Finding common ground

Agriculture

Finding common ground

A farmers’ collective in Nelamangala taluk has brought about a change in agricultural practices. Anitha Pailoor meets Hanumantharaju, the man behind the effort, to understand how organic cultivation can be profitable.

It’s 7.30 on a Friday morning. Vehicles from Bangalore approach Kempalinganahalli, a small village in Nelamangala taluk of Bangalore Rural district. Proprietors of organic produce outlets get off the vehicle in front of a shelter with beautifully painted walls, select vegetables assorted in neatly set trays as they wait for more farmers to come with their produce. Shivaganga Organic Vegetable Growers’ Association has reversed the trend of farmers carrying their produces to cities.

Organic cultivation and marketing, which started as a one-man effort, has stretched its branches to neighbouring villages. The man behind it all is Hanumantharaju who revolutionised the definition of agriculture in his village, Kempalinganahalli.

Born in a family of farmers, Hanumantharaju always wanted to work independently. After completing PU in 1984, he ventured into agriculture. Horticulture, floriculture and vegetable cultivation were the main focus. Farming without chemicals was unheard of, at that point in time. Eager to get more yield, Hanumantharaju increased the dosage of fertilisers and pesticides. The result was overwhelming. He went on experimenting with all possible crops, making use of available hybrid varieties, chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

As the yield increased, investment in the form of borewells and external inputs multiplied. After a decade, Hanumantharaju’s health deteriorated. He comprehended that ‘medicines’ stipulated for the crops had affected his health. When he looked back, he realised that the concept of ‘high yield’ was a myth. Even if the transactions were huge, there was no real gain in terms of money or health. Hanumantharaju recalls, “I had only two options, either to quit agriculture or to commit suicide.”

Health problems didn’t let him spend more time in the farm. But, his quest for knowledge meant that he spent a lot of time reading newspapers and farm related books. It was the period when the organic movement had created waves in Karnataka. The flood of information about the non-chemical way of farming attracted him.  He followed organic related activities at the grassroots level and attended different meetings. Interactions at these platforms helped him to pool the information together.

Transformation

The process of transformation lasted for a few years and he decided to move ahead without chemicals in 2004. The focus was on vegetable cultivation. He came in contact with Jaivik Krushik Society, a State government supported organic outlet. The authenticity of being a supplier to a State-run organic outlet helped him gain exposure to other organic initiatives. Supplying perishable produce to the City, 30 km away, was not easy.

Meanwhile, all this caught the attention of his fellow farmers in the village. Around fifteen farmers started to grow crops without chemicals. Hanumantharaju decided to devise a system by way of which he could help other farmers. He ended up creating a farmers’ association.

Now, over 60 farmers from Kempalinganahalli and neighbouring villages have registered with the Shivaganga Organic Vegetable Growers’ Association. These farmers are given information on different government schemes that encourage organic farming and many have utilised them.

Systematic effort

Regular field visits including surprise ones by Hanumantharaju ensure that all the produce is grown in the prescribed manner. To bring credibility to the set up, the farmers have opted for group organic certification which will be through in next two years.

“A thorough discussion with the farmer gives one an understanding of whether his actions match his words,” says K V Saraswathi who has been associated with the effort since the last one year. 

Hanumantharaju explains how he failed to recover pending payments initially. There was no proper book-keeping. Growers never went by the predetermined quantity of produce. At the end of first year, he had to face a deficit of Rs 80,000 and decided to wind up.

It was then that K V Saraswathi - N R Shetty couple, who have taken up agriculture in a nearby village after retirement, intervened and volunteered to provide managerial guidance. Saraswathi first focused on recovering pending payments, and succeeded in most cases. The second step was to ensure that payment is made on spot.

Today, even the demand – supply chain is on track. Every month, farmers meet, discuss and decide on the crops they grow. They are asked to choose the crops depending on the availability of resources and also their expertise. Keeping in mind the possibility of demand for a crop, they decide the allocation of area for each crop. The distribution process is transparent and every farmer gets fair chance to grow and sell.

Tuesday and Friday are market days. The staff takes orders from the customers and then intimate farmers about the requirement two days earlier. This coordination guarantees that all vegetable trays are empty by the end of the day. The rate is fixed in the farmers meeting after calculating their cultivation costs.

The coordinators always keep a tab on the market rates. They follow fair price policy so that both farmers and customers are happy, thanks largely due to the absence of middlemen. Rates may vary depending on the harvest and availability but if the market rates fall below a reasonable point, they don’t follow the trend.

A minimum price fixed in the beginning is always maintained. The Association adds 15 per cent to the price to meet the working cost and sells to organic outlets. They carry out transactions worth Rs 4 lakh every month.

Kempamma, who has been selling vegetables here since the last one year is happy. She feels that this is an opportunity for her to work independently, right from selecting the crop to marketing the produce.

Jayamma is a landless farmer who grows greens on leased land and sells her produce here. Shrinivas, another farmer, is happy with the diversity of crops on his farm. “Mixed cropping is the best way to overcome crop loss and poor harvest”, he points out. Open pollinated seeds and certain bio pesticides are available in the Association office.

Regular interactions, motivation and discussion with well-known organic farmers have stimulated the group’s decision to stay away from chemicals.

Trust matters

For Jaivik Krushik Society, Hanumantharaju’s produce is synonymous with quality. For others, Jaivik Krushik Society holds that character. Subhash Hegde of another organic outlet says, “I approached this group because they were regular suppliers to JKS. They have matched my expectations. The care they take to give us the best quality produce is evident”.

K V Saraswathi observes that such efforts, when replicated in different regions, will help farmers, instill confidence in them and strengthen the farming sector.  “Organic vegetables can be conveniently sold at market rates. Organic movements should embrace the middle class so that they becomes relevant”, she says.

“Every farmer welcomes any effort that solves the problem of uncertain market and greedy middlemen”, says Gangadhar Bavikere. He feels that the whole process has brought relief to growers.

That is exactly what Hanumantharaju aimed at while initiating the effort. “Agriculture in losing its base in villages on the periphery of Bangalore. We want to stop this trend and overcome the ‘yield per acre’ concept created by chemical farming which has made farming expensive. Food security that focuses on nutrition and sustainability of farmers should be the priority. Farmers should be able to eat healthy and supply the same quality to the city which depends on them for food.”

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