Farmer Producer Companies and operational challenges

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Image Source: Livemint

In the last week of January, I sat through an Farmer Producer Company ( FPC) ‘s annual review meeting. This FPC* is based out of Tamil Nadu. The company was formed in 2010. The FPC as it is right now is stable and profitable. The FPC has attained a reputation wherein, the coconut prices set by the FPC is now the reference for all coconut farmers in the locality. That is no trader or a mandi is anymore able to  undercut a coconut farmer. If anything a farmer may get a maximum difference of  INR 0.50( per coconut ) than the price set by the FPC . This in itself , is a huge achievement in improving farmer incomes. The variation in price no more swings in a large bracket of  Rs 3 -Rs 4 ( per coconut) from the actual mandi price of the day of procurement.

Seeing this FPC in operation provided me an opportunity to understand the nuts and bolts of what it takes to run one and the realtime challenges faced in running one. Many of this will never be perceived by someone writing a policy note from doing a desk review, as most of the challenges will be negated by basic assumptions that lay foundation to any policy.Nonetheless the laws that are in place to facilitate formation of the FPC is quite good. Since the initial days of this statute in 2002, it has slowly picked up across the country. Now the idea of formation of producer company is common place and many progressive and aware farmers are coming together to form a company to benefit from the provision of the statute.

The broad areas of FPC’s activities are that of aggregation of produce, on-farm services to aid improvement in production/ harvesting/ post harvest etc. The FPC that I observed was engaged in on farm harvest service provision as well as aggregation of produce from the farmers of the company and other non-member farmers of the company. This FPC’s primary focus is coconuts. The service they provide is harvesting of the nuts, and they aggregate the coconuts. 

When I heard about this FPC- the image that comes to me after listening to the one line scope of the FPC is  that of: All the stakeholder ( farmers) of this FPC , avail the harvesting service of FPC and sell all their coconuts to the FPCs. I was too naive to assume and expect farmers to not exercise choice like any other stakeholder of a company  a publicly listed company or a customer in a retail shop. To explain how naive my expectation was , sample this: You hold shares of Videocon company and therefore I expect you to  buy Videocon TV, Videocon satellite tele and all other products that Videocon produces that meets your need.  No shareholder of any company behaves like that, instead people buy what they consider is good quality/ value for money or with which they have any sentimental attachment. Isn’t it?  This freedom for a farmer gives way to challenges in running a FPC profitably.

In the case of the coconut FPC that I observed let us look at their pool of farmers they cater to. I try to ilustrate the group of farmers with notations below.

Let, farmers who access harvesting services  from FPC can be denoted as FH and farmers who sell their coconuts to the FPC as FC, and farmers who access both harvesting service and sell their coconuts to FPC as FHC. Lets say the total shareholders of the FPC be X. Nonmember farmers that access the FPC’s  harvestingservice is denoted as  FNH, and nonmembers who sell coconuts is denoted as FNC.

Ideally one would have assumed that in this FPC ,

FHC = FH=FC = X, That is all stakeholder farmers use both harvesting service and sell their coconuts to the same FPC.

FH: But in this FPCs case, the farmers who access the harvesting service,  need not necessarily sell to the FPC, and they are not necessarily stakeholders either. They are farmers who grow coconut and have their farms in the neighbourhood. The farmers who access the service are less than 20% of X(the total FPC members) .

FH<= 20% of X, this includes few FNH too.

FC: The farmers who give the coconuts to the FPC is less or half of the total FPC members and some of the farmers selling to the FPCs are non stakeholder members too.

FC= <=60% of X.  This includes a good number of FNCs too.

FHC : The farmers who access both harvesting service and sell the coconuts to FPC make an even more platy number.

FHC <= 10% of X.

There are two major takeaways from the above observations:

  • All members/ stakeholders need not participate in the FPC by accessing either harvesting service or selling their coconuts.
  • And the corollary is also true- Non member farmers are not restricted from accessing either the harvesting or selling to the FPC.

So if the FPCs profits are to be improved then the all member farmers should access the service and sell their produce to the FPC, and the number of nonmember farmers accessing both service and selling has to improve. To be able to do this, the FPC took up an exercise to understand the reasons behind the farmer behaviours.

The following are the broad reasons for the observed pattern :

  1. Pre-existing ecosystem of services and procurement of coconuts
  2. Bottlenecks in harvesting service
  3. Payments

1. Preexisting ecosystem: The coconut famers who are now the stakeholders of the FPC have been engaged in coconut farming for decades. Although they chose to become stakeholders of the FPC, they still have their social ties to the traders whom they sold to earlier or a moneylender or a relative  and therefore do not want to severe ties. One must not read these relationship in a negative light.  That is a trader or a money lender need not be the evil guys all the time. That is if not for the traders a farmer might not have had access to markets at all.  A trader also provides access to harvesting or transportation service along with buying the coconuts. Of course many times they have taken advantage of the information asymmetry  lie between them and  the farmer. But this in the past has worked for the farmer. And one cannot discount it. Also a farmer will take his time in understanding and trusting  a new entity like an FPC. This bit only accounts for a small portion of farmers who do not sell to the FPC. And when there is no easy way  for a farmer to access credit in the times of urgency a money lender comes to his help. There again the farmer may be showing his loyalty by selling his produce to the lender.

But the FPC by its sheer presence has made sure the coconut farmers in the locality of the FPC do not get exploited by establishing the price of the nuts.

2. Bottleneck in harvesting service: The harvesting service provided by the FPC is made available by allocating labourers skilled at harvesting. The FPC has been struggling to service the existing demand. That is when a request for harvest is placed it takes them few days before they service it and this leads to cancellation of  these request. This slack in harvesting leads to non selling of coconuts by a group of farmers too. That is many times harvesting service and uptake of coconuts is provided by all other traders or other service providers in a package. There are not many harvesters who just harvest and go.

3.Payment : Firstly, Many member and nonmember farmers who would wish to sell to the FPC end up not selling due to the fact that FPC do not pay the farmers in advance. This advance request (counterintuitively) is usually from the large farmers.  It remits money to the farmers into their bank accounts within 24 hours after the procurement. Secondly, many medium and large farms are managed by managers and not the farmers themselves. There exist a manager -trader nexus where the manager and trader  seem to have a certain cut in the profits by underquoting the number of nuts sold.

When the FPC addresses the above listed concerns it may be able to improve the number of farmers who access their service and also sell their coconuts to them. While some concerns listed above especially the preexisting ecosystem or payment expectations cannot be met by the FPC, the FPC can work on expanding the services that they provide and begin to engage in value added services like production of virgin coconut oil or other products from the nuts. . Along with it the FPC may also try to tweak and amend their bylaws to ensure the new and existing stakeholders are mandated to sell the produce to the FPC with specific terms and conditions elaborated in them.

 

* The name and details of the FPC  is not revealed to respect the confidentiality of the company.

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Love and Work in December 2017

As much as 2018 started with a bang, it was no way preceded by any lull or silence. There was furore of activity in December as well. As I sit down to write I have forgotten half of things that happened in this month. Thankfully my flickr  photostream comes to my rescue.

Work travel in December was a continuation of the one that begun in November. The things I did in December are:

  1. International Permaculture Conference (IPC)  in Hyderabad
  2. Meetings ( with a new team) in Maharashtra
  3.  Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region
  4. Andaman Islands on a holiday
  5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tiratgad, Chhattisgarh

1.IPC 2017 in Hyderabad

I went to this conference based on my mentor’s instruction to attend this workshop to know more about organic farming and natural farming. It was quite nice to see people from so many countries who practice permanent-agriculture ( permaculture) there. But somehow it felt like these people although they are doing their bit of good by practicing permanent agriculture had not really given enough thought on how to take it to the world. It is not that every organisation working on a issue take the onus to thinking for the entire world. But the sense I got from sitting through some of their sessions was that the folks who are practicing or endorsing permaculture seem to be living in a bubble.

The key speakers in the conference were Vandana Shiva and Rajendra Singh. They spoke in their oratory fashion boxing the criminals ( corporations ) and victims ( the farmers ) in clear containers. As usual  such simple narratives beget thunderous  applauses form the audience. But they gave a signal if they were serious about their  in the press-meet. There was this young journalist from Economic times who drilled these people on their speeches and asked what they thought was the way forward to address the problems they mentioned in their speeches.  The responses they provided were highly disappointing and made me feel sincerely sad about the state of activism in this country. None of them had a plan to solve the problem they have been shouting about for decades. All of them in their sixties and seventies were still regurgitating the same things they spoke a decade or more ago. The discourse is anti-state, anti-corporation and pro-poor/farmer. But they could not articulate WHAT should be the pro-poor steps to address the problems of the people they stand for. I wonder if they were really serious about solving the problems at all??

2. Meetings with ( new team) in Maharashtra: One of my volunteering work  on an environmental project took me to few meetings in Maharashtra, in the role of a policy professional.  Unlike my usual work routine where I am either alone or  with just another colleague ( most an old friend), I was not with a team composite of people with experiences 20 years more than mine and one other guy who is just a year older than me, but a veterans whose experiences can be easily pegged to be 10 years more than me, especially with respect to people management and running a big department. I must say I have never smiled or laughed so much in my work life before. These guys were just fantastic. With lifelong experiences and having being in very key positions in big Multinationals or having made change to lakhs of farmers or forest dwellers, they were just normal people. No baggage, no gloating images of themselves. Earlier my commitment to the project was because of my mentor and the environmental cause of it. But not its gotten only better. I have walking talking libraries of experiences embodied in these humble people. These people have seen how things happen in the ground , the hurdles and issues in solving any problem. But they are interested in solving the issues , quietly and consistently without making much noise.

I know this coded post with very little work details may not be a great interest to a reader, but this part is a reminder about the fun time I had with this team and exciting times that lay ahead.

3. Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region: The work in Maharashtra gave me an opportunity to meet the people in two parts of Maharashtra – Western and Vidharba region. Maharashtra can be loosely divided into Western, Maratwada, Vidharba and the Konkan region. The project I mentioned above took me to the meetings in these two regions. The saying about India is that every few kilometers the culture, customs, language and flavour of food change. If one were to take this statement seriously, the observations I am about make will look obvious. But think about it, even within a state how people work, the resources  distribution,  limelight a region gets  and access to skilled manpower differ and there is a clear advantaged and disadvantaged region. If anyone wishes to work in a region, understanding these aspects become imperative. The time spent on understanding the background of a region will go a long way in designing and setting expectation from any work done in a region.

Larger characteristics of a two regions within a state that are quite stark.Western Maharashtra due to historical context and importance and proximity to Mumbai has strong hold of government establishments, political clout good number of educational institutions and therefore skilled manpower, established and professional Voluntary organisations, good access to both government and non governmental funds, good set up of technical agencies that work on development issues.

In the case of Vidharba region (infamous for its farmer suicides) is literally one of the backward regions of the country. This region is far from the capital, little urbanisation and industrialisation in comparison to Western Maharashtra, has access to plush government funds to mitigate farmers’ plight but little access to big non-governmental funds. The skilled manpower in the region is also not many , except some very conscious individuals who have by choice moved and set up small organisations in the region to work on the issues of the region. But the lack of access to big funding to voluntary organisations has lead to NGOs working with each other like friends and the informal networks are quite strong here. The lack of funds is a necessary condition but not sufficient condition for such kind of behaviour in the region. So to see such friendly, networked way of functioning that is facilitated by whatever means is worth noticing and lauding.

4. Andaman Islands on a holiday

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 A holiday that was totally organised by the  brotherinlaw to Andamans was an awesome break. We just had to pack our bags and make ourselves present in the island. The natural beauty of these islands made me dream about working from these islands for a year or so. The island looks like coastal towns of India from a decade ago.  The ride across the Baratang island to experience the closed Jarava territory was revealing and made one raise a lot of questions about this tribe.

The apparent  functioning of government system (from the interaction one had with the locals) seem far superior to the functioning of the state in the mainland. I would like to dig deeper and read more about it. But it seems, one need not look outside the country  for a functioning welfare state, it is right here in these islands. I am making this statement, mainly due to one stark fact. Everyone  use the ration shops. Everyone gets their rice and sugar from the ration shops for their personal consumption. Everyone who is well to do or not uses the ration shops. May be I am wrong in making this observation centric to my conclusion about functioning of the government in this state. I will validate this in a post when I get time.

While visiting the Marine Bio-reserve and recollecting about tsunami effect on these islands , the thing that kept coming back to me was, the issues of environment are so difficult to perceive. The islands look beautiful, green and lovely. Where is the biodiversity loss, who and what are being harmed due to changing climate. As a lay tourist, I cant see it so why will I believe it? If we really want our people to be conscious of the vagaries and loss of biodiversity and be responsible in our act in fragile regions, the issues of environment need to be made felt.

5. Weekend motorcycle ride to Tirathgarh, Chhattisgarh

This is the magnificent #chitrakootfalls. It is magnificent. Returned to this place after a decade or so, was beautiful. Can you make out the #rainbow formed by sun rays falling on the dispersed water particles (#prismaticeffect ) been so long since I use

 This should have been the first note on the month. The month started with a long motorcycle ride with my partner to Tirathgarh and Chitrakoot falls from Raipur. These falls is quite beautiful and the ride was definitely worth it. Some observations on the state from the ride is , most of the roads from Raipur to these falls are good, towns and villages that we crossed are kept clean and compared to most other tourist places these falls are kept really clean and well. At Chitrakoot falls there are shops with art works from the state. The Bastar art work from this state is simply classic, subtle and of course beautiful. These art works are mainly from the Kondgaon region that one crossed on the way to these falls from Raipur. One can also drop by and meet the artisans and artists who produce these art works.

So thats was December and thus ended 2017.

Wrap Up 2017

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Like this green hillock with little sense of identity,  I feel my personality and identity seems to be less prominent, more vague like these hillocks this year.

Its been a while since I blogged here. 2 years ago (before June 2015) , my problem will upkeep of the blog was my lack of confidence in articulation. In the last two years ( until July 2017) the randomness in the blog was due to very very hectic schedule that involved studying and working ( with Frank Water) and also picking up freelance consulting work. And hence that time I have been back to working with Frank and was busy working with the team of experts and Isha Foundation on the policy document for their nation wide campaign to revitalize rivers – Rally for Rivers (RfR).

 

There have been some major events in my personal life since the end of the RfR campaign. I moved to a new small town Raipur. I am settling in here and I am yet to establish a routine with respect to work, house keeping ( literally), working out, and find time of hobbies- painting, biking, singing and swimming- that attend to that aspect of my life that work usually cant attend to.

I am done ranting about why I have not written a word here since April. I wont be promising about if I will write regularly again. The only thing I know is that life on some fronts look streamlined. Subconsciously I have always wanted these streamlining in my life to be able to take on bigger things and responsibilities in my life. Now that I have them, life is staring into me asking me “what next”? This forces me want to reflect on  my work, and projects until now. Thus this first ever “Wrap up” post.

If I were to look at the year that went by, I would like to broadly reflect on three major streams – MPP (Masters in Public Policy) thesis on sustainable agriculture,  changes in WASH job, volunteering for the creation of  policy document on Rally For Rivers , resuming work on Weaver technologies and motorcycle journey to Himalayas. As much I would like to write a long essay that seamlessly flows like any long essay article. I am quite tuned into thinking in list-ized and bulleted manner. Hope that doesn’t annoy anyone reading this post.

MPP Thesis on Sustainable Agriculture: This was a simple immersion endeavor I consciously took to step out of my “WASH expert” zone to put to use my larger environmental engineering degree and knowledge gathered in MPP to understand the larger ecosystem of agriculture and the so called sustainable agriculture space in India. I started working on this space since 2015 November and I quite enjoyed this  longterm immersion. Studying and going to school is fun, but what does the schooling do one only comes out when one puts the knowledge gained to use. This project gave me that opportunity. Also, working on this thesis involved – pouring over many books, interviewing farmers,  interacting with experts, bureaucrats, technocrats, digging into policy and traveling – to my native ;Tanjavur region; in Tamil Nadu, & to 15 odd districts in Rajasthan. And this due course I found a lifetime mentor. Something I have been searching for a longtime.

In a way this project  has given me way beyond what set out to learn. It made me dig deeper into the sector and also provided a 360 degree perspective, softening my sharp opinions with a buttload of realism.

WASH job: At Frank Water, we have two staff based out of India. The other India based advisor is quite articulate and sharper. Working with him and the other India Project Manager sitting in Bristol has gotten better over the years. The Bristol based manager slowly is transitioning to become a friend and working with India advisor has only made me become more thorough with work. The change in the framework to manage partners using Adaptive Project Management has improved the engagement levels of partners and their staff across the entire hierarchy.  The WASH programs are also becoming more diverse making the work more interesting.

Policy work with Rally for Rivers (RfR): Volunteering with the policy team at Rally for Rivers along with my mentor and experts was rewarding. This engagement gave a taste of what realtime policy making entails. Not just about realistic understanding and writing of policy, but what could happen to something which is high profile and has the attention of the larger public and media houses. I have never had an experience this intense in the last few years. Early in the career I have had similar but short-lived experiences of intense work, working with a friend on many projects. But the experience this time around in RfR was of solo kind ( although with a team). I got pushed, pressured, and worked with unreal deadlines and timelines. I could survive, with the help of grace and the team’s support.

The experience of working on this project although under high pressure environment was so rewarding, I literally had a withdrawal syndrome post the rally. This experience at different levels has left me so much richer than what I was when i started work on this. One of the many important things I have learnt working on this live policy project is that, any solution to a problem never gets successfully accepted not in a vacuum.  For a solution to be heard and taken up, it matters how the problem is defined at different levels ( to the politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats, important stakeholders and  the larger public) and how the solution is present to the same group. When I say “how it is presented” – I mean the language, the attitude, leveraging strategic points that speaks specifically to each group’s interest.

On a specific thing that i have learnt and expanded my appetite level volunteering on this project is the eye for details and clean up the mess I have created again and again and again! Patience, an elusive trait for me was a compulsory requirement while working on project like this.

Weaver Technologies:  With 2 year sojourn in education finishing the startup that I have been part of for over a decade is taking a different shape now. Consulting and other work endeavor is moving to a different level.

Motorcycle journey to Himalayas: Writing about this needs a post all dedicated to itself. Whie I keep going on short weekend rides to nearby places, this one was a long wished trip that I have never really though I would end up getting on to. But this also got executed like this was a project that needs to be finished before a given deadline. The experience of being on the trip is something I have not yet reflected until today. This was a trip of two – Suhas and I. I have been on similar such motorcycle trip to Himalayas in 2012, but that was solo. This was a whole 5 years hence. This trip was exhilarating, exciting, scary, eery, lonely and rewarding. The trip was from Bangalore to Leh via Manali and return to Chandigarh via Srinagar. I felt as if I went through two different countries ( other than India) in this trip.

We started out on the trip with very little preparation, and we came back home in one piece. It is only grace that made it happen. If I were to do this trip again, it will be less rushed, more prepared with knowing my  bike and a lot longer and would avoid riding on the world class national highways in the plains of the country.

Wrap up 2017:  The year seemed a lot about work, expanding the sectors of work and little bit of fun and some major changes in personal life. The time spent working seemed so fulfilling that even when on breaks I was looking forward to going back to work. I got burnt and pressured at work, but seems like the workaholic has been woken up again after many many years.

It seems all the desire to have my year that has – on the road, seeing the world and being with nature for larger part of the time is now taking a back seat. Working and being part of meaningful projects seem to take centre stage. I would none the less like to pick up singing again though. In 2018, I would like to have discipline, better time management during less pressure periods and get back a good workout routine and not forget to be on the road now and then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu – Part 2

I had a late evening bus on 24th night from Bangalore ( Karnataka) to go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). In the last minute the bus got cancelled as the buses with Karnataka Registration were not being allowed in Tamil Nadu. This was as a consequence of Karnataka declining to share the water until 28th of this month post the Supreme Court verdict.

I had taken this new masters course in public policy partly to zoom out of my present frame of reference which is established from my work at grassroots. The other reason was to work in areas of environemnt other than water. Since the Kaveri issue has resurfaced this year, it looks like water is become a centre to many crisis of our times. Some researchers and activist have been talking about the dooms day being just around the corner. Especially verdicts on water being the centre of future wars. Scholars like Peter Gleick, Asit Biswas and other have been writing extensively about crisi and how to go about it. I thought we would pick what these people say and work it out somehow.

I somehow always felt this will not be the case. We will some how figure it out, get our act as a species. No! This Kaveri/ Cauvery water issue is only making all these doomd day verdicts come true.

I was sitting one day thinking how do we go about these issues of crisis of water. I felt its quite complex the whole issue of water. Its so entertwined with every aspect of life and activities we humans conduct. To be honset we have done enough to understand the root  causes of the crisis – the loop holes in the way we address drinking waer security, the change in croping patterns and crops in the command area of Cauvery river and other water uses. In short it is flawed decissions on water usage and mismanagement of resource and also mismanagement  within institutions using the water for different purposes. There have been solutions studied and proposed to address all these matters both technicaly, and institutionally. The paradigm of integrated water resource management gives a framework to work on all issues simultaneously.

But still, Why are these solutions not picked up? Where is the inertia, what is the threat in changing to newer paradigm of operation? It feels like its in our minds. The inertia is in our heads. I wonder, how do we go beyond the finger pointing excercise and think for our own selves and look for a solution which  will make sense to ourselves in the long run too?

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

A proposition that seems to come to me again and again is that of “propaganda” as the mode of operation. Why dont we use skills of the O&Ms and Lowe Lintas kind of agenceis to work on the heads of the population to address issues of this kind? Why do we engage them to change mindset of people only to make “fairness” a fad thing or to sell chocolates? I am tempted to drop this documentary that I have been studying for the last few weeks to push the idea of propaganda. It speaks a lot on what can be done to manipulate the “crowds”. Why not use the same for a meaninful purpose. If not done responsibly this can spin out in a wrong direction and out of control. But for now this is all is coming to me as a solution again and again.

 

 

Soil Policy – I never gave it a thought!

 

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A wall of a hut made up of soil , cow dung and hay-stack, in Chattisgarh. Picture was taken in 2014

I have been working on water and sanitation for more than 8 years now. In the last two years I have been trying to go back to the larger environmental concerns of agriculture, human -environment conflict through my projects in the university and other research assignments. I am pursuing agriculture more elaborately for my dissertation for the Masters program here.

We had a speaker, Srinivasu (from Karnataka) to address the class on importance of soil and policy to manage it. I have always read and understood from farmers how important is soil to agriculture. I have always thought policies regarding agriculture will take care of soil as it is required for agriculture. And there do exist mention of fertility of soil and measures to keep it fertile and usable.

In the context of soil usage although the direct visible activity that engages in it is agriculture, but soil gathers fertility or deteriorates also because of other activities like that of afforestation/deforestation, industrial activities that involve letting out of pollutants on to land or using land surface for its activities.

We have policies for air quality and water, although we do not have much enforcement regarding quality norms in India. But nonetheless there is a policy. When I explored further into soil policy, I figured that there is soil policy in Europe but not much around this part of the world I live in.

I was aware of many things Srinivasu shared during his talk to the class. He works with farmers and to a great deal it reflected his perspective on soil. His perspective was ” what does soil mean to farmers”. And come to think of it, what will we do if the soil ;that is the fundamental requirement for food production; is damaged in an irreversible manner? I know, there is nothing irreversible about the ecosystems. But still there could be a period when soil becomes so damaged (I am consciously not using unfertile) that we may have issues getting food to feed our population.

The points Srinivasu was sharing were about how organic farming is a must going forward as chemical farming that pulled this nation out of food scarcity no more can allow the soil to live. 95% of requirement of plant is made up of CO2, air and water. The chemical substitutes for macro-nutrients (N, P, K) provided by chemical farming makes up 3-4% of nutrient requirement of plant. The remaining 1% of nutrient required are micro-nutrients which were made available to plant by the ecosystem of microbes and other activities on the soil. Introduction and application of chemical fertilizers (N,P,K) in a unbridled manner on the field will kill the ecosystem that makes that 1% of micronutrient available. This 1% is responsible for the plant’s ability to hold it fruit or let it fall off early due to lack of strength. This adds clarity to my dissertation pursuit on what could sustainable farming do to soil. Not just to the farmer’s income but to long term upkeep of his fundamental resource for farming – land.

But one question most of us who are passionate about environmental conservation and sustainable living cannot answer- what will be the cost to a small or marginal farmer to move from chemical to organic/sustainable farming? How long before he breaks even? Are there policy provisions to help and facilitate a farmer to maintain his soil health. We have heavy subsidies on chemical fertilizers, but there is no such provision for farmyard manure, vermicompost and other such traditional source of nutrients. I shall try and address questions of organic farming in my dissertation, hope I could also look at soil health properly as it makes an integral part of the sustainable farming practice.

 

Forest Right Act (2006) and Compensatory Afforestration Bill (2015)

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A conveyer belt  of Vedanta that carries the bauxite, with the Niyamgiri in the backdrop. Place and date: Odisha ( October,2015)

Last year around this time I wrote a paper on Forest Right Act (2006) – The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – Who’s right and bestowed by whom? –  looking at the postivies apects regarding the  the rights that it bestwos to the tribal and indigeneous people and also the gaps in the act that dealt with the issues regarding the precedural requirment for the people to avail / assert their right. The gaps were stark especially given the sociological context and economic background of these communities. The critique was on how the act is still not rolled out completely.

The enactment of the act was an uphill task. To get this act to come into effect the biggest struggle the activitst working for these communities had was not with the industry but with  the state forest departments. All the officicals of this department form the Conservator of Forests to the forest rangers were against this act because: they did not want to let go of their turf of power, where they wielded influence.  In the garb of being custodians of forest, these department staff have been taking bribes from  ( and at times exploiting)  these tribals to gather minor forest produce from the forest they have inhabited and protected for generations together, and take bribe from the industries to allow them to do illegal activities. The allegations I make may sound quite activisty and blanket remark. But this is the experience of majority of the communities that dwell in and around forests. To descibe the attitude of the staff of Forest Department, a paper written about them in year 2000 still hold good. Donal M Schug in his paper  (Bureaucratisation of Forest Management in India) talks about the internal culture of the department and how it has only been detrimental to both forest conversation and to the communities dependent on them. And in the minds of certain other bureaucrats from other departments, like a  Rural Welfare Department office  I met in Odisha ( in Octover 2015), they think giving rights on the forest to the communities by awarding individual rights, decreases the land cover under forest. And therefore they would rather award community forest rights to the whole village rather than individual rights. Eventually move to the strategy of awarding only community forest right rather than any individual rights at all.   This attitude is only supportive to that of  the forest department’s.

It has been more than 9 years since the enactment of the Forest Right Act and during a field visit conducted 8 months ago in Odisha it was found that not all the households and commutieis have secured their rights. Gujarat is the best performing state with respect to  awarding the rights (both individual and community). The state has awarded to most percentage from the total applicants. Madhsudan Bandi in his paper looks at the implimentation of FRAs in further depth with respect to Gujarat and Chattisgarhh state.

Why is it importnat to look at the status of FRA implementation and the awarding of rights to the communities? The innate inefficiency with respect to roling out this act is a matter of seperate discussion. In this post I am trying to raise up this point in the light of the new Compensatory Afforestration Fund Bill, 2015,(known in short as CAF Bill) that was passed in the upper house (Rajya Sabha)and after it was passed in the the lower house ( Loksabha) of the parlimanent of India.

What is CAF all about, why did it come to exist?

(Excerpt from PRS Legislative Research )

Highlights of the Bill

  •   The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  •   These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
  •   These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
  •   The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.Key Issues and Analysis
  •   The Bill establishes the Funds for compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. However, there are several factors (other than administration of funds) which affect compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. These factors are mentioned below.
  •   A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.
  •   Procuring land for compensatory afforestation is difficult as land is a limited resource, and is required for multiple purposes, such as agriculture, industry, etc. This is compounded by unclear land titles, and difficulties in complying with procedures for land use.
  •   A High Level Committee on Environment Laws observed that quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being one of the reasons behind the decline.
  •   The Bill delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted by the central government. As NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected, its computation methodology would be important.

There are many issues regarding the bill, starting from the understanding of the word “compensation” by it, how the compensation is calculated, who is assigned to calculate the compensation among many other things. But in the context of FRA the issue is of the rights of Forest. The CFA does not have any text regarding how is is going to be implemented without making the FRA redundant.

To summarise in short:CFA  has taken the forest rights from the tribals & forest dwellers and slyly placed it  back in the hands of  forest department.

How did it do it: In the version fo the bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha there was no rule  that acknowledged the power of the local self governing body – Panchayat or the Gram Sabha on their say in how the forest will be dealt with. This is in direct conflict with what FRA and the PESA act bestows upon these communities.

These points of concern were  raised by the opposition party  to the the finance minister and environment minster of the ruling party. Their concerns were placated by saying these will be addressed once the bill was “passed” in the Rajya Sabha.

The role of the local self governing bodies is not codified in the CFA act and the implementation of FRA is still far from complete. The attitude of the Forest department still remains that of the owners of the forest, rather than custodians. What is the government going at? Is it a game to ammend constitution and make permanent promise to marginalized lot, just to make another new ammendment that trumps the older promise? If this is some sort of a joke, it is a cruel one at that.

Food, enough and nutritious , for the producer! What about wellbeing???

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Old lady farmer from a village in Andhra Pradesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always wanted to understand why a farmer, who produces food, and his family went hungry. I found it cruel and completely unacceptable that a producer of food had to go hungry, and not even feed his children. This and the fact that they resorted to suicides is even more saddening.

I am trying to understand if  in the current world context, the problem of food production and that of farmers – soil loosing its organic nutrition ( due to use of chemical fertilizers), water scarcity, salinity increase in soil etc can be addressed by organic farming, or sustainable farming or climate smart farming.

All these words organic, sustainable and climate smart seem to be synonymous to me. But they are not to be so. I am looking up Food and Agriculture Organization documents, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, policy documents n organic farming by many states in India. From the readings until now the following is what the picture looks like:

  1. High yielding variety of seeds actually yield high produce, but are high on inputs ( fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides  and water) compared to organic farming in certain geographies. But one of the inputs required – water is becoming scarce. Also pests are becoming resistant to pesticides and yada yada.
  2. But when the world was going through food crisis especially in the developing world in the 1960s these high yielding, high input crops helped in increasing the food produce without destroying virgin forest to expand production. At that time the input demand of the cropping did not pinch as the exploitation of resources had just began and the limits of exploitation were not known to us.
  3. There is biomagnification of pesticides ad other chemical inputs in the food produced from this method. This is harmful for health. This is true. But the gravity of the issue is something I am yet to explore.  I do not want to dwell into it without concrete proof. Nonetheless, there is a lot of hue and cry about the health effects of chemical farming.
  4. Chemical farming in short is now perceived as a problem in the world. Even agencies like FAO are proposing organic farming at large scales.(Save and Grow).
  5. Organic farming definitely has very little negative health effects as the input that goes into it is all natural. Verdi compost, cow dung, leaf mulches.
  6. But the yield of it is less than the irrigated high yield varieties. The organic produce yield is less than chemical by 9-25% according to few studies. This is only in the case of irrigated high yield fields.
  7. When it comes to rained areas, organic yields better than chemical and this is consistent with many studies.
  8. Organic’s yield is better than chemical farming even in case of irrigated field during the period of drought.

The questions that I have running in my head are:

  1. Can small/ marginal farmers actually shift to organic farming gainfully? Right now there is very little support from the governments for them. Whereas chemical farmers have input subsidy. There is no such thing for organic farmers.
  2. With very little ecosystem to support a organic farmer and his risks,is it right to push these small guys towards it?
  3. What about the yield, the high yield and GMO proponents scare the hell out of people by saying when we move to organic we won’t be able to feed the world. How true is this?
  4. Generic farmer insurance ecosystem is very bare minimum with only crop insurances made available to them. Will the existing financial ecosystem make way for organic farmers too or not?

In short does both ecology and economics suggest our move to organic or only ecology? If one can prove with numbers that its both ecology and economics, then the shift should not be that difficult.

This apart there needs to be political will to move in that direction too. Chemical fertilizer and pesticide firms have huge cloud and therefore ensure that the politicians are well taken care off. So if the science and numbers say yes, still there is this huge irrational- illogical ( for the larger nation, not the politician. For the politician it is rational and logical to gain from this disputed situation from the huge firms) hurdle to be crossed.

And yes! How can one forget the agreements we sign up to. The Agreement on Agriculture with WTO and similar such multilateral agreements we sign as a nation. They may also try to restrict us even if economics and ecology permit our organic endeavor.

So, I will share more… as I know more of it….