Maridesi Here Gowda of Mandya District, Karnataka, has for seven years now grown sugarcane without using pesticides on his two acres and produced organic jaggery. But selling it has been a challenge each year and it often goes for a low price. This year, Gowda sold a bulk of his stock to a buyer from Hyderabad at a rate he found fair.
This was made possible by the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and its new information-sharing portal, Eco-Farmers Market. Here the producer and buyer come together on the same page to conduct business. The supply chain for organic produce has been long hampered by poor linkages between farmers and buyers.
According to Ananthoo, the co-convener of ASHA who handles the portal, “Agriculture today is failing because there is no fair pricing for the farmer and consumer. Our efforts are to encourage the local economy and bridge the gap between farmer and market.”
The months-old Eco-Farmers Market has 300 registered farmers and around 20 organic buyers. Those registered can recommend other organic farmers. Each registration request is screened by call agents, who collect from the farmer data regarding the produce, land area and organic practices. Before registering, ASHA co-ordinators visit the farmer, if necessary, to ascertain his or her organic practices. Currently the portal registers only farmers with 100 per cent organic practices and classifies them as “declared” organic, “certified” organic (third-party certification) or “guaranteed” organic (belonging to a Participatory Guarantee Scheme).
To be doubly sure, all the organic farmers are re-verified by a panel of credible referees in each State. And, even after all these precautions, the portal urges buyers to do their own checks to verify the organic nature of the produce.
Once registered, each farmer’s crop details, including the next season’s produce and current availability, are updated on the portal by the call agents. The farmers can update this every 10 days, as also set a desired price for the produce.
When searching for a product, registered buyers or distributors can directly contact the farmer closest to them and thereby reduce both transportation costs and food miles. The actual transaction happens outside the portal. There are no charges for registering or transacting through the portal.
As the portal evolves, buyer loyalties are expected to increase towards specific sets of growers, rendering the portal redundant or free to offer a different kind of service. “In the future, we would like to open the portal to consumers as well, so they can link with the farmer directly to buy their food requirements,” says Ananthoo.
ASHA is an informal network of more than 400 groups in 20 states that came together in 2010 to organise the Kisan Swaraj Yatra, a nationwide mobilisation to draw attention to issues impacting food and farmers. The network includes farmers’ organisations, consumer groups, women’s organisations, environmental organisations, individual citizens and experts working for sustainable farm livelihoods.
The portal has received financial support from German organisation Welthungerhilfe (through Pravah and Forum For Integrated Development). For small farmers like Gowda in remote villages, it is literally a gateway to fair prices.
The writer is an organic farmer based in Dahanu, Maharashtra