Shifting to organic cotton farming
Innovative farming practice improves livelihood and life
Tentulipada, a small village in Kalahandi district in interior Odisha, is predominantly a dry area and known for poverty and a harsh dry climate. The entire village was cultivating cotton, using expensive and often toxic pesticides and fertilizers. In 2001 American bollworm infestation was very high and even 15 sprays of toxic chemical pesticides wouldn’t help.
Then in 2007, 39 farmers started the sustainable practice with organic farming. It took two more years for all the farmers to shift to organic farming method which initially focussed on cotton and then all shifted other crops to organic methods. The shift towards organic cultivation was made possible by committed effort and intense dialogue with and amongst farmers by an organisation called Chetna organic, a Hyderabad-based.
Chetna Organic works with farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha. In Odisha alone, the company functions in five districts, having five co-operatives, operating in 132 villages, impacting more than 5,000 farmers who in turn are organised into 411 SHGs (self help groups).
“Chetna Organic brought in much more than just sustainable agriculture. While mixed cropping, integrated approach, crop rotation, sustainable and biological practices and self-consumption-first were the focus, they also brought in very valuable principles like natural resources management, food and nutrition security, seed sovereignty, child welfare & education. Thus the whole idea of improving livelihoods with sustainable agriculture was approached in a holistic fashion,” says Mr. Ananthoo, co- convener of ASHA —Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture — and coordinator of Safe Food Alliance, Tamil Nadu and an organisation called Restore in Chennai.
Their value chain development, for instance, is very impressive. Farmers are federated into groups and involved in the whole process of the value chain. The local administration bought organic dal from the farmers’ federation to feed safe food to school children. Safe food for the poorest happened so easily and meticulously.
The farmers were proud that their own local cooperatives and national level producer company employed management graduates by paying really good salaries. “Their CEO, an employee, hired by the farmers’ cooperative, is paid on par with the private sector/ MNCs. The pay cheque is being signed by two farmers who are on the board of directors. “It was very heartening to see the huge storage spaces and local processing units built by the farmers for their own use,” says Mr. Ananthoo.
The processing centres are specifically for the food crops (like dal processing). Women play an active role in both manual and mechanical processing of the organic food produces.
Chetna Organic Agriculture Producer Company works on training, certifying and establishing sustainable market linkages for all their produce including cotton. The latter is the backbone as it is essential to have a successful market to bring about sustained interest and encourage more farmers to join in. The produce goes into branded garments in India and abroad.
Mr. Arun Ambatipudi, one of the founders of Chetna says: “Collectivization is the key for improvement of livelihood for small farmers. The other major point demonstrated here is that sustainable agriculture is the only way out for small and marginal farmers.”
“While the Government of India is busy bringing green revolution to Eastern India, It can be a good lesson to learn from such models that leverage on its strengths than copying the mistakes of elsewhere,” says Mr. Ananthoo.
For more information on Chetna Organic visit: http://chetnaorganic.org.in,
Contact: Mobile: 9959300330 and Mr. Ananthoo, co- convener ASHA- Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture and coordinator of Safe Food Alliance, email: restoreananthoo@..., Mobile: 9444166779.
Source: Weaving livelihood through cultivating organic cotton by M. J. Prabu, The Hindu, 21 March 2013