On Sunday, 72-year-old Monsing Teron — the headman of Paroli, a village in Assam's Karbi Anglong district — became the director of the first company in India to be floated by farmers.
The company, Coinonya Farm Producers Company Ltd (CFPC), was formed in partnership with the Spices Board. It was set up under section 581, a new provision in the Companies Act of 1956 that marries the "economic advantage of a corporate entity" with the "social benefits of a cooperative".
CFPC incorporated the traditional rule in prevalent in Karbi - that of community land being under the headman's control. This makes Teron and 599 other local farmers - all of them shareholders - owners of 51 per cent equity in the firm. Spices Board owns the remaining 49 per cent.
The arrangement is similar to that adopted by Karbi Farm Producers Company Ltd, another such firm floated with 400 members in the adjoining Rongmanpi village. The two farms are spread across 175 hectares of jungle land cleared to grow turmeric, ginger and chili.
"Paroli has no electricity despite being one of the oldest villages here," said Teron, whose annual income now rises from Rs 50,000 to over Rs 1.5 lakh in the first year.
CFPC is the brainchild of Donald D. Ingty, a Customs commissioner now based in Cochin. "It took some time to convince the villagers that only wastelands would be used for the firm, and that they could opt for inter-cropping for subsistence," Ingty, who hails from the nearby Tika village, said.
"We hope that the launch of this new initiative would have a domino effect in the most backward areas of Assam and elsewhere in the country," said Union minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, who handed over a cheque of Rs 33 lakh to each company as the first of three installments.