Velliangiri Uzhavan: For the Joy of Farming
Velliangiri Uzhavan, Tamil Nadu’s top ranked FPO, won the “Best FPO” award at the Outlook Agriculture Conclave in New Delhi on 24 February 2020. Back home in Coimbatore, its members are not surprised. And they tell you why.
“The coconut has to grow on the tree, that’s all. FPO makes all arrangements to harvest the coconuts. A vehicle comes and takes them to the market to sell. The sales payment is deposited in our bank account. It’s that easy!” says an elated Velusamy, a coconut farmer in Narasipuram, a village in Coimbatore. He’s a member of the Velliganiri Uzhavan Farmer Producer Company that was established with Isha’s support in 2013. For farmers like Velusamy, the FPO has transformed the quality of their lives.
Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) can revolutionize agricultural practices and become the greatest accelerator of rural growth in India. In 2018, agriculture employed 50% of India’s workforce and contributed upto 18% to the country’s GDP. But for too long, farming has been in the news for all the wrong reasons: agrarian distress driving more than 300,000 farmers to take their own lives in over a decade; soil degradation, water scarcity and wayward monsoons leading to unpredictable quality and quantity of produce; fluctuating market rates and a plethora of other challenges have kept farmers on the back foot for several decades.
Congratulations #VelliangiriUzhavan, on winning the “Best FPO” award at the Outlook Agriculture Conclave- a fine example of how small & marginal farmers can achieve economies of scale. If farmers organize themselves, they can transform India’s rural economy. –Sg @nstomar#FPO pic.twitter.com/jiQgM5EWj1— Sadhguru (@SadhguruJV) February 26, 2020
FPOs like Velliangiri Uzhavan have brought some method to the madness of farming in India. “Earlier, the traders would count our coconuts. If I’m not paying close attention, instead of 87 they will count 57 and cheat us. Velliangiri Uzhavan has put a stop to all this stealing,” says Vellaiyammal, a farmer from Semmedu village in Coimbatore. Vellaiyammal needn’t worry about getting cheated anymore. Not just that, she doesn’t have to haggle for the best price. The FPO has set benchmark prices for the entire locality. And there are other ways the FPO helps its member farmers. Its retail shop offers the best prices for agricultural inputs that are of guaranteed quality.
But there’s something else that makes Velliangiri Uzhavan unique. It goes beyond just economic welfare of its member farmers. It fosters individual wellbeing through kitchen gardens, nutritional supplements, health education and Yoga. And it encourages the active participation and economic development of women as well. It’s no wonder 38% of its 1000-odd members are women.
“Our group of 12 women spend two hours per day producing healthy millet-based food products. VUPCL markets them at its outlet shop in Isha Yoga Center. We earn Rs. 30,000 per month and are very proud to say that we are women entrepreneurs,” beams Vasantha Lakshmi from Semmedu. It’s obvious that economic independence has done wonders for her confidence and wellbeing.
Velliangiri Uzhavan is Tamil Nadu’s top ranked FPO. Its growth trajectory is nothing short of astounding - it has grown 2067 times since inception. Last year, it declared a turnover of nearly 12 crore. 70% of its members are small and marginal farmers. Its 1063 farmers collectively farm 12,000 hectares of farmland. The FPO offers a range of services to its members including coconut and areca nut harvesting and marketing, vegetable marketing, agricultural inputs at the best quality and rates, drip irrigation systems, value-addition services and free consultancy services on increasing productivity and reducing cultivating costs.
Most of all, it has taken the guesswork out of farming. For its members, the anxious wait for payments, sleepless nights and endless haggling for better rates is a thing of the past. Proudly holding up his areca nut produce, Kishore, an arecanut farmer from Daliyur village says, “In arecanut farming, we used to wait for months to be paid. But now we get the money immediately. Now in our area, Velliangiri FPO sets the benchmark price of arecanut.” The money is not just paid immediately, it’s credited into the farmers’ bank account building credit worthiness for the farmer and giving him a hassle-free and dignified transaction experience.
Small and marginalized farmers feel a sense of assurance when they belong to a large FPO who has their back. Trust is a scare commodity in the agricultural sector. Velliangiri Uzhavan has it in plenty. Its members know that their wellbeing is the FPO’s top priority. Rathnavel from Pullakoundanpudur village is a coconut farmer with 2 acres of land. Small farmers like him have zero bargaining power. Rathnavel is relieved that he has the FPO to back him. “I cannot go and negotiate with a trader for a thousand coconuts. Only a big company like an FPC can do that.”
One of the biggest challenges that small farmers like Rathnavel face is irrigating their farms efficiently. Velliangiri Uzhavan offers drip irrigation services. And they’re a smashing hit with the members. Angannan, a farmer from Semmedu is amazed that an entire irrigation system can be set up with such lightning speed. “When setting up drip irrigation, from A to Z, everything was taken care of by the FPO. I just called Moorthy Sir (Agricultural Advisor). He said he will come in person and set up everything, and in one day he finished it all.”
The FPOs members know that it’s the little things that count – and Velliangiri Uzhavan does the little things in a big way. For Nalini of Pooluvapatti village, the FPO has given her a fresh lease of life. She’s grateful. “This FPC has come as a boon to us small farmers. I was thinking of selling my land and quitting farming, but now I wish even my children take up agriculture. It has become a profitable venture.”