Increasing economic viability for small farm holdings and building community vitality whilst caring for the environment, Sahaja Samrudha, an organic farmers association of Karnataka, has built a peoples movement in conserving the rich biodiversity. It primarily started as a farmers’ initiative to exchange ideas, seeds and share knowledge on sustainable agriculture. The organization realized that the organic growers, especially farmers growing traditional food crops were unable to market their produce in a fair manner. Market acceptability and awareness on traditional food crops was very low, so where would the organic growers sell their produce.
With landholdings getting fragmented the smaller land holding farmers have a problem in reaching organic markets that are scattered and demanding a fair price for their much cared and grown produce is a faraway cry. Sahaja Samrudha set up a Farmer Producer Organisation that worked towards reducing the terrifying task of marketing by small and marginal producer by collectively planning for production that would not create a glut of same produce and facilitate continuous supply of produce, procurement soon after harvest and also help add value to the produce. Collective measures significantly increased the members’ power in the market place, reduced risks and helped them move up the value chain.
Providing market support to the organic growers was very important so as to enable cultivators to get higher price for their produce. Enhance the cultivation base of organic produce, breaking ‘ORGANIC’ out of the niche market into the mainstream massive market for access to all consumers.
In the long journey of discovering a marketing strategy the Directors of Sahaja Samrudha created a unique Producer Company, ‘Sahaja Samrudha Organic Producer Company’, a first of its kind in the State of Karnataka. Sahaja Organics is essentially the marketing arm of Sahaja Samrudha, representing the farmers’ interests from sowing to selling. The company is different from others as it markets mainly traditional food crops, especially the traditional rice, millet, pulses and fruits & vegetables – ‘Creating market for the crops that are not readily accepted in the market.’
Sahaja Organics – an answer to growing concerns of food quality and environment
Sahaja Organics committed not only to improve the livelihood of small and marginal growers but also provide diverse, high quality and wholesome food that is fairly priced to its consumers. This was possible with its large network of about 2000 individual organic farmers and 20 organic producer groups that are spread across Karnataka and some parts of Tamil nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, who produce traditional varieties of food crops. The Producer Company offers products at most reasonable prices to consumers without compromising on the quality, purity and goodness of organic and also providing earmarked prices to its organic producers.
The company that was initiated with concept of patronage of shares and only shareholders could market his/her own organic products or organic food crops. The company would definitely handle only certified organic products; hence only producers with organic certification are eligible for membership. The company procures products in bulk, based on the market demand from farmers and supplies to different outlets across the state and Southern states too.
Farmers are formed into groups for collective marketing. These groups are equipped with basic marketing skills and quality production ability. These groups share responsibility of collecting the produce at a common collection centre that is managed by a set of farmers with technical support from the Producer Company.
The initial years of starting marketing the Company faced with a lot of financial problems and also marketing of organic food products was a big hurdle. The Company received a loan for working capital from NABARD that helped with operations and day-to-day business. The first three years the business was very low and the company underwent a loss and in the 4th year the Company had a breakeven and 5th year onwards the business has been on the rise.
Sahaja Organics has steadily grown by experimenting and adapting to the changing markets and this as seen a growth by an increase in number of organic farmers, increase in number of members and expansion into other states of South India and some parts of north India too. The popularization of traditional varieties of rice has seen a boom with 35 to 40 rice varieties that consumers can now ask for. Different varieties of the high nutritious Millets and diverse pulses are available. Vegetables and Fruits ranging from 50 to 60 different varieties and having the shortest shelf life are procured fresh and dispatched to organic outlets in and around Bangalore and also to Southern States.
Producers not only receive a premium for their produce but immediate payments too. The company has also shared its successful years 2014 to 2016 with its shareholder suppliers by giving back a part of the profits to its Shareholder Suppliers as withheld prices.
Not being a typical produce supplier, the company has worked to procuring freshest and most delicious fruits and vegetables from farmers with very low landholdings. These farmers are formed into collectives and the fresh produce is collected at centres located in different places. The vegetables are graded and brought to the warehouse of the Company and again graded and segregated according to customer specifications and then distributed to various States and to Organic Retail Outlets within the city.
With the traditional rice growing farmers are better benefited as Unpolished rice and Touch polish rice are promoted (Unpolished – Husk is only removed during the milling process. Touch Polish- only outer part of the bran is removed during this process) to consumers. With the unpolished rice all the nutrients remain intact and also farmer doesn’t lose on the quantity of rice.
Organic Certification also an important activity is carried out in all the villages and all farms every year. Group Certification of Organic farmers are provided under the Sahaja Samrudha Organic Producer Company banner. Group certification has been implemented as it is economical beneficial to small and marginal farmers. The organization was the first to launch the Group Certification Programme in 2006 and to this day is the second largest group in Karnataka. Sahaja Samrudha developed a sustainable model of Group Certification for small and marginal farmers to certify their products as chemical free. Group certification for a group of committed and well-known organic farmers is now enabled in collaboration with IMO as the certification partner.
Producer Company is staffed with professionals, who have taken all the risks and responsibilities to make a profit for the company, with transparency being the fundamental principle.
Trying to find new ways to shorten the marketing route and creating awareness among end users, it organizes annual fairs, fests, melas in cities and also major towns, in which the farmers sell their produce to consumers at a reasonable price. These dedicated farm markets attracts crowd of 10,000-20,000 people and allow consumers to have access to locally grown, farm fresh produce, also enable farmers to develop a personal relationship with their customers, and cultivate consumer loyalty with the farmers who grows the produce. This sort of interaction benefitted the farmer as the Company introduced a minimum support price for some vegetables and fruits.
Producer Meets are organized to equip them with local marketing initiatives, improvise on quality, and develop pricing policy with stakeholder’s consent. Consumer Meets are organized to generate awareness among the consumers about organic food, especially vegetable and fruits that would encourage them to shift towards organic food products and sustainable consumption.
While the mission stills hold true today, the company has evolved to be a strong producer of Certified Organic foods. The line of Certified Organic Rice, nutritional rice, medicinal rice, high fibre cereals like millets, lentils, were inspired by the notion that great taste and sustainability go hand in hand.
Sahaja Organics has offered a proven pathway to successfully deal with a range of challenges that confront farmers, especially small and marginal organic producers. Overcoming the constraints imposed by the small size of their individual farms the members of the Producer Company have been able to leverage their bargaining power, have reduced transaction and transport costs, able to tap high value for their organic produce, have improved quality of the produce.
The Company has worked to create sustainable development through meeting the needs of its members and most importantly increasing their ‘Purchasing Power’. Given these benefits, organic products have experienced significant growth in consumer demand over recent years—so much so that organic food crops has been in short supply in some regions. The organic food sector, virtually nonexistent just a few decades ago, has become the most prominent market opportunity for our small and marginal producers.
Pricing is a clear differentiator for Sahaja Organics. As the Company’s prices are lesser than other competitors for genuine produce with organic certification. Presently the Company plans on entering the retail brand space through franchises to have some control over the pricing of organic products.