Things have been feeling a bit off.
Krishi Janani’s goal is to transform extractive agriculture (overdrawing on soil and water) into a regenerative agroecology that nourishes the planet and all its inhabitants. Farming families and their economics are at the root of this dream.
Our exalted mission sometimes gets lost in the ground reality. The everyday struggle to create a fair and just corporation in the middle of a system that seems to incentivize dishonesty is exhausting. It has been one of those times lately.
However, the universe seems to sense when we are at our lowest and sends along a pep talk. ;)
Is Organic Agriculture Celebrated?
We have been taking many scouting trips to locate organic farmers whose produce can be marketed directly to consumers in big cities such as Coimbatore, Erode, and Tiruppur. During one such outing, we had the honor (opportunity seems a bit lame given the story below) of visiting Farmer S in Vanjipalayam village near Dharapuram (Tiruppur DT, Tamil Nadu, India).
He is a pioneering organic farmer in a region that is dependent on conventional agriculture. Farmer S reserves a couple of acres to greens and another acre for vegetables. He would like to cultivate more. However, water and labor scarcity prevents him from doing so. Cow dung provides most of soil’s nutrition needs. Repellant plants and home-brewed concoctions provide pest resistance.
You would think this would make him a celebrated farmer. And, you would be wrong. His family, neighbors… no one appreciates his desire to pursue organic agriculture. In fact, his wife thinks this is a foolhardy venture. Her point of view is understandable in light of the economics.
Bottle Gourd Economics
Take the case of சுரைக்காய் / bottle gourd (calabash or long melon; botanical name: Lagenaria siceraria). Farmer S grows two different varieties of these. Given the growing hunger for organic vegetables, you would think that these would earn him a price premium. Again, you would be wrong.
He has to harvest the vegetable, send it via local transport (at his cost) to an organic retailer in the nearest city, all for a payment of… INR 2. Yes, the organic retailer quoted a purchase price of INR 2 per bottle gourd! Each of which could be between 750 gms — 1 kilo! For comparison, conventionally grown bottle gourd sells for INR 10/kilo in the nearby farmer’s market. Retail price in organic markets in cities ranges between INR 15–20/kilo. Online retail sells 500 gms of organic bottle gourd INR 28 (INR 56/kilo!).
His wife mentioned INR 2 purchase price as one reason why she views organic efforts on their farm as hopeless and impractical. None of this seems to faze Farmer S. He rises early in the morning to take his produce (harvested the night before) to the farmer’s market in Dharapuram every day. According to him, organic production is not a problem. The difficulty is in marketing and sales. He will happily increase his acreage and harvest more, if someone could help him sell his produce at a sustainable cost.
Farmer S is sure of one thing though. He was a conventional farmer who converted to organic agriculture for economic and health reasons. Whatever the difficulties may be, he wants to continue being an organic farmer. He believes that is a more profitable path, if only the transport logistics and sales & marketing can be figured out.
Farmers are good producers. Instead of focusing on that (their core competency!), we are asking them to be supply chain experts taking care of logistics. We demand they become great marketers in selling their produce. This ends up placing multiple burdens on their already overworked lives.
Coming back to the pep talk (or was it a lecture? ;)) by the universe — it is specifically situations like this that Krishi Janani was created to address. Even when things become disheartening, as it did in the recent past, the thought that we can support farmers in situations like this reenergizes us. It makes us revisit and recommit to our mission — reduce expenses, increase income, and improve productivity so agriculture can become viable and sustainable.
Krishi Janani maybe able to support Farmer S in his horticultural efforts. And, maybe we both can become profitable in the process. We are all dreamers after all! :)