Inching closer to nature

Inching closer to nature

Organic farming need not be restricted only to certain people. Pretty soon, it may be a common man’s staple, writes Anitha Pailoor

A  unique initiative by farmers and the government in the sector of organic farming has become a parental agency for producers, stakeholders and market functionaries. The initiative is Jaivik Krishik Society (JKS), whose core aims are creating awareness among farmers and consumers about sustainable farming and safe food and playing a facilitator’s role in regulating accountability, transparency and traceability of organic produce in Karnataka.

The past few years have seen a new section of health-conscious people assembling at Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, apart from the regular joggers, tourists and environment enthusiasts. Jaivik Mall located at the Double Road entrance of the state’s most celebrated botanical garden in Bangalore has become their meeting point. The shop is also indicative of the organic wave that is spreading across the state.

The outlet has been set up by the Jaivik Krishik Society that has been working towards strengthening organic farming in the state. Seeds of the organisation were sown way back in 2002. By then, non-chemical farming was just gaining attention. Few isolated efforts of organic farming were in the embryonic stage in parts of the state. A movement to spread organic farming was developing in the state with the help of civil society organisations, practitioners, activists and media.

“Though we did farming passionately, market was a hindrance. We needed a system that would bridge the gap between farmers and consumers,” says Ashok Tubchi, pioneering organic farmer and an executive committee member, JKS, Belgaum. That channel came in the form of Jaivik Krishik Society. It is a unique organisation, initiated by organic farmers and organic farming enthusiasts of Karnataka with active support from the state government.

“JKS is the brainchild of Dr K Ramakrishnappa, Additional Director of Horticulture. He is one such rare bureaucrat who is working towards environmental safety, farmer safety and food safety by encouraging organic farming. He is instrumental in the formation of this farmer-government association, the first of its kind in the entire country,” says N R Shetty, farmer and vice-president of JKS.

The beginning

Dr K Ramakrishnappa, who has passionately watched organic efforts since his early days in the horticulture department, launched concrete steps once he assumed office as Head of Horticulture Department’s BioCentre in Bangalore. Farmers’ practices like biodigester and panchagavya were scientifically validated. On the other hand, various seminars, hands-on training and workshops were organised to spread the organic word among growers and consumers. Such activities and continuous brainstorming led to the emergence of JKS.

“Organic farmers and enthusiasts from across the state brainstormed for two days at the farm of H R Jayaram, an organic farmer, lawyer and entrepreneur. We decided to form a society of farmers to boost organic farming efforts in the state,” says Ramakrishnappa. In 2004, the executive committee consisting of practising farmers and farmer groups was formed with Ramakrishnappa as president and Jayaram as the Secretary. JKS has a two-fold agenda. Extension and training programme ensures that enthusiasm for non-chemical farming grows and sustains among farmers. Marketing wing provides a platform to sell their produce.

There is a general advisory committee. All activities are complimentary to each other. Motivating farmers is a continuous process. JKS acts as a nodal agency for most of the government programmes on organic farming, including the ones by National Horticulture Mission and Rashtreeya Krishi Vikas Yojana. In 2004, the Government of Karnataka adopted the organic farming policy and entrusted certain responsibilities to JKS.

Spreading the organic word

“JKS procures all the produce through its member groups. Vegetables are directly procured from fields, to ensure traceability. The prices are fixed as per market rates. Generally, organic farmers get 25 per cent higher price than conventional produces. “Selling through JKS minimises the role of middlemen, which translates into better returns. We get premium rate for our produces. There is no financial risk as payment is either made on spot or immediately through a bank,” says Tubchi, who has been transacting since the formation of the society.

Initially, transactions were based on mutual trust. Later, when more farmers showed interest in joining the group, JKS followed strict regulatory methods to ensure authenticity. Since 2008, it is offering membership only to organic farm groups and not individual farmers. At present 121 individual farmers and 35 farmer groups have registered as members.

“As the organic market expanded, certification became essential. To facilitate farmers to undergo the process, JKS has also taken up group certification,” says D D Bharamagoudra, pioneering organic farmer and member of JKS executive committee. Produces are also randomly tested in the lab at BioCentre.

JKS has been instrumental in awareness-creation about the benefits of organic produce. Organic trade fairs and melas organised by JKS disseminate information about the importance of safe food while facilitating market linkages for organic producers. “Compared to conventional market, vegetables, grains and pulses cost 25 per cent more at JKS. Preference is given to farmers’ produces. Only when we do not get a certain item from them we go for company products,” says Harish, Senior Manager at JKS, Bangalore.

High on the green path

With an increase in footfalls by 25 percent, the annual turnover reached one crore in the last financial year. JKS, with its full capacity can handle only about 10 to 15 per cent of the organic supply chain. The society plans to organise supply of produce through its collection centres to retailers. This action would bring authenticity to over 50 organic shops in Bangalore.

For the past one year JKS, has been promoting Participatory Guarantee System (PGS). “Here, the entire process of certification is done by farmers themselves. The group capacity should be between seven and ten. Their farms should be within a radius of five km. All the processes should be tracked. Members will be aware of all the activities happening in each other’s fields and hence chances of cheating are very less. This system is recognised by the state government and the International Forum for Organic Farming,” says Ramakrishnappa.

Along with training, JKS plans to expand processing and market infrastructure in the state and have at least one Jaivik stall in every district. Responding to the growing demand in Bangalore, it opened three stalls in the city this year and is planning on establishing three other outlets in the near future.

To ensure proper storage and quality control, an organic hub is coming up in Nelamangala. The yard will have adequate infrastructure for grading, storage of produces collected from certified organic farmers. There are also plans to set up processing plants like oil extraction unit, dal and flour mills exclusively for organic produce.

The efforts of JKS will hopefully remove the tag of ‘elite food’ from organic produces and making it available to the common man.

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