Skip to main content

Woman entrepreneur who braved contentious issue of categorising farmer


By Moin Qazi*
There is a tempest in India’s farmlands even as their tillers wage an extraordinary crusade for alleviating age-old distresses. Away from the bustle of the raging storm in the Delhi-National Capital Region is a small semi-literate group of women farmers in a remote hinterland who are assiduously managing a farmer producer company (FPC) to help alleviate the woes of other women growers in Satara.
The Mann Deshi Farmer Producer Company (MDFPC) plans to organise 12,000 small and marginal growers (70 per cent of whom are women) to secure better prices for their agricultural produce. The MDFPC was founded by Chetna Gala Sinha, the well-known social entrepreneur who is shepherding a rural revolution in western Maharashtra. The epicenter of this movement is Mhaswad, a large village that nestles in Satara district, on the placid banks of the Manganga River, some 300 km south-east of Mumbai. A 45-year-old woman farmer Vanita Pise is the co-founder of the MDFPC. However, she does not let the fact that she is semi-literate stop her from trying to better the lot of growers like her.
On account of adversities at home, Vanita couldn’t study beyond class IX. She married a farmer in Mhaswad when she was 17. Within a week she was required to take charge of the family poultry. She had never entered a poultry shed before. With persistence and tenacity, she was able to grasp the entire operations. When the poultry business had to be wound up after an outbreak of bird flu, she became a daily wage labourer. The failed business left the family with a debt of Rs 55,000. It was at this time that Vanita came to know of Mann Deshi Bank and its work with rural women. She approached them and secured a loan for a buffalo. Luckily for Vanita, within a week the buffalo delivered a calf. The enterprising woman started selling the milk. With her earnings, she repaid the loan in six months. Vanita took another loan and bought a machine for manufacturing paper cups. Six months later 10 women of her village, impressed by Vanita’s success, approached her to help them set up similar units.
Sadly, their ventures could not succeed and she had to face a backlash from them. Undeterred by this setback, Vanita went back to the Mann Deshi, and took a course in financial management from their business school. Her experience in business, farming and grassroots community mobilisation came in handy when the group decided to set up the MDFPC. It was clear to Vanita that the future of small farmers lay in collectivising themselves. In this model, scattered small farms are systematically aggregated and provided centralised production, post-harvest and marketing services. This helps reduce the transaction costs of the farms for accessing the value chains and makes it easier for small farmers to access inputs, technology and the market.
The task was not easy. Vanita and her team faced several challenges, most of them related to the contentious issue of categorisation of women as farmers. In the registration process, they were told by the officials concerned that since women did not own farms they could not be classified as farmers. Similar hiccups continued but now that they have been able to make this venture a success. Vanita now wants to spread the word so that other women farmers like her can replicate her success. “Women have come a long way in several fields. They are also the mainstay of farming, doing much of the primary work in the fields. Ironically they cannot claim themselves to be farmers because they don’t own the land they till. It is in the name of their husbands. This makes a huge difference to their economic and social status and disqualifies them from several official development benefits,” avers Vanita.
The FPC was finally registered when the husbands certified that their wives were coparceners in their land parcels. Since then the MDFPC has been trying to make women farmers coparceners in their husband’s property and registering these women as members in the FPC. Vanita’s work as the team leader is very challenging. She has to oversee all major operations at the company. She has to supervise aggregation of the farm produce and the entire intermediate operations leading to despatch of consignments to the market. This includes sorting and grading and organising the logistics in the supply chain. Vanita explains her business model: “Our model of procurement is different and is done through weekly farm bazaars. Women farmers are contacted and we send vehicles to their homes to procure the agricultural produce. In addition to vegetables and grains we also deal in processing and manufacturing products including hard toffee, syrups, flaxseed chutneys, amla candy, pickles among other products.”
Though the FPC was formed two years ago, it has been operating informally for the last couple of years. The company deals in both perishables and non-perishables. About four truckloads of vegetables are sent to Mumbai daily and these are supplied to 5-star hotels and local retail outfits. The MDFPC’s formal journey began in September 2018 with onions, a highly uncertain and volatile crop. The reason for severe and frequent price shocks for onions is the production fluctuations and changes in the nature of demand. The FPC helped the farmers grow high quality onions so that they could get a better price. “We struggled a great deal but succeeded in our efforts albeit partially. Getting a market was difficult because Mhaswad is geographically not well-connected and we face several logistical impediments”, admits Vanita.
“Bringing women farmers on a common platform, designing appropriate crop patterns, aggregating and marketing the produce requires rigorous planning and execution. Some enterprising women have been able to sell their produce in Mumbai markets and got good value for it, too. But it is important to get more women farmers enrolled in the collective and make them align their crop pattern with the market”, says Vanita.
Meanwhile, the FPC inked an agreement with a leading company that wanted to export okra. The members were excited with the opportunity and 16 women joined the project. Unfortunately, things didn’t work as per the plans. The agreement, which was worded in technical English, stipulated that agronomists would visit the farmers and guide them on quality control, which actually didn’t happen. The FPC had to compensate the counter party because they couldn’t fulfil the contractual commitments. However, the women learnt an important lesson: When you want to survive and prosper despite the competition, you have to maintain quality and honour every term of the contract. In addition, timely delivery is important.
This learning came handy in a recent contract. The FPC received an order for 11,000 kg of pulses. The grain was to be supplied in 22,000 packets of 500 grams each. The FPC approached the women farmers in Latur, who grabbed the opportunity. In just eight days, the women coordinated the entire chain consisting of harvesting, aggregating, packaging and other logistics. At the last moment, the team found a bug in one of the cartons. They decided to recheck the entire consignment. It took the women an entire day but it made them understand the importance of quality and the credibility of the seller that hinges on the consignment.
“During this project, I found that many women farmers store pulses at home and not in warehouses because of the logistical and transport issues. These women would prefer warehouses if they could be assured of a loan against the pledge of warehouse receipts”, adds Vanita.
She believes that the best gift for farmers would be to initiate practical solutions for their basic problems. The Government has introduced three new farm laws. And there has been a mixed reaction to them. Vanita feels this can work only if proper infrastructure is created through warehouses, cold storages and other support systems. Farmers are capable of producing good quality crops if they get the required extension services, such as soil-testing, advisory in agro-economics and so on. Instead of grandiose reforms, the farmers need solutions to their fundamental problems. This cannot be done by NGOs alone. The Government will have to actively invest in it. It is also important to build the capacity of FPCs. In the Budget last year the Finance Minister had announced a plan to form 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) over a period of five years. “This will require extensive government support. We women farmers hope that our collective will get the necessary support from all stakeholders”, says Vanita.
Vanita is quite upbeat with her own as well as her women farmers’ journey towards empowerment: “I feel proud that I have come a long way and women farmers repose trust in me. Before I got associated with Mann Deshi, I was too shy to even speak to my neighbours. And today I’m the first woman from my village to have gone abroad by myself on work!”

*Development expert

Comments

TRENDING

Mental health: We talk of poverty figures, but not increase in suicides since 2014

By IMPRI Team Highlighting  the issue of mental health and addressing the challenges involved, # IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Institutional Support for Mental Health and Wellbeing under the #WebPolicyTalk series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps . The discussion was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI and Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai . The distinguished panel included – Prof Anuradha Sovani, Former Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, and Former Dean, Faculty of Humanities at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai and National Core Committee member and Ethics Committee Chairperson, Association of Adolescent and Child Care India ; Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at Indian Law Society, Pune ; Dr Swati Rane, Founder CEO at SevaShakti Healthcare Consultancy, Mumbai and Founder V

How India, Bangladesh perceive, manage Sunderbans amidst climate change

By IMRPI Team The effects of climate change have been evident, and there have been a lot of debates around the changes to be made locally to help and save the earth. In this light, the nations met at the COP 26 conference recently. To discuss this further, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi , organized a panel discussion on “COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptations in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans” under the #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks . The talk was chaired by Dr Jayanta Basu, Director, Non-profit EnGIO, Faculty at Calcutta University and an Environmental Journalist, The Telegraph , ABP . The Moderator of the event, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI , started the discussion by stressing the talk on the living conditions of people living in the Sunderbans Delta from both the countries, i.e. India and Bangladesh. According to the report

NEP: Education must shift away from knowledge, move to teaching students

Dr Anjusha Gawande* The Education sector in the globe is changing dramatically. Many manual jobs may be captured over by machines as a consequence of multiple spectacular advances in science and technology, including the machine learning, and artificial intelligence. A professional workforce, particularly one that includes mathematics, computer science, and data science, as well as multidisciplinary competencies in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be in incredibly popular. As a result, education must shift away from knowledge and toward teaching students, how to be creative and transdisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and process information differently in innovative and rapidly changing sectors. The education development agenda at the global level is represented in Goal 4 (SDG4) of India's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015. Ministry of Education has announced the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) on 29.07.2020. In J

Dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and sustainable growth of mediocrity

By Arup Mitra* The theory of mediocrity would suggest that the meritorious who are always small in number as a nature’s gift will be dominated by a vast number of mediocre as the latter cannot withstand the inferiority they suffer from. By subjugating the merit, they derive a pleasure of having established their superiority. Such processes are functional in all spheres in life though the field of art is the worst sufferer. An artist mind is most sensitive and those who are meritorious in this lot possess exceptionally different traits. This makes them more vulnerable and, on the other hand, it paves the path of the mediocre to cast their shadows all around. Unjust and strong criticisms are sufficient to detract many. In developing countries, the modes of subjugation are many. Individuals do not hesitate to take recourse to criminal means as the subconscious prevalent with vengeance, accesses easily the outlets for execution. The lack of civility and the power of money form a unique com

Migrant problem during Covid and the role of equality for cohesive development

By IMPRI Team  The covid-19 pandemic has deepened the pre-existing inequalities across socio-economic groups, the distressing images of migrants’ exposure remained attached in our minds but not a lot has changed in terms of data collection and policy making since then to understand the role of equality for cohesive development. Cohesive development also means that human beings should respect the boundaries of nature which they cross at their own peril and the peril of other living beings on earth. In lieu to this, The State of Development Discourses – #CohesiveDevelopment, #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , #IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute , New Delhi organized #WebPolicyTalk with Prof Amiya Kumar Bagchi, on The Role of Equality for Cohesive Development. The session is inaugurated by Ms Mahima Kapoor, researcher and assistant editor at IMPRI. Ms Mahima Kapoor extended her gratitude to the speaker, moderator and the discussant. The moderator for the eve

Parallel govts: How unity of various streams of freedom movements took shape in India

By Bharat Dogra  In one of the most inspiring examples of highly courageous spontaneous actions based on the unity of people, parallel governments were formed by freedom fighters in several parts of India in the course of the Quit India Movement in 1942. Although generally four such leading efforts have been identified in Satara (Maharashtra), Talcher (Odisha), Tamluk (West Bengal) and Ballia (Uttar Pradesh), there were some other smaller efforts as well such as those in Bhagalpur (Bihar) and Gurpal (Balasore, Odisha). It is very interesting to see in most of these efforts (also very significant for understanding the freedom movement) that there was constant merging of the various streams of the freedom movement, with more militant activities openly taking place with the help of quickly mobilized militias and this being combined with various constructive programs emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi such as anti-liquor efforts and anti-untouchability movements. In addition we see actions in

West Bengal police inaction in immoral trafficking case of a Muslim woman

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, on Muslim woman victim trafficking, police inaction, and need immediate rescue: I am writing to inform you about a case of illegal trafficking and profuse police inaction regarding the same of a marginalized Muslim teenager named Anima Khatun (name changed), daughter of Mr. Osman Ali. The victim and her husband had been residents of the village Daribas, under Dinhata police station Cooch Behar district since their marriage in 2014. Six months following their marriage, Anima Khatun along with her husband, sister-in-law, sister-in-law's husband as well as her in-laws shifted to Delhi in search of work. They stayed there for 2 years after which they all came back to their native village. They stayed at their native residence for about one month and then they went back to Delhi. In Delhi, Anima was in touch with her family till the next six months, after which t

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Kr├Ątli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Bangladesh sets shining example of communal peace, harmony in South Asia

By Dr. Abantika Kumari Bangladesh is made up of 160 million people who are multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees all citizens the freedom to freely and peacefully practice their chosen religions. Religious minorities make up roughly 12% of Bangladesh's present population, according to conservative estimates . Hindus account for 10% of the population, Buddhists for 1%, Christians at 0.50 percent, and ethnic minorities for less than 1%. As an example of how people of different religions can live together, cooperate together, and simply be together, Bangladesh is regarded. Bangladesh is a country that values religious liberty, harmony, and tolerance. Bangladesh's population is made up of a diverse spectrum of religious groupings and ethnic groups. Such communities and groups live in harmony, putting aside their differences and learning to embrace and respect the diverse and diversified culture that has contributed to Bangladesh

Political leaders' actions are causing decontextualisation of democracy

By Harasankar Adhikari In India, does democracy become a matter of prescription, i.e., to follow the footpath left? Isn't it, in some ways, the adoption of certain prescribed procedures and mechanisms, such as timely election and populist schemes for the poor, etc.? In some cases, acts of government and governance turn democracy into a myth. It is full of political party-based agendas. This continuous hegemonic practise creates a conditional situation for the people of India. People elect their representatives who are not their representatives. They are only representatives of a particular political party that nominated them in the election. Democratic decentralisation of power is undoubtedly a unique step towards the grass roots. But a Panchayat member has no free will to act without the party’s instruction and approval. Michael Saward, a political philosopher, defines democracy as a matter of correspondence in state-society relationships. But India’s parliamentary democracy is un