When a small cotton farmer goes to sell his harvest in the market, he usually has a vague idea about the fair and “right” price for his produce. An information asymmetry and lesser bargaining power forces him to a middleman’s price demands undermining his crop quality, weight, price and hence, overall value.
To allow farmers have greater control over all the stages of production, they need an approach that works on collective action and a niche market development. This is much documented in the co-operative movement in India.
Currently we work in three states: Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh but we are currently exploring avenues to work in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal and Chattisgarh. Chetna Organic not only promotes organic farming, but also builds a supply chain which is owned by farmers. COAPCL was founded to take care of the marketing woes of farmers (though the mainstay remains cotton) and to provide training and capacity-building of farmer communities. Chetna Organic now represents the belief of more than 10,000 farmers out of which 6550 are producing certified organic cotton and the rest are in the transition phase.
It is a multi-staged process: First, we meet the farmers. We explain them about the benefits of organic cotton cultivation. From the group, we work with the more enterprising farmers in the pilot phase. As the other farmers see the result for themselves, it acts as a self-propagating reinforcement. For instance, in Orissa, membership began with 11 members and has now grown to include more than 50,000 farming households organized into Self Help Group(SHG)s and four cooperatives.
Our current plan is to consolidate the position in our areas of intervention by maintaining the quality of the cotton being produced. We have enough of market interest in the wake of greater awareness of non-pesticide and organic benefits to the consumer; additionally, being responsible and fair-trading are important parameters for many a conscious and discerning customers.
The access to quality non-GMO organic seeds is indeed a challenge. Initially, there were Companies that were offering non-GMO seeds. However, when they stopped the production, we started facing an acute shortage.
We diversified out our strategies to handle this: For example, we have collaborated with University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad to facilitate in the process. Such and similar associations assist in helping us when we engage in participatory seed evaluations, show and disseminate the different varieties of organic seeds to farmers which are not readily accessible to the farmers.
Cotton is a very important crop as it is the major source of clothing to the world. Besides this use of cotton, it is also used in various industrial applications. Hence, it is among the most cultivated and traded commodities. Dealing with any commodity price volatility accentuating by trading – for a producer - is a phenomenal challenge. And, cotton is no exception. In keeping with our raison d’être, we work on supply chain aspects to maintain a balance between our business and social objectives, in good times and bad.
COAPCL is trying to develop value chains where every stakeholder has the opportunity for fair negotiations, transparency, long term relationship and mutual trust. This, we believe, will help in reducing the impact of price fluctuations not only at the farmer level but also the brands.
When the cotton prices steeply went up in 2010-11 , we accommodated the risk of buyer by committing to the prior agreements; and then when the rates fell – equally sharply- in 2011-12, we took a conscious decision to ensure farmers enjoy a certain return on their cotton, despite this leading to out-pricing ourselves in the market. We keep a constant eye on the social return on our effort. And if that means we have to take a partial risk on close to 100 Metric Tons of cotton lint, say (for which we have not found a buyer), so be it. This is part of the very ethos on which COAPCL was built and we choose not sacrifice it.