The central Himalayan region is largely agriculture dependent. The shift from traditional crops (coarse millets) to cash crops like vegetables (cabbage and potato) and fruits (apricot, apple, peach and plum) initiated by Chirag is helping farmers in three ways. Farmers are earning more from their land, they find less of a need to migrate to cities for livelihood purposes and lastly, it prevents the sale of agricultural land for commercial purposes.
Though large scale farmers have reaped the benefits of this shift to cash crops, the small scale farmers who have limited knowledge of markets and infrastructure have been unable to benefit as much. Thus, our agri-marketing initiative focuses on supporting small scale farmers of the region through the Fal-SabziVitaran Committee and the Non-Pesticide Management Program. The Fal-SabziVitaran Committee was formed by farmers with less than 20 nalis of land and the committees are responsible for collecting and grading the quality of the produce, packing and loading, and keeping a record for each farmer.
In addition, we started 7 fruit cooperatives to help reduce the financial risks related to farming in this region. Our cooperatives are spread in 16 villages and comprises of a total of 831 farmers, all of which are women who belong to disadvantaged families. Our cooperatives are primarily involved in the marketing of the agriculture and horticulture crops of the farmers. However, due to the high proportion of Grade B and C fruits and vegetables, farmers are unable to generate adequate livelihood from their produce. It is estimated that almost 40% of a farmer’s produce in the region falls under Category C, which fails to procure a fair price on the market. If one takes into account the cost of transportation and packaging, the profit margin for the farmer becomes negligible. The farmer is also under pressure to sell his produce during the short fruiting season and often does not have much bargaining power.
Consequently, to make agriculture more profitable, we organized farmers into cooperatives to reduce their transaction costs through economy of scales and gain better access to markets. Through our cooperatives initiative, we also hope to make agriculture more attractive to the young generation. By carrying out secondary level value addition activities on a small scale, we also provide farmers with the opportunity to earn profits from all their produce, even Grade C.
Finally, in search of alternative avenues of income generation, Chirag also promotes herb cultivation on marginal lands and buys back the harvested herbs from the farmers. The herbs are cleaned, dried and packaged for retail or bulk consumption and sold to Kumaun Grameen Udyog which then markets them under their brand “Kilmora” – www.kilmora.in