Despite the significant effort made by both the Central and state governments for the upliftment of small and marginal farming communities in India, several problems continue to persist, keeping farmers in the trap of poverty and deprivation. The rise in agricultural production has not equated the change in income level of producers. Lack of organized linkage to market, absence of innovative technologies, dominance of middlemen and limited access to credit are the reasons behind this disproportion. The recent farmers’ suicides also indicate that agriculture is not an attractive industry for their children.
However, the case in the state of Uttrakhand is entirely different. Asilent agro-revolution is taking place. The credit for this goes to a tripartite partnership to move farmers up the economic chain. The new approach, Apple Farming project, is a joint venture of farmer trusts, social investors and private sector. It was launched in 2008 when Shri Jagdamba Samiti (SJS), a local NGO, approached the farmers of Nogaon and proposed to set up a collection centre which would buy apples at the market price. The collection centre is managed by a joint venture company (JVC) formed with the farmer trust and project partners,SJS, and Fresh Food Technology(FFT), a Dutch company which has come forward to establish cold storage facilities in the area. With the existence of collection centres, farmers from the local areas including Syuri , Dhari , Tuna, Purola,Chausal, a Harsil in Uttarakhand sell their produce at market rates to the centres where the collected apples are then graded, sorted, packed and aslope-cooled for further storage. The burden of the orchard owners is now shared by six JVCs which are being run in partnership with farmer’s trusts.
And the procurement price of the apples is decided by a group of farmers who are partners of these JVCs. One of the JVCs also runs a cold storage facility which takes care of the post-harvest responsibilities of apple growers, especially marginalised farmers and has provides security blanket to them. The long-term storage facility has not just relieved the farmers from the pressure of hunting market for their apples at an optimum cost but has also brought them good dividends in the form of premiums. The premiums are paid to the farmers from the profit made by the company after selling apples in Delhi, Dehradun and Kanpur. Amar Singh Kafola , farmer director of KINCAID India, one of the JVCs which runs the cold storage, says that the JVCs are responsible for the grading, sorting and packaging of the apples collected through the six collection firms. “It is not an easy job for individual farmers to manage the transportation and marketing of apples, especially in the rainy season when the produce is ready for the markets but could not be transported due to bad weather,” Kafola remarks. Laxmi Prakash Semwal, chairman of SJS, a Rishikesh – based NGO, is the force behind the apple project in Uttarakhand. Semwal believes that business-driven model cannot only empower the marginalised farmers but also makes the occupation of apple cultivation sustainable. The farmers of the regions have hope in the cold storage facility that not only gives the apples a longer life but also eliminates the role of middlemen. Semwal says, “This is a social enterprise to secure livelihoods of apple farmers and an attempt to find critical entry for rural development by setting up healthy agro-business practices wherein orchard owners themselves gradually attain economic ownership with an active participation from NGOs and experienced privateplayers.'”The new model aims at setting up healthy businesses like self-help groups or cooperatives, purchasing and trading producers’ commodities commercially.
However, it is different from the conventional partnerships; it allows farmers and corporate bodies to become equal partners. The initiative allows farmers to gainful ownership and makes sure that investment is fully repaid. The projects not a form of aid but a sound economic joint venture of an investor and a farmer in which they own company, and one witnesses the participation of experienced entrepreneurs.
(The writer is a Sr. Journalist)