DHARMAPURI: Organic produce has become a staple of the contemporary self-care discourse, with prices matching its soaring popularity. With these numbers, one would expect organic farmers to have gotten used to quite the cozy lifestyle, after all, the market continues to stay lucrative. But the reality may be a little far away. Organic farmers often end up selling to middlemen for meagre prices, while the produce gets sold at retail outlets for a fortune. This exploitation is what Tamizhar Marabu Sandhai strives to combat while promoting organic farming.
Nearly a decade ago, a group of like-minded farmers in Dharmapuri came together to promote healthier eating habits, environmental awareness and educate the masses on lost Tamil heritage and culture. The group inevitably came upon organic farming, a melding of healthy environmental practices, eating habits and the Tamil way. The widespread exploitation of organic farmers became apparent to them. The result was organic: Tamizhar Marabu Sandhai came into being in 2019.
“For over a decade our group has been organising seed, millet and food festivals, also environmental awareness events. It was only in 2019 we managed to put together the first Marabu Sandhai in Bharathipuram, Dharmapuri. We wanted to create an accessible, holistic forum for uniting organic farmers, for farmers to interact with each other and spread awareness among the public,” says M Umashankar, Marabu Sandhai’s organiser.
“When we started out, most urban dwellers had no access to organic produce. Moreover, most people did not even know how or where to procure organic produce. Marabu Sandhai functions as a one-stop-shop composed entirely of organic farmers who have faced issues with finding a market to directly sell to, cutting out exploitative middlemen. The first sandhai just had eight stalls selling millets, vegetables, poultry and honey. But just in that first week, we managed to pull over 200 customers, it was a grand success. Now, five years later, we have over 50 organic farmers setting up at Tamizhar Marabu Sandhai, and over 1,200 people visit us every week,” he adds proudly.
“Our conception of a ‘Sandhai’ is very traditional, many people mistake us to be some newfangled Vegan marketplace. Stalls at Marabu Sandhai features poultry, fish, domestic animals and many more,” says Umashankar.S Amarnath, an organic farmer and trader at Sandhai, says, “The biggest difficulty as an organic farmer is the blatant exploitation, with traders and buyers always driving selling prices down. But here, at Sandhai, we ourselves analyse and set suitable standard prices for our produce.”
“Apart from the good business, Tamizhar Marabu Sandhai’s biggest achievement is the open forum it has created for organic farmers, allowing us to look out for each other and solve each other’s technical problems bypassing any and all chemical, inorganic methods,” he adds.
Another organiser and trader M Senthilkumar says, “Farming has become a primary source of soil and air pollution. We are spreading awareness, campaigning against the use of fertilisers and other chemicals. These chemicals bio-accumulate and end up having a detrimental impact on the human body too. The only way out is organic produce, and promoting methods of organic farming.”
“Every week we meet to discuss organic cultivation methods, or to promote our products, even just a single product. Tamizhar Marabu Sandhai has been extremely beneficial for the organic farmers, nearly eight members from our group have established MSMEs in Dharmapuri. All this is made possible by farmers’ cooperation and joint efforts,” he says.
(Edited by Suriya B)