01 Sep Bypassing middlemen to boost farmers’ income, the Masakkal way
Masakkal, a hamlet located about 15 km from Kotagiri in Nilgiris district is the hub for exotic leafy vegetables such as Iceberg lettuce, broccoli, celery, parsley, zucchini, thyme and rosemary among others.
The farmers here have been dependent on traders to buy the produce – on terms favourable to the latter.
This situation is expected to change with the opening of Farmer Support and Aggregation Centre in Masakkal. Lawrencedale Estates and Farms has been identified by the Tamil Nadu Horticulture Development Agency (TANHODA) for managing the aggregation centre under the State Government’s Perimetro Vegetable Cluster Development Programme.
Though the aggregation centre was formally inaugurated on Wednesday, it is learnt that the aggregator (Lawrencedale) had already started working with the small farmers (since November 2014) by handholding the growers through the entire life cycle of the crop, advocating usage of less harsh bio-pesticides and also ensuring the last mile delivery by eliminating multiple intermediaries.
“Our strength is our forward-market linkage. After procuring the vegetables produce from the farmer, it is cleaned, sorted, graded and packeted before loading them on refrigerated trucks for despatch to neighbouring cities and states. While wholesalers procure bulk volumes, we also supply to neighbourhood retailers under the brand “LEAF”. Such packets are sold across cities in Tamil Nadu and Bengaluru in Karnataka and Hyderabad in Andhra as well,” Palat Vijayaraghavan, Chief Executive, Lawrencedale Estates and Farms, told BusinessLine.
“Yet it has not been easy to source the produce particularly from small farmers,” he said, explaining how these farmers have, over the years fallen into the clutches of the intermediaries.
Of the 500- 600 odd farmers in Masakkal, just about 150 are said to be selling the produce to Lawrencedale. “The rest are under the clutches of the traders,” he said and explained how the traders give a token advance at the time of sowing or mid-way, participate in the farmers’ family functions and give elaborate sums as gifts, because of which the farmer feels obliged to sell the produce to the trader/ intermediary. “We are now working extensively to free the farmer from such practices.”
The company does not send its staff to the farm gate to procure the produce as traders do. On the other hand, farmers bring the produce to the collection centre where the vegetables are sorted, weighed and paid for immediately, Vijayaraghavan said, adding, “We do not reject the produce brought to the centre. Good quality vegetables help the farmer get good returns. If they are agreeable to online transfer, we pay a little extra. This is just to ensure that they do not spend the amount immediately”.
According to public data, close to 80 per cent of the farming communities in the Nilgiris depend on intermediaries to sell the produce.
Admitting this, N Mani, Joint Director, Horticulture, Nilgiris, said that the district comprised 4,400 farmers in 224 clusters and a majority were still under the clutches of the intermediaries.
The department, he said, provides subsidy to the clusters at ₹22,500/hectare for open-pollinated crop and ₹33,750 for hybrid crop, imparts training to farmers covering all the villages in the district household-wise and farmer organisations as well. “We have also extended six collection centre vehicles,” (The vehicle subsidy works out to 40 per cent of the cost of the vehicle) he added.
“We are looking for more such aggregators to enhance fair trade and the ecosystem of the farming community in the district,” he said.
To a query on farmers’ awareness level, he said: “a lot more is needed and we are doing our best.”
Meanwhile Lawrencedale has, with the Masakkal aggregation centre expanded its footprints, having initiated wide-ranging engagement with farming clusters in Nilgiris, Mettupalayam, Karamadai, Thondamuthur, Pollachi and Udumalpet besides others across southern, western and northern India.
As part of taking the Perimetro programme forward, the company has deployed mobile vans under “Namma Thottam” (Our Farms) banner.