Balaghat Farms, the Farmer Producer Company (FPC) initiated by young farmer-entrepreneurs, recently procured about 1,830 quintals of cotton from farmers in Beed and deposited the payment within two weeks. Balaghat is working with distressed cotton farmers to create an end-to-end value chain for their produce.

The Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of the State, which are known as the ‘farmer suicide zones’ owing to the number of farmers ending their lives due to crop failure and debt burden, have 2,346 registered FPCs like Balaghat Farms.

Maharashtra has 4,403 FPCs and 53 per cent are from these two distressed regions. Farmers say that the number of FPCs has risen during the series of lockdowns.

“There is no major IT and industrial sector in these areas that can accommodate people. Agriculture is the only option and the younger generation has realised that agriculture can be sustainable and profitable only if new paths are found. FPC has emerged as a ray of hope for young farmers” says Irfan Shaikh, one of the directors of Balaghat Farms. He added that the major factor is that FPCs create an end-to-end value chain, which was absent in earlier efforts like group farming.

“Farmers must maximise profits from their produce. We are bringing farmers in Jalna together to initiate some projects. Collective efforts and the right direction is what farmers need here” said Vitthal Solanke, one of the directors of the Saldoh Farms Agro Producer Company. The company wants to work in the tur and cotton sector and create its own brand in agriculture, besides working in the dairy sector in future.

Sandhya Taur, who is also a director with Saldoh Farms, says FPCs can play a vital role in overcoming agricultural distress and ensure that all government schemes reach farmers. She insists that farmers must turn entrepreneurs and take control of the entire value chain.

However, the rising number of FPCs would require skilled manpower and FPC directors insist that agriculture universities and NGOs must play a role in training the required manpower.

The Azim Premji University’s report on FPCs states that producer companies face several challenges such as a weak sense of ownership among producer shareholders, under-capitalisation, inadequate business skills, poor governance and the lack of an enabling ecosystem. “We found that these challenges are partly a result of incongruities in stakeholder imaginations of the purpose of producer companies,” the report states.

“Even if we consider that some FPCs have come up only to reap the benefit of government schemes and don’t have a long-term plan, the majority of FPCs are initiated by young aspirational farmers. The success of FPCs is directly connected to the future of farmers and farming in this distressed region,” says activist Vikas Kamble.