Getting the best out of the land

Rajalakshmi Nirmal Bavadharini KS | Updated on June 10, 2019

How NGO AHIMSA is supporting farmer-producer groups across States

AHIMSA (All Human Integrated Meritorious Social Awareness), established in 1981, is a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation which provides services towards alleviating poverty and agricultural and industrial development in rural areas. Since 1996, the organisation has been working closely with farmers across States, especially in drought-affected regions, helping them improve crop yields and earn better returns.

The organisation initially started its operations in a small scale in Maharashtra by forming 20-member farmer clubs in villages and providing them with required inputs including fertilisers and crop management solutions through soil testing. Today, AHIMSA supports seven farmer-producer organisations (FPOs) with 1,000 members each across Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand; over 7.45 lakh farmers have so far benefited through the NGO, it claims.

The society is funded by contributions from its 70 members who come from different walks of life.

Before extending its services, AHIMSA, through its volunteers, initially identifies regions that face farming issues such as droughts, access to market and lack of credit.

Word of mouth also plays a part in deciding to assist a region as farmers approach AHIMSA for its help after hearing from neighbouring villages that have benefited from the NGO’s involvement.

Then, based on the degree of assistance required, a team is sent to help the farmers. The expert team mandatorily conducts soil tests on the farm lands. Based on the test results, crops and cropping patterns are recommended.

The NGO claims that farmers have witnessed substantial jumps in their yields after implementing these suggestions. For instance, after the recommendations of the AHIMSA team, banana farmers from Nanguneri in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, were able to improve their annual yield from 10 tonnes per acre in 2015to 40 tonnes per acre in 2018. Similarly, brinjal farmers in Tiruvallur district, Tamil Nadu, were able to improve their yield to 16 tonnesper acre in 2018 from 5 tonnes in 2015.

Though farmers run the FPOs independently, AHIMSA offers them support in the form of soil testing, crop suggestions, farming techniques, water management methods and non-farming activities.

AHIMSA also provide mobile water sprinklers when the crops near harvest. For instance, vegetable farmers in Thanjavur — a key agricultural belt of Tamil Nadu — were given mobile sprinklers in 2018 given the lack of sufficient rainfall last year, particularly during the harvest period,. This helped farmers revive the crops and harvest them on time. The organisation also identifies farmers who would benefit from alternative sources of income, and train them in activities such as animal husbandry and fisheries.

Off late, the organisation has also started to help farmers market their produce directly to the large traders, thereby reducing the number of middle men. It also sells a portion of the produce directly to end-users (through retail outlets), helping eliminate the need for middlemen and commission agents.

FPO working model

AHIMSA combines 50 farmer clubs of 20 members each in nearby areas to form an FPO; It currently helps run seven such FPOs.

A farmer has to pay a one-time fee of ₹100 to join a farmer club, and a capital contribution of ₹1,000 if and when the club becomes a part of an FPO.

Each of these FPOs have a 10-member team from AHIMSA who provide technical support required for crop and water management.

Moreover, a CEO and staff are also recruited from outside to help manage the FPO.

Currently, the NGO helps run 14,221 farmers groups consisting of 2,82,243 farmer-members. It also supports 17,914 women self-help groups with 3,58,280 women members, and around 5,930 youth groups comprising 1,06,758 youth members. These members play a vital role in distributing the agriculture produce in the market.

Current programmes

Two of the key challenges that farmers face are lack of proper pricing for their crops and access to market, says R Kanakaraj MD, AHIMSA Agri Division.

AHIMSA tries to provide solutions to these issues, he said. Understanding the industrial use of certain crops such as tomato, maize and turmeric, the organisation claims it has been able to woo foreign as well as domestic investors.

For instance, in 2018, AHIMSA signed an MoU with an overseas company to help increase the income of plantain farmers in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu.

The firm provides the farmers with the plant variety and pays them ₹ 18-20 per kg of plantains, compared with the ₹3-9 per kg the farmers would get in the domestic market. Thus, the farmers can earn about ₹2 lakh per acre in a year. The foreign company uses the plantains to produce around 20 medicinal products.

AHIMSA is also in the process of entering into a partnership with Japanese and Korean multinational firm Lotte for maize cultivation. The company plans to extract liquid glucose from maize for the production of its products.

The NGO has already identified 2 lakh acres of land in Ariyalur and Perambalur districts of Tamil Nadu where maize is being cultivated.

Lotte wants maize from 5 lakh acres of land and is willing to pay ₹15,000/tonne to the farmers, who would otherwise earn ₹8,000/tonne in the domestic market.

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Published on June 09, 2019
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