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Farmer Producer Groups fulfil hopes and aspirations of small and marginal farmers

Story

By Chandrika Patnaik

10 February 2022

Farmer producer groups in Nayagarh district of Odisha are helping small and marginal farmers reduce costs, produce better harvest, and increase incomes. The benefits are beginning to make farmer producers look at farming as a viable, attractive enterprise.

Ratnakar Panda, a farmer from Biridihi village planted bitter gourd in trellis method of farming.

Photograph by Krushna Chandra Dixit

Agriculture continues to be the mainstay for most people living in the Nayagarh district of Odisha. The agricultural census of 2000-2001 reveals nearly 90% of people in the district are small and marginal farmers owning 62% of the land. Almost 33% of landless households depend on agriculture directly as labourers to earn a daily wage.

With shrinking farm sizes due to population growth in rural areas, farmers find it difficult to generate enough income to provide for their families. Some of these households with per capita cultivable land of 1.35 acres or less entirely depend on the crops grown on their land to feed their families. They also earn a small income by selling seasonal vegetables.

Gram Vikas has been working closely with 2300 farmers in 17 villages of Nayagarh district with support from HDFC Parivartan since October 2017. Out of the seventeen villages, 643 farmers from 10 villages have formed 51 Farmer Producer Groups (FPGs).

In March 2020, the Gram Vikas team approached the Biridihi village community to discuss farmer producer groups. Ratnakar Panda, 24, a farmer from the village, took a particular interest in the idea. He spoke to like-minded farmers to raise awareness of the benefits to a farmer through a collective. He felt forming small collectives of 10-15 member groups of farmers would work.

“As small and marginal farmers with small scale of operations, we do not have much control over the prices at which we sell our produce to wholesalers or the prices at which we procure farm inputs. In a collective, the opposite is true. Bargaining power of a group of farmers will automatically increase when selling our produce. Similarly, when we buy fertiliser and pesticide in large quantities as a group, shops will be obliged to sell to us at a lower price”, says Ratnakar as he explains his excitement at forming the group.

A group of producers of either farm or non-farm activities form a Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO). Producers are the shareholders in the organisation. An FPO aims to ensure better income for the producers and gain better bargaining power vis-à-vis the bulk buyers of produce and bulk suppliers of inputs.

Assessments reveal high costs and inferior produce quality

Gram Vikas conducted assessments in ten villages covering 300 farmers in the first phase between May-July 2020. The survey revealed that most farmers cultivate paddy and vegetables during monsoon. During the winter months, apart from growing vegetables, these farmers produce pulses like green gram, black gram, and pigeon peas.

Some of the other significant findings of the survey were :

  • Farmers bought seed packets at higher rates.
  • Seeds were inferior in quality; in some cases, shops sold expired seeds, severely impacting the yield. 
  • Random sowing of seeds by the farmers resulted in seedlings growing in clusters making them less healthy. 
  • Farmers did not follow the proper planting system or maintain optimum spacing between plants.
  • Farmers sold their produce individually and could not bargain market rates from wholesalers. 
  • The annual flooding of the Kusumi river during the rainy season in low-lying areas caused havoc in the villages through which it flowed. Farmers of Kusumitara, Biridih, and Subalaya were affected as crops got washed away or rotted due to waterlogging in the fields for long periods due to flooding and heavy rains.

A year of forming farmer producer groups

Over the next year after the assessment, Gram Vikas mobilised farmers into producer groups. By August 2021, 643 farmers from ten villages had formed 56 collectives or groups. The members of the group now own and directly run the group.

A farmer becomes a group member after depositing a one-time fee of ₹1000 and ₹100 every month. The members save the collected money in the group’s savings account in a local bank. From the savings, members get credit at very low-interest rates. Through the strength of its members, the collective can purchase agricultural inputs like seeds, fertiliser, and pesticides in bulk quantities at lower rates. They approach wholesalers and retailers and bargain prices for their products according to prevailing market prices.

HDFC Parivartan has provided each farmer ₹3000 share capital in the Producer Company. The ₹1000 deposited by the farmer and ₹3000 deposited by HDFC help the members to maintain a savings pool.

Farmers coming together on a single platform in under a year is a laudable effort, feels Maheshwar Pati, President of the Radhakrushna Farmers Producer Group of Similisahi. “When farmers borrow from the market at high-interest rates, it brings down their morale as the interest on the loan they take keeps rising. It won’t happen anymore as the group will provide loans at minimal rates.”

Radhakrushna feels this will reassure individual farmers owning even 50 dismil land gain enough confidence to look at farming as an enterprise and earn better.

Robust plants, reduced input costs and better harvest

Jaya Nahaka, Kashinath Nahaka, and Kabi Nahaka, who belong to Maa Gramadebati FPG, cultivate brinjal, maise, cowpea or long beans, and lady’s fingers. Jaya says that the training received on line-sowing, space management, soil treatment, and low-cost poly houses have helped him reduce the input costs yet increase the production due to healthier crops. “Earlier, one packet of 10 grams of brinjal seeds costing ₹140 fetched 500-800 saplings. After I used the right inputs and adopted better farming practices, I got 1275 seedlings from the same packet.”

The saplings transplanted through nursery raising were more robust and healthier and grew into high-yielding plants. “I harvested nearly 360 kg of brinjals every week. Earlier, the yield was not more than 240 kg a month when I transplanted the seedlings by random sowing.”

Kashinath says that earlier, the plants died soon. “The brinjal plants we grew earlier survived for six months. By the fourth or fifth month, most of the plants dried up. The mortality rate was high. But this time, 95% of the plants we sowed survived the entire period of six months.”

Better agri-inputs, demos, and learnings through best practices shared by the farmers of other producer groups on WhatsApp from different villages have transformed how the members look at farming. “Earlier through farming we were able to meet our families’ basic needs. We never looked at agriculture as a business opportunity where we could make profits,” says Kashinath, who earned ₹10,000 from selling 360 kg a month at a rate of ₹25 per kg, as against ₹6000 in the past.

Water supply for irrigation

Lack of irrigation caused loss of paddy and other crops while limiting the number of crops that could be grown. There are irrigation infrastructures in some district locations, but the lack of maintenance results in little or no use.

In Biridihi village, the existing borewell did not function well due to poor maintenance. There were hefty electricity bills due to erratic use of the borewell and conflict among the committee members. Farmers who formed the eight FPGs requested Gram Vikas’ support to construct a borewell. With the backing from HDFC Parivartan, the community dug a borewell in June 2021. The farmers created a committee and paid a monthly maintenance fee for the upkeep of the borewell. Eight four farmers shared the water by turn without any conflict, fulfilling all their requirements for water supply.

In nearby Kantabania, the village committee had been requesting the local authorities to construct a canal to irrigate the fields, but in vain. The village is home to 263 families. Most of the households are engaged in farming. The Sambaria check dam near the village, constructed many years ago, was a mud check dam. During heavy rains, the water from the dam washed away the mud. In 2017, the people of this village decided to take matters into their own hands.

With the support of Gram Vikas and HDFC Bank Parivartan, the people of Kantabania started building a canal to irrigate their fields all year round. In September 2020, they completed the construction. “I can now plan to cultivate my land all through the year. Earlier, this was not possible as water from the canal did not reach my field, except during monsoons,” says Arabinda Mohanty, a 43-year-old farmer with 1.5 acres of land. He is a member of the Maa Banadurga Krusaka Utpadaka Goshti FPG in Kantabania.

The renovated Sambari check dam irrigates 600 acres round the year. Farmers in seven villages, Kantabania, Malatipurpatna, Jemadeipur, Gudipatna, Kridashpur, Balugaon, and Jai Mangala Prasad, benefit from getting water supply throughout the year.

Weather advisory mitigates crop damage and losses

Kishore Chandra Pradhan of Maa Mahalaxmi FPG from Kusumitara village has two acres of land where he cultivates paddy and a small patch of vegetables. Like the 36 other farmers from his village, Kishore’s land is in a low-lying area. During the monsoons, the Kusumi river overflows every year, flooding his field and washing away all his produce. Or, the roots rot due to the rains and river flooding. The flood waters recede only after 7-8 days.

With the weather station installed in May 2021, he gets the weekly weather advisories on the weatherboard in his village and on his mobile phone via SMS and WhatsApp messages. The weather predictions warn him of rains and a rise in the river water. He does not have to irrigate his crops a week before, saving on fuel and electricity charges.

Kubera Palei of Subalaya village is a member of Raghunath FPG and cultivates paddy, sugarcane, cowpea, and brinjal on his two-acre land. Earlier, farmers like Kubera relied on the weather predictions transmitted through radio. “We spray the pesticide at 10 am, and suddenly it starts pouring by 12 pm thus washing away the pesticide,” he says. Kubera can now plan when to spray pesticides due to localised and accurate predictions from the weather station. Farmers have reduced input costs.

Without an accurate early warning system, farmers cannot pluck the vegetables in time before it rains. Once it starts raining, it is difficult to pluck the vegetables, and so the harvest rots in the field. In such cases, farmers suffer heavy losses. The weather station has helped farmers like Jogeshwar Panda of Maa Mangala FPG of Biridihi village, “We pluck the vegetables before it starts raining. We store and sell them 2-3 days later when the rain stops, at a higher price.”

Together towards prosperity

The fifty-six groups from the ten villages have now formed the Pathani Samanta Farmer Producer Company Limited. The FPC has helped farmers increase incomes and profit, harvest better produce quality, gain higher bargaining power and better market access.

“FPGs have formed Whatsapp groups where they share best practices and demos on videos which they share in the groups. The Krushi Vigyan Kendra share various kinds of information on Community Fisheries to these groups helping the villages take informed decisions in fish farming. Farmers who avail various government schemes share the information and the procedure with others too. Such alliances not only unite the farming community but also help them walk together with one intent leading the way to prosper together,” says Kalindi Charan Nayak, Secretary of Biridihi Village Development Committee (VDC).

Demonstration of seed sowing in Kumar Nahak field.

Photograph by Prasanta Kumar Naik

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Krushna Chandra Dixit, Thematic Coordinator, Farm Livelihoods, helped collect data for the story. Priya Pillai edited the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.

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