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Devpasli – A tribal farmers cooperative

Marketing initiatives on collective action often bring positive changes in farm incomes, by eliminating middlemen. Devpasli mandli, a farmers cooperative, is one such initiative which, besides improving incomes, brought about immense impacts on the social lives of tribal communities in Gujarat.

Devpasli farmers cooperative meeting

In India, where small and marginal farmers constitute around 80% of the total farming community, and tribal population is predominant in certain geographical pockets, sustainable growth cannot be achieved without inclusion of these groups.

The small and marginal farmers face many challenges as they operate at miniscule level, are dependent on uncertain weather conditions, and have poor access to information, new technology and financial services. They are also exploited by the external agencies in market while procuring inputs and marketing their produce. The tribal communities are further deprived, who generally have no or poor access to various schemes and subsidies designed and planned for their growth.

Various government departments plan and execute projects in partnership with NGOs that focus on bringing sustainable growth for the disadvantaged sections. Formation and strengthening of Community Based Organization (CBO) has become integral part of such projects. Devpasli Mandli and the SHGs in the area is a rare example where the planned efforts of projects are sustained by active CBOs, and their members, especially belonging to tribal communities.

Building the base

Meena Ben Chunillal Devra is a 26 year old woman, having two children. As per the tribal custom, she inherited 60 gunthas of land from her father. She along with her husband has been cultivating the land, taking only a single crop with low yields. Land was as hard as stone with no access to irrigation. For the rest of the year, there was no work. They had very little to eat and many times survived on tuber roots. Their staple diet was Bhadku (rice porridge cooked in water).

With BAIF’s project, Meena and Chunilal, attended a number of trainings and learnt improved agriculture practices, vegetable cultivation, vermicompost preparation etc. Meena is a member of SHGNav Durga Bachat Gat, in her village. She attends meetings regularly and has taken a loan of Rs 10,000 from SHG and built a new house at farm and repaid the entire amount. She and her husband are members of Devpasli cooperative. They purchase certified seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, from Devpasli Cooperative and saved around Rs.2000 on purchase of inputs. She is happy that by purchasing through the cooperative, she is able to get quality inputs in time.

Today, they practice all that they have learned and take three crops per year. The group well provided critical irrigation. She has a small kitchen garden where she cultivates green vegetables for family consumption. Today, her family diet consists of rice, dal, rotis and vegetables – a complete meal. The grain yield has increased 10 times and vegetable and milk production at a much higher rate. Last year, Meena ‘s family earned around Rs 50,000 from selling farm harvest. They have also stored grains that would last for one year in their house. The increased income and food security has made them a secured and happy family.

BAIF Development Research Foundation implemented the project- Transfer of Technology for Sustainable Development with an objective of uplifting 33000 Below Poverty Line (BPL) families in 6 states of India. The project supported by European Union was implemented during 1996 to 2004.

Gujarat is one of the six states, where this project was implemented in two clusters- Devgad in Surat district and Chaswad in Bharuch district. The Devgad cluster consisted of 13 villages with undulating and uneven land where only 33% land is irrigated. Only 10% of families were able to grow enough food to feed themselves adequately throughout the year. The entire population in this area belonged to tribal communities –Chaudhary, Vasava, Gamit and Kotwaliya.

The project adopted cluster development approach with sub components as income generation and productivity enhancement in the land based program, livestock development program and rural non farm sector enterprises. This was supplemented with community health, women empowerment and Manav Vikas Sangh component, that addressed the issue of sustainability of the development processes through Peoples Organizations. Fostering of People’s Organizations and gradual takeover of development initiatives by them was a key strategy for ensuring sustainability.

By the end of the project, around 34,660 families had risen above the poverty line and were food secure, green cover was established on 23,207 hectares of degraded land and 1383 people’s organisations were formed at various levels with women’s representation and active involvement of Panchayat Raj Institutions.

Devpasli: Devgadh Vibhag Parivar Utthan Sahkari Mandali

Devpasli Mandli, a cooperative was formed to ensure the sustainability of development achieved during the project. It was registered under the Gujarat State Cooperatives Act on 21st April 2005, with an objective of achieving economic and social development of members in production, collection, transfer and marketing of the produce, produced by the members effectively and profitably.

All men and women beneficiaries of the TTSD project (5800) became member shareholders of the cooperative. All the 5800 members are tribals and hail from 13 villages. At each village level there is a Gram Vikas Samiti (GVS). These 13 GVS selected one representative from each village, (2 from two large size villages), making total 15 members as Board of directors of the cooperative. These representatives are nominated by GVS and the selection is generally by consensus. In case, any member is not active, or unwilling to continue as Board of Director, then the GVS replaces such member and selects another representative from the village by consensus.

The Mandli has woven all its activities around the Agriculture Service Center (ASC) located at Junavan, on Devgad Mandvi Highway and easily accessible to all villages in surrounding areas. Timely and assured supply of quality inputs, manures and fertilizers and bio-pesticides close to village is a prerequisite of a farmer. Understanding this core need, Mandli focused its activities on providing this backward linkage through (ASC).

In the initial phase, Mandli obtained all necessary licenses for seed and fertilizers and has developed a good network with private and Government certified seed and fertilizers manufacturers. Before the sowing season, the Board of Directors who are representing each village with support from SHG in village, prepare a village level list of the type and quantity of seeds and fertilizers required. Accordingly, the order is placed to renowned manufacturers and material is procured. Once it is procured, the message is spread through SHG and villagers throng for their purchases. This ASC also doubles up as an outlet for products by SHG groups. The SHG groups are engaged in seasonal activities like grinding and selling red chilli powder, turmeric powder, papads that are sold through this ASC.

The key factors that have led to the success of this activity are well established communication channels between SHG and Board of Directors that assess correct demand. Mandli procures and sells only certified and good quality products. This ensures that almost all the material is sold. As a result, the suppliers and manufacturers provide input material on credit and hence the requirement of working capital is limited.

Financial stability

Devpasli mandli - a farmers cooperative

For the Mandli, it was a dual challenge – firstly, to sustain itself as an entity and sustaining the growth of members. In the last seven years, Mandli has made substantial progress on both fronts. Today, it has built up its own funds that give a stable platform to take up challenging tasks.

In the first three years, the Mandli invested in learning the rules of the game and the fourth year was a take off point where the turnover has increased substantially. The total sales has grown steadily from 7 lakh rupees in first year to 91 lakh rupees in sixth year. Although the total sale has increased, the profit margins were kept constant providing more benefits to its members, rather than making profits.

For the first seven years, Mandli did not distribute its profit to members, but invested it into various funds. This has given financial stability to the Mandli to face any emergency situation. Mandli is planning to distribute profits to its members in the eight year. This is a remarkable turning point for the Mandli as well as member shareholders.

Building linkages

Various government departments, particularly, agriculture department offers different schemes for tribal farmers. These schemes are channelized through the Mandli. Mandli gets 5% as commission for its administrative expenses. This support is currently availed for groundnut, soyabean, wheat and paddy crops.

On similar lines, Mandli has linked with other seed and fertilizer companies, who not only provide their supplies on credit to the Mandli but also conduct extension and training programs for the members of Mandli to guide in the use of inputs provided. Thus, Mandli has become a critical link between many institutions in the area and its members.

Innovative activities

Mandli also experimented with various seasonal and perennial business activities. Many SHG groups have mastered the skill of producing vermicompost on a large scale. In the initial years, Mandli provided a platform for selling this organic manure. Presently, this is entirely transferred to SHG and they directly sell to the consumers. Collective marketing is a major need of farmers. In the third, fifth and sixth year, Mandli marketed soyabean, black gram, groundnut and vegetables in Surat market. In the sixth year, it also managed to set up a vegetable stall in Surat City during the season. However, this activity could not be continued as Mandli did not have its own travel facility and total cost on transportation was very high.

In the seventh year, the traders approached for procuring vegetables at the doorstep of the Mandli. Presently, member farmers gather at village market and directly sell their vegetables and other produce to traders. All these experiences are encouraging and as the Mandli has reached a stage of stability, it proposes to enter into collective marketing on a large scale in the coming years. This will be one major milestone for the mandli as well as its members.

Impacts

The productivity enhancement of agriculture yield leading to food security in the area is yet another impact achieved by this process. Before the launch of the project, this community was surviving on tubers. Today, every family has a stock of grains that would last for at least one year. Through the vegetable market at Jankhau, availability of vegetables for villagers residing in surrounding villages has increased. This has not only ensured food security but added the component of nutritional supplement in the daily diet of villagers, even in villages beyond the project area.

The economic growth of the area is apparent through 3-4 tractors per village. At member shareholder level, on an average, each member derives a minimum benefit of Rs 5000 to 6000 per season. This amount may appear small but it is very crucial for a small farmer. But the most crucial part is that this benefit is availed by more than 4500 members and in many cases for more than 2 seasons per year. The increased income and saving habits have led to introduction of mobile bank, an innovative project, introduced for the first time in the area.

Along with the financial benefit, the social impact on the entire tribal community has been much more remarkable. The tribal community that had no previous culture of working as an organized group is playing active role in a network of institutions. The impact is most visible among the tribal women. At each village level, there are a number of women who are now capable of handling money, promoting activities of SHG and cooperative, engaged in income generating activities as well as village development activities.

Looking into the future

Mandli has played a crucial role in sustaining the growth process beyond the project, mainstreaming the tribal community in the development process and transforming the tribals from being a project beneficiary to a partner in the growth process. But, Devpasli, as a cooperative, has still a long way to go. Mandli wishes to enhance its business growth through collective marketing, diversification and by serving new clients. And it plans to take up this new challenge in the coming year.

Raghvendra Dubey, Arvind Patel, A K Chourasia and Meena Gokhale

Raghvendra Dubey, Arvind Patel and A K Chourasia
(BAIF-GRISERV Office 3rd Floor Indra Complex Manjalpur, Vadodara, Gujarat 39004)
E-mail: raghvendra124@gmail.com

Meena Gokhale
BAIF Development Research Foundation, BAIF Bhavan, National Highway no.4, Warje, Pune-411 058