India Interior

Here, organic farmers fix the price!

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on January 23, 2018

Baskets of profit: The Organic Farmers Market, a network of 20 outlets, had a cumulative annual turnover of around ₹2 crore in less than two years

Anantha Sayanan, Organic Farmers Market

Sustainable business model ensures fair price for growers and buyers alike

It is perhaps the only organised market where farmers fix the price for their produce, by attaching a distinct value to the technique and cost of production.

The Organic Farmers Market (OFM), a network of 20 outlets, has become an important destination for organic produce in Chennai. It connects directly to about 200 farmers and indirectly to a thousand others through various farmers’ collectives.

“What makes this market different is that its outlets are managed by those who were seeking an alternative vocation for an ethical living,” says Anantha Sayanan, 47, who is leading this steadily growing organic movement that connects rural livelihoods with sustainable urban living. While Rajesh has relinquished his software consultancy to sell organic food at an electrical service centre, Rekha has given up her engineering profession to run a store from home.

OFM outlets ensure consistent quality and sustained supply of organic produce. Each member of the network visits at least two farms every month to ascertain the organic practices adopted there. The practices are validated at the local level by crosschecking with others in the village. “Instead of pursuing an organic certificate, which small farmers can ill-afford, we document the organic practices, which are open to consumer scrutiny at any time,” explains Sayanan.

Consumer faith has turned around the organic farmers’ market in the city, from Adayar to Selaiyur, and from Mannady to Chetpet. In less than two years, the cumulative annual turnover from these informal stores has touched around ₹2 crore. By ensuring fair price of organic products, both for farmers and consumers, OFM has created a sustainable business model that takes value-driven, genuine organic products to the middle class.

The farmers fix the price in a way that it is remunerative to them as well as fair to consumers. While fresh vegetables are sourced from nearby peri-urban farms, other products are procured from farms in Karnataka, Telangana and Uttaranchal. Currently, the stores stock and sell millet, traditional rice, pulses, spices, whole grain flours, dry fruits, nuts, oils, greens, vegetables and fruits.

Differential pricing is a concept that has caught on with consumers and producers alike at the OFM stores. For instance, groundnut oil may look the same but Natarajan from Nagapattinam has priced it differently from that sold by Raja Shankar from Coimbatore. Same applies to turmeric sourced from farmers in Karnataka and Uttaranchal. In addition to the transportation costs, the techniques adopted and input costs determine the final price.

Taking cognisance of the skyrocketing onion prices, OFM has developed a special model that cushions both farmers and consumers against skewed market prices. It sells fresh vegetables at a fixed price throughout the year. By fixing 20 vegetables in one price band, and another 20 in a second price band, OFM has helped farmers get regular and fixed income. Building farmers’ confidence in the market is critical to keep them interested in farming.

What started six years ago from a garage in Adayar has grown into multiple outlets across the city.

For telecom engineer Anantha Sayanan, who spent years pursuing an overseas career, developing and diversifying organic markets has become a lifetime ambition. Manually tailored, hand-spun and naturally dyed rainfed organic cotton has just been launched at OFM to connect with cotton farmers, the most distressed of all farming communities in the country.

The writer is Director, The Eco-logical Foundation, New Delhi

Published on October 23, 2015

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