An all woman farmers’ company scripts success in Tamil Nadu’s Salem
Cultivation of oilseeds, millets, groundnuts, cereals, vegetables and flowers by 2,555 women in Tamil Nadu’s Salem has ushered in better incomes for the cultivators. The Veerapandy Kalanjia Jeevidam Producer Company Limited not merely cultivates food but also processes it into finished products which are highly marketable.
Pankaja Srinivasan 23 Jan 2023 9:29 AM GMT
Salem, Tamil Nadu
A tempo drove into the compound and unloaded five tonnes of coconut. Stepping nimbly out of the way of a dropping coconut, R Shanthi said, “These are from Parapatti, where farmer member Pushpa grows them,” she told Gaon Connection.
R Shanthi is one of the five directors of an all woman Farmers Producer Organisation (FPO) called Veerapandy Kalanjia Jeevidam Producer Company Limited (VKJPCL), at a small village called at Vatharasampatti, a part of the Inam Bairoji panchayat in Veerapandi Block, in Salem district, Tamil Nadu.
VKJPCL has 2,555 women farmers cultivating several crops including oil seeds, millets, groundnut, cereals, vegetables, flowers and more.
“We are around 2,443 marginal farmers, 106 small farmers and six big farmers cultivating about 2,410 acres of land. We are all shareholders in the company and farm in villages in the four blocks of Veerapandi, Parapatti, Sankagiri and Magudanchavadi, in Salem district,” 40-year-old Shanthi explained.
Shanthi oversees the extraction of oil from the groundnuts and coconuts the FPO receives from its farmers, and gets paid Rs 500 per day for her services.
Oil seeds are the mainstay. At the FPO premises, on one side is a hall where a full-fledged oil extraction unit has been set up with the support of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, where oil is extracted by the women.
In 2020-21 alone, the FPO produced 75,032 litres of oil. This included 73,056 litres of groundnut, 1,666 litres of gingelly, and 310 litres of coconut oils.
“In order to enhance farmers' income through increased production and productivity by promoting sustainable and good agricultural practices, NABARD set up VKJPCL in 2017,” the FPO’s CEO, B Sivarani, told Gaon Connection. The aim was to improve infrastructure and ensure fair price to the farmers for their produce.
According to her, in 2018-19 the FPO made a profit of Rs 4,657, while in 2021-22, it has made a profit of Rs 15,38,888.
VKJPCL also received the best Women FPO Award 2021-22 at the National Level and was awarded a cash prize of Rs 50,000 by NABARD.
Agriculture is the mainsource of income in this region that is largely rainfed. And, that is the reason farmers mainly grow groundnuts, green moong, ellu (horse gram), mochchai (lima beans), thatta pairu (cowpeas) and thovarai (pigeon peas).
The FPO office is located on an acre of land, full of trees, flowering plants and a big glasshouse that is a solar dryer. Inside the ‘hot house’ groundnuts are spread out on the ground drying.
Between 2019 and 2021, VKJPCL has procured 7,688 kgs of groundnut from its member farmers who grow them. The Mission on Sustainable Dryland Agriculture (MSDA) sanctioned Rs 10 lakh and a 75 per cent subsidy in order to enhance the value of the oilseeds produced.
R Poongodi, a farmer member herself and who works at the FPO looking after its smooth running, grows lentils and groundnuts on her own acre of land at the nearby village of Pahchapalayam. She gets paid Rs 350 a day. “During the pandemic, the FPO remained open and it was a lifesaver for many of us who worked here,” the 40-year-old told Gaon Connection.
Fifteen women including the CEO look after the FPO premises. Supervising, instructing, following up on several things at once, Sivarani runs a tight ship.
The FPO premises also has a medium sized room where mushrooms are cultivated. There are several rooms where the stocks are stored and a large hall where training sessions, meetings and conferences are held.
Farmers are shareholders in the profit
While there are 2,555 members now, when the FPO started, it had just about 200 members, Sivarani said. “Of them, about 770 are really active. For some, it has taken time to understand what benefits they can enjoy being members,” she explained. The all -women FPO covers 48 panchayats and 141 villages, she added.
Apart from being shareholders and therefore recipients of any company profit, the farmers who are members of the FPO have several advantages.
“Before, they would sell their produce to brokers or middle men who often sold them short. But now, VKJPCL buys their produce at a cost that is a couple of rupees more than the market rate. Moreover, the farmers save on transportation costs too,” Sivarani said.
NABARD has provided the FPO with a truck that goes village to village picking up the harvested produce. “There is a weighing machine that goes along with the truck. The produce is picked up at the doorstep of the farmer, it is weighed and a receipt is provided then and there. Within 24 hours, the amount is credited into her bank account,” the CEO said. This has saved the farmers on the expenses of transporting their produce themselves to faraway markets.
Besides NABARD, the other agencies that support the FPO include the Mission on Sustainable Dry land Agriculture, Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium, Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project and NABKISAN, a subsidiary of NABARD.
NABARD has also helped the FPO set up an outlet neCultivation of oilseeds, millets, groundnuts, cereals, vegetables and flowers by 2,555 women in Tamil Nadu’s Salem has ushered in better incomes for the cultivators. The FPO also ensured livelihoods for rural inhabitants in 141 villages at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak.ar the Salem highway. Produce from the farmers including oils, dals, turmeric, tamarind, palm sugar, etc, besides some value added products such as peanut and sesame laddoos are sold there.
“A lot of what we get, the members ourselves buy them. On the third Friday of every month, farmers from across the district gather at the Salem Collectorate to present their grievances etc., and on that day too, we put up a stall there. Hundreds of farmers come and go and they too buy our products,” Sivarani said. There is also a healthy exchange of products between several other FPOs, about a dozen of them in Tamil Nadu as well as two from Andhra Pradesh.
The farmers and their spouses are also provided insurance under the Pradhan Mantri Bima Yojana.
“There are some things that can still be improved upon,” Sivarani said. “With 2,555 farmers, we need more people at the FPO who can work with them at the grassroots level. At the moment we have just a couple of us who visit the farmers. Ideally we should be able to visit each and every member farmer at least once a month. For that we need more hands,” she said. Also, the CEO said, more support with marketing would benefit the FPO. And, of course, more financial aid.
“We have a lot of ideas. We are confident of reaching greater heights. But we need more support,” Sivarani said. She added that there was talk from a company to provide free tractors to the farmers to plow their lands as part of its CSR. “That would further reduce their expenses. In fact, sometime in the future, if we could buy our own tractor, that would be even better,” she smiled.
For the moment, the farmers meet up at the FPO at Veerapandi to discuss their problems and other matters. Sometimes, training capsules to enhance their agricultural practices are held. VKJPCL enables the members to collaborate with the government department, financial institutions and other agencies to access the various schemes and subsidies, especially for the smallholding farmers. It also procures good quality seeds from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Sandhiyur in Salem district, for those of its member farmers who need it.
Meanwhile at Veerapandi, Shanthi, Poongodi, Vellaiammal settle down near the pile of coconuts. They break them, collect the water in a basin. The coconuts will move to the solar dryer to dry before oil is extracted. The coconut water? While the ladies quench their thirst with some of it, the rest of it is sprinkled on the beds of vermicomposting where earthworms will feast on it.
Talking about how the FPO has changed her life, Shanthi said: “I am a small farmer from a village in Tamil Nadu. Never in my life did I imagine I would speak to the Prime Minister of the Nation.”
On January 1, 2022, Shanthi with the help of a translator spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and explained to him about the workings of the FPO. “To be speaking to the prime minister on behalf of our 2,555 members was an unforgettable experience,” she said.