not worried. They believe in the commitment of Sanjeev Kulakarni and Ashok Mansur who were instrumental in initiating the entire process. Direct marketing has resulted in a fair price system. Prices here are on par with regular market rates, sometimes even less.
Buyers are more concerned about the limited variety available here. “I wish we had got all vegetables and grains here, at least most of them. Now, we still have to visit the city market,” observes Geetha, a keen consumer of non-chemical food produce.
As many as ten varieties of vegetables including beans, spinach, lemon, drumstick, brinjal and cucumber are available. Jaggery, rice, jowar, wheat and coconut are other products sold here. This shandy has also introduced new vegetables like lettuce and yam bean to Dharwad’s consumers. When it comes to fruits, buyers are hardly satisfied. Banana and seasonal guava are the only fruits people get here.
Expansion of the concept
Only five of the 20 members of Dharwad Organic Growers’ Association, which organises the shandy, participate actively. The shandy has certain regulations that stipulates that growers can display the produce grown only on their farm. Also, only members of the association can sell the produce, otherwise prior permission has to be sought. The growers should not use chemical inputs for any crop, be it commercial, in the farm. The guidelines are drawn to maintain the sanctity of the effort.
For growers, this organic shandy is also a platform to network with prospective bulk consumers. Influenced by the Sunday shandy, Shankar Langti, a farmer from Khanapur, sells grain and cereals on Thursday afternoon. He couldn’t be a part of the Sunday bazaar as he pools in produce from neighbouring farmers also. He displays an array of produces – grains, pulses and spices that are used regularly by people here.
Even as consumers complain about scarcity both in terms of quantity and diversity, growers are not satisfied with the pace of the bazaar. “We should have turned it into a daily market by now. Unfortunately we do not have a person who can work full time to streamline the demand-supply chain. There is also lack of commitment from growers.
I do not understand why this effort has not attracted more farmers into its fold. Still we are happy a process has begun,” explains Sanjeev Kulakarni who has been involved in the safe food campaign for more than a decade. He further adds that consumer awareness is growing, and there is scope for expansion of the effort, which is not happening. He also points out that labour problems have badly affected organic farmers and this has a bearing on the shandy.
Ashok Mansur, who is the Secretary of the Association, reveals another dimension to the problem. “It is not easy to change our crop pattern. That will not work out. Also, all of us are able to sell only a small share of the total production. The rest we have to retail out in the local market. It is a difficult task to manage, particularly for farmers with large landholdings. Small farmers, who can take it up collectively, can be successful,” he explains.
He continues, “We have initiated the shandy project for a good cause considering increased awareness among consumers and also their needs. We intend to continue it under any circumstances.” He hopes that this effort develops into a mass movement when certain issues are addressed positively.