MANGALURU: Picture overworked farmers hauling organic produce in small, rickety trucks to the market. At the end of the day, they may not get a good price for their produce. But all this is changing quietly in this region with a CSAlike initiative which started four years ago. This community supported agriculture (CSA) collective, a grassroots organisation based in local, organic farming in Mangaluru, acts as a bridge between farmers and consumers. Working together, they not only increase their market reach, but also increase the variety and consistency of the products they supply to markets.
Twenty like-minded people launched Savayava Krishika Grahaka Balaga (Organic Consumer Farmer Forum) in 2013, driven by a desire to consume poison-free food. The Balaga, after ensuring a demand for organically grown produce, went about identifying farmers with a reputation for not using any fertilisers. “After three visits, including two unannounced visits to a farmer, if the forum president Addoor Krishna Rao and secretary Sameera Rao are satisfied that the produce is organically grown, they invite the farmer to sell the produce in their mart open on all Sundays except on first Sunday,” says organising secretary Ratnakar Kulai.
“We do not insist on certification by agencies. Such certification procedures and voluminous paper work will be a huge burden on the farmers. So, the forum visits farms of 20 farmers twice a year, to ensure they are producing food without chemicals. Our members are also familiar with the distinct flavour and smell of a produce grown organically. Our consumers are encouraged to ask or post any suspicious usage of chemicals on two WhatsApp groups,” explains Rao.
This initiative links people directly with their source of food; it gives farmers assured returns. It works like this. Farmers sell vegetables, fruits etc at the Sunday mart directly to consumers. But for produce like rice, pulses, members of the forum, who are about 100, place orders and pay some amount in advance. The advance payment from the group will help a farmer to plan for the season, purchase new seeds and carry out repairs in equipment. Thus a farmer, saved from needless worries like price crash or finding market, can focus on growing and delivering the vegetables or pulses. The farmers could be from Mangaluru, or as far as Kalaburagi and Mandya depending on the produce and demand.
As with previous initiatives, there are many obstacles towards realising the success of groupbuying. No matter what, we will work hard as this initiative will surely help farmers stay in business, says the Balaga. At the Sunday mart, open from 7.30 am to 1.30 pm, vegetables, fruits and greens are sold by farmers. Ramanna, a vegetable farmer from Mundaje in Belthangady taluk, has never missed a Sunday mart for the past three years, even if it meant that he had to leave home at 4.30 am (to reach market on time at 7.30 am). “Due to Balaga’s Sunday mart, my financial condition has improved,” says Ramanna.
LEARNING IN FARMING
In January 2016, ‘experiential learning in farming’ was launched keeping urban consumers in mind. Twenty-five people from different professional backgrounds had enrolled for a vegetable cultivation project on a plot in Ganjimutt, located on the city’s outskirts. Encouraged by the success, the Balaga embarked on a paddy cultivation project on a 60-cent plot close to Mangalore International Airport the same year. “These two projects proved to be an eye-opener to hard work involved in organic farming. They are sure to respect their food and enjoy the contentment of growing their own food,’’ Ratnakar says.