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Business plays a major part in social evolution and this allows a person to possess his or her own idea in any field. These people are those who have bravely selected a critical, low-profit and unpopular (when they started) idea and start that evolution among those villages where they live.

Two of these people are Mr. M. Shivalingam and Mrs. A. Kumari, changemakers who had the  strong will to follow their purpose. Initially they were members of an NGO from 1996-2004 where they learned organic farming, after which they started teaching organic farming to villages in the Villupuram District. They taught in 10 villages altogether, including Marakkanam, Vaanur, and Mugayiur.

Later, based on their experiences and challenges gained in training, they started CARE Society by gathering many organic farmers. They started with raising awareness among school children by conducting essay and drawing competitions on environmental issues and ways to address them. They also started educating inorganic farmers about the importance, necessity and techniques of organic farming.

Eventually, they decided to find a solution for the major problems faced by farmers. These include a lack of seeds during particular sowing seasons and increased fertilizer usage, which increases the yield but makes the land infertile and increases the cost of pesticide purchases. These problems not only affect farmers but also pollute the air, water, and land. The effects extend beyond the environment to include people consuming products which make them vulnerable to new diseases; for example, infections in a mother’s milk affects her child. This usage not only affects human health; it also affects the farmers’ economic burden as their debts on chemical purchases increase.

To teach the farmers about losses and profits, an experiment was carried out in which among 10 farmers 10 percent of their land was taken as trail plot and another 10 percent was taken as comparison plot for organic and inorganic farming to be carried out respectively. A farmer school was set up and accounts were recorded for both farming and harvesting activities. After harvesting, Mr. Shivalingam and Mrs. Kumari compared the profit margins and found that organic farming was more profitable.

The actual innovative work started after this and they planned two projects: a seed bank and a farmer producer company.

SEED BANK

The seed bank evolved in response to a lack of traditional seeds available to farmers during the sowing season. Mr. Shivalingam and Mrs. Kumari pitched this idea to UnLtd Tamil Nadu in 2014 for incubation when they needed seed funding and mentorship. The main idea behind the seed bank is that various Indian traditional seeds – namely Sengalpattu Sirumani (Chengalpattu Sirumani) and Kichali Samba –  have been collected and stored in seed banks as they are highly nutritional and can be produced in high quantities compared to hybrid varieties of seeds available in markets. These traditional seeds are more suitable for Indian soil, so members of the seed bank are provided with seed during the sowing season on the condition that after harvesting they repay double the amount of seeds they used. No payment is required, but help is offered to struggling farmers at the right time so that they don’t miss the seasonal growth and sale of a particular product.

As a result of these efforts, about 72 farmers have been completely converted to organic farming and eight farm clubs have been created among different villages. These clubs were started in different villages with a maximum of 20 villagers as members. Farmers are coached on various farming strategies and receive help to implement ideas. The clubs also serve a social cause of addressing other problems faced by the particular village, including demands for proper roads and electricity.

FARMER PRODUCER COMPANY

Initially organic farmers harvested their lands to feed their own families, with the remaining harvest sent to market for sales. However, sales and profits of the products have been affected as the products aren’t separately marketed as organic. Another reason for low profit is the interference of middlemen in the market, who increase their profits at the expense of the farmers.

The farmer producer company evolved as a solution to provide marketing opportunities to organic farmers. There are even plans for e-commerce opportunities to be developed in the future. These opportunities can reduce actual product cost as it reduces the hands involved in production. This then reduces the cost of product in market and increases farmers’ profit margins.

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(CARE Society is an investee of UnLtd Tamil Nadu. Read about their work here.)

Karthik Shankar