We recently hired a farmer’s son as a CEO in one of our supported FPOs. The FPO was unable to find the right candidate and requested us to help with their hiring process.
After working with the FPO for a month; he landed up in our office. I wanted to get a better insight into what goes on in a farmer’s mind when he leaves the comfort of his own village, family protection, support of his community to start on a very unfamiliar territory. So.. we got talking. Here is how it went.
Me – Nandu, you are a farmer first and now on the other side, where you would be expected to help the farmer through the FPO. After being with the FPO for a month, do you think you can provide any help to the farmers ?
Nandu – All I can say is if this FPO ( the one he is working with ) is going to implement the projects as per their plans, then as a farmer ; I would like to be a lifetime member of it.
Me – Why do you think so ?
Nandu – To answer that, I have to tell you my story. Sir.. a farmer’s life is miserable when you realize what he goes through to make through a year. I come from a family of six.. Four adults and two children. My father passed away in 2019 and I had to struggle to complete my studies. My mother , my brother and his wife supported me to pull through the pandemic. We have three pieces of land.. all of 5 acres and we grow cotton. Cotton needs a lot of water and in Beed ( the place where he comes from ), rain is scarce. We sow in June and harvest in October. Even though we can keep the crops for another 3 months to harvest; the cost of production goes up by at least 40 percent and the yield is not commensurate.
So in October, in a good year we get about 60 quintals of cotton. Our cost of production is Rs 50,000 if there are no heavy insect attacks . In a bad year, the production cost can go up by at least 30 percent just to get a normal yield. A standard 1 lt bottle costs anywhere between Rs 1300-1800 and we use at least 2 bottles for an acre.
The price that I receive from the trader is Rs 6000/quintal. So we make Rs 3 lakhs for our effort of 5 months. From November to March, I grow Rabi crops such as jowar, wheat, vegetables in 2-3 acres and we make about Rs 50 thousand / acre after settling all the costs.
In a year, our total household income is Rs 5-6 Lakhs. My family is one of the better placed in our community because we have 5 acres of land. Not all people in my village are so fortunate. In some families the income is as low as Rs 2 Lakhs in a year to feed a family of six.
Me – Yeah.. I understand, for a small farmer, it is difficult. But you still are better off.
Nandu – I haven’t yet told you the challenges we face in my place.
First, as a principle, I don’t buy any product on credit. The smaller farmers do and the local Krishi Kendra owner exploits them. The products don’t come cheap to us. Starting from seed to fertilizers to insecticides to weedicides; we feel we pay much more money. The cost of producing cotton has gone up by more than 100 percent and my yield hasn’t increased and most of all the selling price has remained almost the same.
Secondly, we don’t do any soil testing or preparation as it costs us anywhere between Rs 1000-1200 per test and it takes a minimum of 1-2 months to get the tests done in a lab. My brother and I understand that testing the soil can save us about Rs 10-15 thousand in input costs. But it’s just the convenience and there is always the peer pressure to use more fertilizers than needed.
Then my brother has two school going kids and in our household we regularly need money for medicines, repair works, school fees and other family functions. We take loans from the village moneylender at 36 percent a year. Less fortunate families get loan at 60 percent a year.
Next after harvest, the challenge is to get a good buyer. Most of the traders are old timers in the village and we can’t sell outside the village as they refuse to buy from us if we explore the market outside the village or the mandi. Many traders use weighing scales and weighbridges that are faulty. We lose about 50-60 KG in weight because of faulty weighing scales. My complaints in Panchayat and agri offices are not heeded.
Me – Now that you work for an FPO, how do you think you can help the farmers?
Nandu – I am really hopeful that we can start providing the inputs at a lesser cost. The FPO has an input selling license. The FPO is working with the large bank to be able to generate demand for various types of loans from farmers. At least the rate of interest will not be as high as back in my place. Within FPO , we have started the digitization of farm and crop information. We can plan marketing of the crops and share information with the farmers. They won’t have to make desperate sell. We have applied for an agri infra loan to set up a multipurpose warehouse where we can store produce procured from the farmers.
Even if the FPO executes 50 percent of the plan, the farmers will benefit tremendously.
The Nandus of rural Maharashtra are recognizing that they can bring their experience in agriculture to execute strategies. Beyond digitization, traditional market linkage, credit system; FPOs can indeed provide solutions to alleviate the pains of small farmers.