Operation Green’s TOP crops need Organic farmers and Organized players
Inspired by the results of Operation Flood the government of India proposed Operation Green in the 2017-18 Budget. Tomato-Onion-Potato (TOP), the focus crops of Operation Green will be the beginning that aims at doubling the income of farmers by 2022 and eliminating crop price fluctuations in the market.
What does this indicate?
Does this mean that farmers are producing less of any of these crops? It does not seem like that to me. Let me share a few stories.
In 2017, a farmer from Hathras, a village from one of the top potato-producing village in Uttar Pradesh, near Agra sold only 15 percent of his harvest output while choosing to leave the rest in cold storage. This was because he could not sell the harvest at a price that would cover his expenses and bring profits for him. To me, this showcases lack of minimum support price intervention that can support farmers.
Another farmer from Madanapally, India’s largest market for tomatoes, situated in Andhra Pradesh chose tomatoes to rot in the field. He quotes that the transport charges and the 4 percent commission fee on the sale price to agents has been the overwhelming affair that turned him against his own harvest.
An onion producer from Nashik, Maharashtra chose to reconfigure his agriculture land. He decided to produce less onion and leave the rest for horticulture. An unfair bargain to sell his crop worth Rs.9.5 per kg to just Rs.2 to 3 per kg compelled him to shift gears and step out of debt by abandoning onion production. Drought or poor soil were not his reasons as Nashik contributes to 60 percent of onion production in the state. He was another victim to unpredictable price fluctuations.
All these stories seem to avenge against a common antagonist — ill-regulated price fluctuations.
Do we have some inspiration? Let’s talk about the Protagonist.
I found some inspiration from the past — Operation Flood, as stated in my initial statement.
Over the years, organized dairies, both cooperative and private, procure about 30 million tonnes from milk producers, which amount to almost one-fifth of India’s milk production.
Does this happen with TOP crops, now? The answer is no.
No one as yet is ready out there who can purchase these crops on a large scale which in turn can be the input for other food processing units. Opportunists foresee that TOP crops can facilitate food processes involved in the production of potato chips and snacks, tomato ketchup, pastes and pickles, and onion pastes. While there are already a few large food retailers involved in procuring potatoes, it is not enough.
We need more and more organized players who can change the face of this slice of agriculture, just like what cooperatives and organized dairies did to milk producers.
While the organized players would tackle the ‘consumer demand’ side of the problem, someone needs to also resolve the cost and ROI troubles of farmers.
Lower yields have been a common misconception that discouraged large-scale organic farming. While the government stated during the budget that, ‘Pushing ‘Organic Farming’, Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Village Producers’ Organizations (VPOs) in large clusters, preferably of 1000 hectares each, will be encouraged.’, it limits the glory of organic farming only to a few large farmer groups. The majority of the power of organic farmer still remains with the small and marginalized farmers.
Lower costs and higher return on investments remain an inevitable reality that makes organic farming a sustainable occupation for farmers as well as a healthy source of food for consumers. The high cost of agricultural equipment and machinery is another impediment that keeps the faith of small farmers in low-cost organic farming techniques. The combination of low costs and high returns is what would shield TOP producing farmers against unpredictable price fluctuations.
The Deputy Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Gaikhangam has also said that organic farming can be a preferable model for the development of the State as it offers multiple benefits like economic development, natural resource conservation, and a healthier population.
Recognizing the importance of organic farming the Budget also announced a scheme called Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan (GOBAR-DHAN) for management and conversion of cattle dung and solid waste in farms to compost, fertiliser, biogas, and bio-CNG. As a part of the Green Fund, the GoI also expressed interest in encouraging Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) to take up organic agriculture in clusters under National Rural Livelihood Programme.
Connecting the dots
All this just boils down to the need large organized players who can procure promising amounts of TOP crop yield and also sustainable farming options like organic farming that can keep the costs low even in the small scale scenario.