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Economy & Policy / Farming 2.0

MAG AZINE | O CT 18 , 20 0 8

The Dell of farming In Tamil Nadu, a farmer market has helped farmers go direct to co nsumers SHARADA BALASUBRAMANIAN

Fifty- year- old farmer Gopal Reddy has never had it so good selling vegetables. His decision last year to stop selling bottle gourd, pumpkin and cabbage at the wholesale market was a good one, after all. Reddy, a native of Tamil Nadu’s Vandimangalam village, 30 km from Hosur, had found an alluring alternative in Uzhavar Sandhai (Tamil f or ‘f armer market’). It cut out the middleman in his lif e f or the f irst

time, bringing him f ace to f ace with the consumer. But more importantly, it put more money in his pocket. At the who lesale market, Reddy wo uld have so ld his cabbage at Rs 4 a kg. Plus, paid a co mmissio n. At the farmer market, his cabbages sell fo r a rupee mo re. And, he do esn’t have to pay a co mmissio n. There’s so mething fo r buyers to o . On the retail market, a kilo o f cabbage co sts Rs 7. But in the farmer’s market, what the farmer gets is what they pay—Rs 5! These are the bro ad benefits that the Tamil Nadu go vernment imagined when the scheme was launched in 19 9 9 . It wasn’t the first-o f-its-kind in the co untry. The credit fo r that go es to the Apni Mandis , started as early as 19 8 7 in Punjab and Haryana, drawing inspiratio n fro m the Russian farmer market, Khal Gho j. In nine years, the number o f farmer markets in Tamil Nadu has jumped to 10 4. Over 1,0 0 0 to nnes o f fruits and vegetables, wo rth Rs 1 cro re, are so ld daily at all the farmer markets by o ver 7,0 0 0 farmers to nearly 20 0 ,0 0 0 buyers. DIRECT SALE: T he Ho sur f arm e r m arke t , t he large st in Tam il Nadu, has St at e support 1,25 0 f arm e rs. Re gist rat io n is a m ust and price s are f ixe d Murali Kallummal, who co -autho red a study o n farmer markets suppo rted by Oxfam Internatio nal last year, undersco res the impo rtance o f the administratio n’s suppo rt. "The Panchayat has a big ro le to play in pro mo ting farmer markets," says the Co nsultant at the Centre fo r WTO Studies, Indian Institute o f Fo reign Trade, New Delhi. In Tamil Nadu, the go vernment decided to spo nso r the scheme by allo tting the mo ney and space. Registered farmers can transpo rt their pro duce free o f co st o n go vernment buses. Also , they do n’t have to pay rent o r mo ney fo r the scales. The bro ad plan is to increase the market co unt by 50 mo re at the co st o f Rs 11.25 cro re sho rtly. The beauty o f the co ncept, Kallummal says, is that a small farmer with even o ne kilo o f vegetable can co me there and sell. And he gets paid instantly—so mething that’s no t guaranteed in who lesale markets. The Oxfam-suppo rted study no tes that schemes like farmer markets are impo rtant in a po licy enviro nment that is beginning to mainly suppo rt manufacturing-and service-led gro wth. And keep in mind, India is the wo rld’s largest pro ducer o f fruits and vegetables. The study no ted that 6 8 % o f the sellers at farmer markets were small and marginal farmers (tho se ho lding between 2 and 5 acres o f land). Over 8 6 % o f the farmers said the scheme made a difference to their lives. Reddy wo uld agree with that. The farmer market that he frequents is at Ho sur, 40 km fro m Bangalo re, and is the largest in Tamil Nadu. Such patro nage is because Ho sur has co mpanies like TVS Mo to r, Titan, Asho k Leyland, Wipro and Bio co n in its vicinity. The Ho sur market clo cks an average o f 4,0 0 0 buyers every day and 7,0 0 0 o n weekends. Till date, 1,250 cards have been issued to farmers and an average o f five cards are being added every mo nth.

Belling t he cat But no t all farmer markets have been successful. One o f the failures lies 6 0 km fro m Chennai, at Chengalpettu. This market was shut fo r two years during AIADMK rule. It reo pened, but farmer participatio n dwindled. Says C Jayakumari, who sells to mato es: "If a kilo o f to mato is so ld o utside fo r Rs 28 , but Rs 22 here, ho w do we make pro fits?"

The difference between success and failure can be as simple as that. And that’s why price is one issue that K Meganathan’s puts much thought into. The Agricultural Marketing Officer at Hosur has to be up early to find out the prevailing wholesale and retail prices of all fruits and vegetables. These form the basis for the rates fixed by his farmer market. "Prices are fixed at 20% above the wholesale rate and 15% below the retail market rate," he says. That is a conscious strategy to lure farmers away from wholesalers, and something that could be the answer to the woes of people such as Jayakumari. By 9 am, the rates are up on its website, One o f the things Meganathan has to do is keep an eye o n attempts by farmers to either o vercharge o r undercharge. Overcharging is unfair to custo mers. Undercharging is unfair to fello w farmers. Bo th kill the market. "Repeat o ffenders," Meganathan says, "are taken o ff the ro lls." His market has seen 25 such send-o ffs until no w. With their apparent benefits, farmer markets haven’t just captured the imaginatio n o f develo ping co untries. In the US, the number o f farmer markets has increased fro m 3,70 6 in 20 0 4 to 4,6 8 5 in 20 0 8 . Sales cro ssed a billio n do llars in 20 0 5. And these markets are dealing with an increasing wider array o f pro duce.

Academician Hari Sundar G, whose study earlier this year gave a thumbs- up to farmer markets , believes schemes in other states haven’t done quite as well for lack of political will. "Rythu Bazaar in Andhra, for instance, hasn’t been promoted well enough." For sure, farmer markets can improve: fool- proof the price- setting process, maintain the market to ensure hygiene, and provide cold storage facilities (which Tamil Nadu is working on). Co ncepts such as these co uld also assuage fears o f o rganised retail getting to o big fo r the farmer’s co mfo rt. There’s definitely a case fo r pro tecting their liveliho o d, says Kallumal. "Lo o k at Tamil Nadu. There are no cases o f farmer suicide there." Ne xt Art icle : Safal's Fresh Strategy Click here to see the article in its standard web fo rmat

Life / Farming

MAG AZINE | MAY 30 , 20 0 9

Fruits Of Science This IIT-educated engineer to o k to farming fo r the lo ve o f it, and applied science and tho ught to it. The result: 30 0 % increase in pro ductivity. SHARADA BALASUBRAMANIAN


hennai-grown broccoli, anyone? T he idea of growing a cool-weather crop in a hot and arid city seems laughable at best. R Madhavan’s f armers

might have f elt the same way years ago when he encouraged them to grow broccoli on his leased land at Padappai, 40 km f rom Chennai. But to their surprise, they saw the leaf y vegetable growing in abundance on his dry land. It isn’t just with broccoli that Madhavan broke such popular f arm myths. His f arm is f ull of clusters of tiny tims (small tomatoes), brinjals that are f our or f ive times the size of usual ones, and huge chillies. If you haven’t f igured that out already, Madhavan isn’t your typical Indian f armer. "More than commercial interests, it was my passion that drove me to agriculture," he says. T hat does seem appropriate f or someone who studied mechanical engineering at IIT-Madras and worked with ONGC f or eight years. During those eight years, he juggled between of f ice and f arm. T hat was when his interest in agriculture got a leg-up. Once he quit his job, he travelled to the US and Israel to learn more advanced f arm techniques. He realised that despite having the most arable land in the world, India trailed other countries in productivity. India can produce 180 tonnes of tomatoes per acre, he says, but manages to produce only about 6 tonnes. "People do not understand how science can play a crucial role in agriculture. It’s not surprising that almost 70% of our f armers are poor. In Israel and the US, f armers drive BMWs!" Armed with the tools he learned abroad, Madhavan set about growing his broccoli dreams. "Plants are blind. How will they know if they are in Calif ornia or in Chennai?" he asks. "As long as we f ollow suitable agronomical practices and provide the needed f ertilisers and soil conditions, they can grow anywhere." Science Of Farming Madhavan’s successf ul tryst with f arming boils down to f ive f actors he took great care of : soil testing, soil preparation, ascertaining the exact proportion of f ertilisers required, f iguring out where they need to be used and irrigation. Productivity jumped 300% just because of these f actors, he says. Just testing the soil could make a whole lot of dif f erence, according to him. About 13 years back, Madhavan used to send soil Madhavan o we s his samples to Nebraska. Now, there are f acilities available back home, but their signif icance is surely missed. "Soil quality varies succe ss t o so il t e st ing like blood groups in humans. A doctor can’t give the same treatment to two people with dif f erent diseases just because they and pre parat io n, come f rom the same place," he says. Still, people don’t give soil testing the importance that it deserves, he says. "If I take soil f e rt ilise r co m po sit io n and usage , and samples and ask labs to test them, they ask me where the soil has been taken f rom. If I mention the name, they reply that the irrigat io n. T he re are soil there has already been tested," says Madhavan. nuance s t o e ach o nly

nuance s t o e ach o nly scie nce can capt ure .

A soil scientist f rom a non-prof it crop research institute agrees that soil testing can help in increasing productivity, but is seldom used in India. "T he soil needs 18 nutrients, and unless you have a testing lab, you can’t recommend the required minerals," he says. In f act, C Lakshmanan, a Calif ornia-based agricultural consultant who mentored Madhavan, identif ies this as a major issue plaguing Indian f arming. "No amount of f inancial assistance to f armers in the f orm of subsidies, loan waivers or raising the minimum support price will increase f ood production," he points out. Madhavan says that when f armers f orget to stick on to the basics, it can be disastrous. Take soil preparation, f or instance. "People ignore it. Of ten, sub-standard soil is used and crops become vulnerable to pest attacks. As a result, insecticide is sprayed in large quantities converting the produce to poison." Good Harvest T hough money was not the driving f orce when he began f arming, Madhavan says his venture is more prof itable than an ordinary f armer’s (read technologically-disinclined f armer). T his is despite the f act that the f arm at Padappai, which is among the 10 he has leased so f ar, is more a laboratory f or his research ideas than a place f or commercial agriculture. Madhavan’s recent experiment with mustard is a case in point. His f arm yielded 1,450 kg per acre, which he claims is f our times the highest yield so f ar in India. "If the approach is right, anything can be grown," he says. Despite its commercial viability, Madhavan seems less inclined to make a hardcore business out of his venture. T he f ormer IITian is more eager to pass on the tricks of the trade to other f armers. Demonstration f arms such as his can help in educating f armers, he says. He is now designing a course that will educate f armers to increase productivity. For this, Madhavan is working with an NGO, which will provide the required land. Interestingly, the training won’t be accessible merely to f armers. Madhavan’s programme is open to entrepreneurs too. He is in talks with entrepreneurs so that they can replicate his model of leasing land and applying the right technology f or attaining the best results. Simultaneously, he is in touch with IITians to bring in new f arming technologies. Madhavan is also initiating the concept of e-f arming, wherein he interacts with and advises f armers remotely through the Internet. T his way, he can sit in Padappai and analyse the soil conditions in a f arm in, say, Jamshedpur. He might even advise the f armers there to grow some broccoli. Click here to see the article in its standard web fo rmat

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Turning a barren land into a garden of Eden By Sharada Balasubramanian Co imbato re

Posted 29-Oct-2010 Vol 1 Issue 9

27 Mar 2013

Can desert fruits be grown in Tamil Nadu? Walk into P Raghupathy’s sprawling 28-acre farm in Pollachi and you will be surprised to see Arabian dates and 29 other exotic species of fruits. Stroll around and you will have more surprises: Alien trees like silver oak, teak, pine, avocado, date palms and cocoa can be spotted.

Of course, there is a story behind this endeavour as the lush green farm was once a barren land that was scientifically certified as unfit for cultivation. Raghu moved to the farm town of Pollachi in 1995, admiring the green pastures that lined the roads. In the next two years there were no rains. In 1998 drought hit Pollachi leaving farmers in dire straits.

Headlines Now Sri Lanka cricketers to skip IPL 6 Chennai-leg Mumbai to ps in sparro w sightings BSP leader gunned do wn in Delhi farmho use 'IPL matches in Chennai o n schedule' Wo man sho t dead at Delhi Metro statio n 'Do n't cut trees fo r Ho li bo nfires' More Headlines

Spotlig ht

“This moved me so deeply. I felt the urge to do something, but ‘how’ was the real question,” Raghu says. With an electronics engineering degree, Raghu had no clue about farming or tree plantation. So he embarked on a journey into the world of farming by reading books on trees and cultivation. Then by involving other people, he planted many trees in the town. In six months the trees withered due to lack of shielding and water.

It was then that Raghu decided to look beyond the town for a plot of land. People scoffed at him, “You will not get a piece of good land, but you will definitely get a barren patch.”

Jaya’s googly Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu Read More 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

He purchased a plot in 2001. His first task was to clean the well and then drill a bore Raghupathy transformed a barren patch of well. “I had to struggle and land in Pollachi into a fruit garden work my way through to drill this bore as there was no water even at 600 feet,” he says. After succeeding in drilling a bore well, Raghu contacted a scientist from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) for soil and water testing. The land was certified as unfit for cultivation, leaving Raghu depressed. Yet he decided to go ahead with his plans. He started off with mango saplings. But he did not follow usual farming techniques. He took an entirely fresh approach to farming through his knowledge of reading and interacting with people, understanding the science behind farming. For example, while planting coconut saplings, Raghu left a distance of 30 feet between two of them and dug a five feet deep pit. He then covered the soil,

The Passio n to Live ... Sud ha N arasimhachar

Is Impairment an Impedi ... T his We e k

Re ce nt

Brave Wo man Clo thing the po o r


All T ime

Amritsar Heritage Walk ... jo urnalist p ankaj

Beware o f Anger ...

added sand to it, mixed it up. Top soil was then added to this and mixed with cow dung. Under normal farming practice, cow dung is added after the tree has been planted. Also, a 30 feet distance is not maintained between two trees. The difference in his approach gave him good results. Though coconut trees took seven years to bear full yield in normal conditions, his coconut trees started giving full yield in just five years. Raghu’s trees get manure from his own farm. He practices vermiculture and uses compost to feed plants. He follows many other ground rules, which are only path breaking in farming. People who mocked him for buying that piece of barren land then are now lauding him. TNAU, whose scientist found the land unfit for cultivation, presented him with a special award.


Beware o f Anger ... Jaya’s go o gly

vid hyae s2001

On fast track

Fo o tpaths o r Fo o traps! ... Sne halat haN aid u

Eco savio urs

Resto ratio n o f a 10 0 ye ...

Capturing darkness

Sne halat haN aid u

Caring co ps

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These are some of the agricultural stories.