Rayagada is a tribal populated district in the southern part of Odisha. Each year it gets around 1200 mm rainfall. The primary occupation of the people of Rayagada is agriculture followed by wage labor. Paddy is the dominant crop, primarily grown for consumption though cotton is also cultivated in large patches, for commercial purposes. Vegetable farming was identified as a great alternative to cotton farming as experience showed that vegetable farming gives the same income as cotton in one tenth the area - on an average, the farmers could gain a profit of Rs.10,000-20,000 per acre from cotton farming with a cropping cycle of nine months. However, this income can be gained from 10 decimal of vegetable cultivation with a cropping cycle of six months.
The major reasons why the farmers were not willing to adopt vegetable cultivation were as follows:
On the other hand, all these issues were addressed by the money lenders in the case of cotton cultivation. As a result, the community preferred cotton over vegetable despite the differential profit potential.
To address the above problems and promote largescale vegetable cultivation the FPO – Mahila Pragati Farmers Producer Company Ltd. - formed and registered under the aegis of the project, prepared a systemic end to end intervention plan:
Farmer representatives were exposed to different agricultural lands and markets where vegetable was grown and traded on scale, respectively. The representatives after seeing the market demand and agroclimatic suitability identified five winner crops (Brinjal, chilly, Beans, Sweetcorn and marigold) to be adopted for farming by their community. The farmers were organized into Producer Groups. Each producer group adopts 1-2 winner crop for a year. Presently there are 23 producer groups present in the Kolnara block of Rayagada district with 3000 members. The concept of community nursery was seeded in to facilitate synchronized farming. Under this approach all farmers of the village prepare the nursery and transplant the seedling on the same day. This ensures that production can be initiated at the same time.
The FPO engaged with various government departments like OLM (Odisha Livelihood Mission) and Mission Shakti to help SHGs in getting credit from block and gram panchayat level federations. This helped 300 women farmers access credit and adopt their winner crops.
To allow the farmers more time on field, the FPO appointed business promoters (who graduate to become Agri-Entrepreneurs over time) for procuring farming inputs from the market. The business promoters procure different seeds and pesticides from the FPO and deliver to the farmers. The business promoters also keep few medicines with them for emergency need. This intervention not only ensures easy access of agriculture inputs for the farmers but also reduces their travel cost.
Assurance of quality and timely input is one of the important needs for growing vegetables. The FPO took up direct engagement with various companies (like VNR, HyVeg, Kalas, Multiplex and Bayer) to ensure supply of quality inputs. The share capital and advances collected from the farmers helped the FPO negotiate better prices and deliver timely inputs even during the lock down.
Besides supplying pesticides the business promoters visit the farmers’ plots to identify some of the basic crop diseases and prescribe the treatment.
As marketing was the biggest concern among the farmers, the FPO assured doorstep picking up of the vegetable produce. Linkage with multiple markets was created through respective local contacts. The business promoter aggregates the commodities at the village level and the FPO arranges to send the aggregated produce to pre- contacted markets.
While FPOs may take about one-two months’ time to realize the price of the produce sold, the small and marginal farmer members need immediate cash for their daily needs. The FPO thus organized its working capital needs through linkages with NBFCs and ensured timely payment to farmers.
A rate chart of different crops, along with the deductible charges is maintained at the village level to ensure transparency in accounting.
The FPO has recorded a turnover of INR 4.2 Mn, selling 2350 quintal of vegetables and some agri-inputs, in one year. 81% of this revenue was paid out to the member farmers as their cost realization.
Rayagada has already begun to create an identity of its own in the nearby markets as a source of quality vegetables. The sense of identity is strong even at a personal level, for many women who had an almost invisible existence for many years. Mami Pedenti, a director on the FPO Board, captures it well – “The journey from the kitchen to the Director’s office has been long and trying. But I have been able to create my own identity in the process.”
Seeing the success of the initiative the state is extending its support to the farmers, creating irrigation infrastructure and providing input support to help increase the area under vegetable farming.
Special inputs: Sudhir Sahni, New Delhi