Pune: The city of Pune is today at the forefront of a state-sponsored group farming movement that promises to change the fate of farmers. Leading the effort is deputy superintendent of the district agricultural department, Sunil Borkar.
Borkar initially helped mobilize farmers form cooperatives to get loans to start processing plants for their produce, mostly fruit. “But getting farmers together to form cooperatives is a slow process, both because of the formalities involved and resistance to the very idea of cooperatives,” he said.
Over the past year, the focus shifted to informal groups and already there are 4,000 groups of 20 farmers each in Pune district. The plan is to confederate these groups into a producer company that can make investments such as in cold storage plants and form ties with end-users. Borkar has been backed by local member of Parliament, Supriya Sule, daughter of Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar. Sule held meetings with farmers to convince them of the need to come together, said Sunil Yadav, a leader of one such group in Malshiras village of Purandar ‘taluk’ (administrative division).
The moves in Pune are part of larger efforts by the state government to shift focus to develop groups of farmers and channel funds to them. “The plan is to have a federation of such groups in every ‘taluk’, possibly as producer companies,” said Sudhir Kumar Goel, principal secretary in Maharashtra’s ministry of agriculture. “These federations can then be tapped by corporations, which want to form backward linkages.”
Although there is no database of such groups, there are several hundreds of pre-existing groups in the state; some are organic farming groups, others buy inputs jointly. Once corporate linkages are developed, it will be easy to aggregate these groups into larger groups, said Goel.
Maharashtra is implementing a public-private partnership model through which the state will help companies identify clusters of such groups. The plan is to have a three-tier structure: a producer company at the base that collects the farm output, a small and medium enterprise at the second tier that packages or processes the output, with a large company at the top tier that acts as an aggregator and sells it across retail chains, said Goel.
Already firms such as Hindustan Unilever Ltd, Rallis India Ltd, Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd and Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd have tied up with the state government to source supplies from such groups. This is a small beginning and the government is more than willing to help any corporate group in tying up with farmers directly, said Goel. “Agri-business is volume-driven and Maharashtra has natural advantages as it is the leading producer of several fruit and vegetables,” he added.