Laxmi Prakash Semwal, Chairman of Shri Jagdamba Samiti (SJS), a Rishikesh-based NGO, believes that a business-driven model can not only empower marginalised farmers but can also promote sustainable socio-economic development. OneWorld South Asia speaks to the man behind the apple project in Uttarakhand. Excerpts from the interview.
OneWorld South Asia: Tell us about the apple project which SJS has launched to empower marginalised farmers of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Laxmi Prakash Semwal: The apple project is a joint initiative of our NGO, Shri Jagdamba Samiti (SJS); the investor, a Dutch family foundation, Stichting Het Groene Woudt (SHGW); and Fresh Food Technology (FFT) which is the technology provider from the Netherlands and local farmers.
Generally, farmers lack business thinking and the business community also does not make big investments in the farm-based enterprises. Our model promotes agriculture based enterprises with the help of farmers.
In the current scenario, a major part of the profit in the agri-value chain goes to middlemen. But in our model, joint-venture companies run by farmers play the role of middlemen and cut down the profits of the latter by taking on risks collectively.
OWSA: How do you think your model would be instrumental in the sustainable development of farmers?
Semwal: Unlike the traditional middleman who keeps the profit, in our model the farmer-run joint venture companies distribute the surplus profit to farmers in the form of premiums. In the long run, when farmers are able to return the money invested in these companies, they become the owners. Thus, the entire value of the agricultural produce is realised from the markets in a professional way and this value remains with the farmers.
OWSA: The model promoted by SJS is turning small farmers into entrepreneurs. Do you think the time is ripe for farmers of this country to begin playing an entrepreneurial role?
Semwal: Yes unless that happens our producers will not be successful farmers. A farmer-entrepreneur will not only bring better value to his produce but also help in bringing down the cost of commodities for consumers.
With farming becoming a loss-making occupation, most of the rural people are migrating to bigger cities. The country which has a billion-plus mouths to feed cannot afford to ignore the interests of its producers.
The country can grow faster if it gives due attention to the needs of the farming community and makes small farming sustainable. This kind of a model helps in bridging the gap between the consumer and the producer.
OWSA: Traditionally, a farmer in India has existed as a weak link in the agri-supply chain. Does making the farmers a collective force make farming more profitable?
Semwal: The collective strength of farmers is one feature and another significant feature is the business creation or the value addition to the farm produce. If these two factors come together, you can make farming not just sustainable but also a profitable venture. This kind of paradigm simply incorporates the economic principle of controlling supply and regulating demand.
Also, avoiding the distress sale of their produce is another way empowering small farmers.