Last year, a small village, Padoli in Osmanabad district, in water-parched Marathwada, sold 1.5 lakh gerbera flowers to markets in Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore, making a profit of Rs 50 lakh for the 12 floriculturists, who produced the crop.
The sale, done through Lok Kalyan group, registered with the agriculture department as a farmers’ unit, has scripted a new beginning for farmers in this village of 4,856 people, hit by water scarcity and crop losses year after year. Padoli’s 12-member Lok Kalyan group produces gerbera flowers across five acres in 20 polyhouses.
“By coming together under an umbrella organisation with the help of the state administration, we managed to get access to a loan from a nationalised bank. We have purchased a vehicle to transport our flowers directly and cut deals with big dealers in the country. Our flowers fetch us anywhere from Re1 to Rs15 a gerbera, depending on the season. They get exported by dealers to South East Asia and even Europe,” said Balaji Pawar, a member of the group.
In Osmanabad, a district that is seen as the epicentre for farmer suicides (59 this year), these groups are setting a new trend. The district has 14,620 registered groups with 2.88 lakh farmers as its members that sell everything from cauliflower and tomato to gerberas directly to the market.
There are also 28 farmers companies set up under Registration of Companies Act that sell agriculture goods, equipment and function as agents for agriculturists.
In the past seven months, the state administration has actively facilitated setting up of such groups as one of the ways to address the ongoing agrarian crisis in the district.
“This is the only solution. When farmers come together, their bargaining power increases, input costs come down and they get better access to banks. We have set up same crop groups and are actively linking all government schemes and grants through them. We have also decided that all new licences for selling or distributing agriculture goods such as seeds, fertilisers will be given only to farmers companies,” said Dr Prashant Narnaware, collector of Osmanabad.
One such company, VRD Agro Producers from Sarola village, started initially by 10 farmers, leases equipment for mechanised farming. The company was started by each farmer taking an initial loan of Rs1 lakh. After study trips to Soyabean Research Institute in Indore and Mechanised Farming in Bhopal, they took a further loan of Rs35 lakh from the Bank of Maharashtra and were helped by a grant of Rs18 lakh by the state agriculture department.
The equipment they purchased has been leased out to other farmers.
“We are expanding our operations in various ways. Apart from leasing out equipment, we also manufacture and trade in seeds,” said advocate Amol Ranadive, one of the members of the company.
The success of these groups and companies, which is marked by greater participation of youngsters, is likely to be taken up in a big way by the state government.
It is a trend that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is keen on replicating across the state. “The next phase of Jalyukta Shivar Abhiyan [dubbed as the drought-free village scheme] will look into integrating farmers, empowering such groups and companies and crop diversification,” he said.
Narnaware, who has been the force behind this activity, however, admits there are challenges to ensure this movement is sustained.
“We have to make sure that small and marginal farmers get drawn into this. To sustain such a movement, we need to end the monopoly of the market federations, get our district co-operative banks to be open to farmers and, above all, have a micro-credit facility for farmers,” he said.