Karsog: Setting a new example of running a farm cooperative, vegetable growers in the Karsog valley of Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh are about to rewrite the rules of supply chain mechanism by doing away with all middlemen. Or, in fact, it’s the branding power they now want to cash on.
Known for growing exotic vegetables for the last two decades, farmers in about 40 villages of Churag and Pangana divisions in Karsog had lately been struggling to keep their farms profitable, and some were even on the verge of switching back to traditional crops. The problem was that the middlemen were eating up their profit margins and even fleecing them as they had no direct access to the market for exotic vegetables in Delhi. But today they have a solution in the form of Karsog Valley Farmers Society, which is a body of around 350 growers and marketers from the area who now intend to directly sell their produce in big cities under their own brand name Northharvest.
“People here have been growing exotic vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, snow peas, parsley, basil and asparagus among others from the early nineties, but it could never become a profitable business as middlemen dictated terms about demand and supply. But when farmers started thinking of going back to traditional farming, we decided to do something, and that is how the cooperative structure emerged,’’ said Vikarm Rawat, a manager in the local branch of Gramin Bank, who is among the torchbearers of the initiative.He revealed that the list of potential buyers in Delhi has already been finalized, the seeds for the next season have been sowed and it has also been decided to buy a refrigerated van for transportation of the produce to Delhi.
Vikarm Rawat, along with Rajender Kaushal, a former IT expert, has been mobilising farmers at various camps to join the movement. The response was quite visible at one such camp held at Mahunag village last Sunday where a group of around 60 farmers accepted the offer to be part of the cooperative. “I lost Rs 30,000 to middlemen last year as they refused to pay saying that my stock of vegetables went bad in transit,” said Khemraj of the same village. Like him, other farmers too complained of losing about 20 to 30 percent of their earnings each year due to manipulation by middlemen.
The society has also succeeded in getting help from Winrock International and FTF-USAID for training farmers in scientific methods of growing and cooperative marketing. Country Director of Winrock PS Srinivasan, who has been camping here with a team of agriculture and mushroom production expert, said, “Farmers would now be growing crops for an identified demand so that overproduction does not hit the market price. Apart from exotic vegetables, we also intend to begin mushroom production this year.”
A good beginning has been made, but now farmers will have to turn their attention towards improving farm infrastructure. The 40-year-old water scheme feeding the village can now hardly fulfill drinking needs of the area, and therefore efforts are already on to look for alternatives like rain-water harvesting.