I had the good fortune to be present day before yesterday in the 6th AGM/anniversary of Dharani Cooperative, supported by Timbaktu Collective in Anantapur district. I wanted to share a few things that really inspired me and struck me as unique, worth emulating in other places. I kept thinking that this is one place which has really addressed the (organic) farming reality quite comprehensively and holistically and the lesson to take back home is probably just that – that this will not work in bits and pieces.
One has seen organic farming efforts where only production-end facilitation is done by someone or the other, some group or NGO or the other. In such cases, farmers feel, quite naturally, and sooner or later, disheartened by lack of marketing support. This is not to say that we have not come across organic farmers whose produce is ‘pre-booked’ by even fellow farmers from the same villages – however, there are also quite a few organic farmers who are really struggling to find good identity-preserved organic markets. The ones who begin only with marketing end support may probably have farmers who do not always imbibe the ‘values’, if you like (for want of a better word), of organic farming so that the effort sustains itself more deeply. And then there are these huge organic farming/produce entities which do nothing in terms of truly empowering farmers and their collectives. In fact, no farmers’ institutions have been created in some of these efforts.
It is in this context of some groping and some grabbing in the name of organic, that here is a case where numerous important strands were sought to be integrated and I want to list out some of them:
– production end support in the form of trainings, some inputs (drums for making some inoculants and botanicals, some seed cake for soil health management, NREGA integration for tank silt application etc.), extension in the form of farmer field schools etc. There are extension workers at three levels and if this is what it takes, this is what it takes….
– basing the effort on crop shifts, diversity and diversification (very often, we find organic farming efforts continuing with some crops which are probably not suitable or are risky even in the organic farming set up) – while bigger shifts are yet to be seen (62% of what Dharani procured last year was groundnut), a large shift is already underway from groundnut monocropping to millets-based farming, that too “coarse” millets. This is achieved through careful crop-planning before the season, procuring and readying adequate and appropriate seed etc.
– infusion of livestock into the project. Very often, we talk about the integration of livestock with eco-farming. However, except for some organic farmers here and there, very few projects have systematically done this at a project level, I think. Here, native breeds like Hallikar have been introduced – there was a farmer who shared that he got tens of thousands of rupees just from the sale of FYM.
– collectivising the farmers – there are block level cooperatives and a larger level cooperative in the form of Dharani.
– investing on a variety of processing facilities – the number of products that are being created for sale by the Cooperative is increasing very very rapidly, including ready to cook millets-based foods for busy urbanites etc. The next lot of machines will be installed not in the existing facility/campus but in places that are closer to the producers in different blocks.
– putting in efforts to recognise the roles and contribution of women farmers.
– effort at seed self-reliance – a large part of this is happening simply by the cropping shift itself (monsantos of the world are not interested in selling these folks kodo millet seed or foxtail millet seed as yet, thank goodness!).
– infusion of fund in the cooperative by falling back on people’s own thrift, credit and enterprise activities: for its running costs, Dharani Coop is borrowing from other thrift cooperatives that have been in existence for a long time with a sizeable corpus (some of the coops have single, dalit women in leadership roles) – self-help! the whole effort itself started with friends of Timbaktu investing in the effort of course.
Two years ago, Dharani broke even with a seven thousand rupees profit. Now, with sales touching around 1.3 crores, the latest profit figure announced was around 8 lakh rupees! 🙂
What’s more – while about half of this went back to the farmers as bonus, some amounts were also paid to all employees of the Coop as a bonus, and importantly, also to the daily wage workers as their bonus.
Dharani Coop has around 1800 members now, and the effort is to ensure that all of them would be fully organic, on around 9000 acres this season.
Like I said, very rarely does one come across so many necessary strands woven together seamlessly. Pundits can question the investments made for something like this to emerge etc. – the only response is, whatever it takes, is what we should ask for. Thanks to Mary, Bablu, Murugesh, Sannaippaiah, Vineet, other staff and all the farmers there for the work that is happening there.
ps: Akulappa pointed out in his speech that there is a need for greater participation and leadership by women, and for the communities to also shift their diets to some of the millets that they are growing; Mary Vattamattam exhorted the Cooperative to become the voice of the dryland smallholders and take up advocacy work too, as needed.