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From farm to plate: An initiative of Sahaja Organics

Providing direct market access to the farmers plays a crucial role in the economic development. Farmers markets are an integral part of the rural-urban linkage and have continued to rise in popularity with the growing consumer interest in obtaining fresh products directly from the farm. Sahaja Samrudha, an organisation led by farmers and farming experts is bridging the gap between farmers and consumers through one of its initiatives.

Celebrating maize diversity. Photo: Sahaja Samrudha

Celebrating maize diversity. Photo: Sahaja Samrudha

Sahaja Samrudha, meaning ‘Bountiful Nature’, works with farmers to preserve and improve indigenous crop varieties, and builds a people’s movement in conserving the rich biodiversity. It primarily started as a farmers’ initiative to exchange ideas, seeds and share knowledge on sustainable agriculture.

Since Karnataka does not have an exclusive market to sell their organic produce, farmers who followed the organic methods of farming were unable to market their produce. This resulted in they ending up in a common market, thereby defeating the whole purpose.

Sahaja Samrudha has developed a connectivity network of consumers and producers for procurement and marketing under the brand name “Sahaja Organics”. Sahaja Samrudha Organic Producers Company Ltd., has been formed to market organic produce. Presently, the company has over 750 organic producers, who are also the shareholders. This apart, the company has around 2500 farming families (30 farmers’ group) in its network.

The Producer Company will facilitate farmers to exhibit and sell their produce with a good price ear marked. The produce is procured directly from the farmer and supplies it to the network outlets. This chain has been created for the produce to reach the consumer directly. The firm pays a premium price of 15-20 percent higher than the traditional market price, while it retains a nominal amount for its sustenance.

Sahaja promotes only organic and traditional crops of rice, millets and pulses. These crops are in great demand in the urban areas for their nutritional value and medicinal value, especially the millets and red rice. Being one of the largest wholesalers of organic grains in the state, it supplies organic products to around 80 retail outlets in Bangalore and around. However, the company has only one storehouse and retail outlet.

In addition, as a direct sales initiative, it organizes annual red rice melas, seed festivals and safe food melas in cities, tier-2 and tier-3 towns in which the farmers sell their produce to consumers at a fair price. The fairs attract a crowd of 10,000-20,000 people. These dedicated farm markets allow consumers to have access to locally grown, farm fresh produce, enables farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers, and cultivate consumer loyalty with the farmers who grows the produce. Direct marketing of farm products through farmers markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide.

Turn around

Direct marketing of farm products through farmers markets continues to be an important sales outlet for agricultural producers nationwide.

Initially, being a producer company, Sahaja started with a policy that it will solely depend on farmers’ money. The producer company in the year 2010, started with a capital of Rs 5 lakh, raised through pooled funds from farmers and farming groups.

However, during the first year there were losses incurred and the capital got exhausted. During 2011-12, an additional capital of Rs 3 lakh was raised. In addition, an amount of Rs.5 lakhs was received from the bank by which the operations could be scaled up. Even with a turnover to Rs 53 lakh, the company had to incur a loss of Rs 1.5 lakh. In 2012-13, the company raised funds from NABARD and also increased its volume to Rs 83 lakh. But the target was one crore and it failed to meet the expectation due to persistent drought situation. The company continued be a loss making unit, with an accumulated loss of Rs 10 lakh. It was only in the fourth year, that the company got a breakeven, with a turnover of Rs 1.27 crore. In 2014-15, the company’s turnover increased tremendously to Rs 3.6 crore and it made a profit of Rs 30 lakhs. Out of this, Rs 5 lakh was distributed to the famers and some money was pooled back into the business.

Throughout this period, the company has tried and tested various business models – changing from a retail concept to completely being a wholesaler. Despite all this, the company never reduced the margin it gave to farmers, while it continued to focus on scale and earn meagre profits.

Organic vegetable growers group – a case

On the outskirts of Bangalore, organic vegetable cultivation started in few villages surrounding Mayasandra village of Anekal Taluk. The farmers here are traditional vegetable and flower growers. The farmers here, just like any other village, had wide spread monocropping of single vegetable and also wide spread flower cultivation. The area is renowned for beetroot and carrot vegetables.

The initial work started with about 150 farmers, converting to organic. Down the three year period, the numbers dwindled to only a few continuing with organic farming practices.

In the beginning, there was a lot of reluctance to start organic marketing in the area as the farmers had to travel around 40 kms to reach the city markets. But with a few dedicated farmers the whole initiative of community marketing that began with only about ten farmers later increased to twenty and then to more than 70 farmers regularly supplying to the market. The farmers came together in a group ‘Sahaja Savayava Tharakari Belagarara Sangha’ and began collecting vegetables in a common area and supplied to the market.

The farmers here were encouraged to diversify from few vegetables to meet market demand. From a few types of vegetables, the farmers widened their produce to include more than 40 varieties that are supplied to various outlets in Bengaluru and some out of the state. Consequently, the farmers’ turnover has increased from as low as Rs. 700 a day to more than Rs. 5 lakh a month.

Even landless farmers are encouraged to grow vegetables and be able to earn for their livelihood. Mangala, a women farmer has no land, but earns about Rs.1500/- a month with growing only curry leaves and leafy greens in the vacant area around her house.

This farmers’ group has reached out to diverse markets channelizing through Sahaja Samrudha Organic Producer Company – by sale to leading supermarkets, specialist organic stores, or directly to consumers via organic farmers’ markets. Organic markets are being held monthly once in different venues and areas mainly to reach out to consumers. This has helped build a brand of our produce, now it is popularly known as ‘Sahaja Veggies’ all over.

Weekly five days the market takes place; all the farmers bring in their produce depending on the day’s demand for vegetables. Quality is an important aspect that the farmers look into and grade their vegetables and then measure and supply to the various outlets. Payments are made on a weekly basis. The farmers here are being certified by IMO, a highly recognized certifying agency, which runs the farmers through stringent monitoring and evaluation process.

66-year-old farmer, Nagaraj from Hosahalli, who grows carrot and beetroot says that, after the direct market access, he has benefitted a lot and his income level has doubled since last four years. “If the market price for the carrot of normal variety is Rs 12-18, I get about Rs 25-35 for my organic produce through Sahaja. Even if we deduct a nominal charge for the Sahaja initiative, we still end up getting 60-80 percent higher for our produce,” Nagaraj says.

Though farmers in this region have small plots that range from 0.5 acres to 2.5 acres, farmers here lead a dignified life. Organic vegetable farmers grow a variety of vegetables and maintain livestock which ensures optimal use of nutrients, and additional economic advantage.

G Krishna Prasad and B Somesh

Sahaja Samrudha
No-7, 2nd Cross, 7th Main, Sulthanpalya, Bangalore-560 032